Community Portrait: Dick Kiger's interests take him from street to sky

By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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Dick Kiger located to Auburn in 1954 when a position opened up at Purity Market. Kiger had been with Purity Markets working as assistant manager at several stores in the Central Valley before he jumped at the chance to move up north and manage the Auburn store. In 1956 Kiger married his wife, Delores, who worked down the street at Bank of America. Longtime Auburn residents will remember that the Purity Market was located in a Quonset hut-type building where the Auburn Journal currently stands on High Street. ?Every need you had could be filled in Downtown Auburn,? Kiger said. ?There was a Montgomery Ward, a J.C. Penney, jewelry stores, hardware stores, car dealers, everything was right there.? Kiger was at the Purity Market in Auburn for six years then in 1960 he purchased an interest in a newly opened Food Center Market in Colfax where he worked five years. In 1965, Kiger purchased Elder?s Market at Dry Creek Road and Highway 49, a store of his own which he operated until he retired in 1985. The 90-year-old Kiger is a man with many interests in life. He?s not one for sitting by and watching others do the work. He slowly leads me down the stairs to his man cave in a converted garage below his house. The walls are covered with memorabilia, a life-size scrapbook of all his interests. Photos of planes, old cars, awards, a collection of old blacksmith tools, framed newspaper articles yellowed with age, and old photos of Auburn hang on the walls. It?s impossible not to let your eyes wander the displays that cover the walls from the floor to the ceiling. Many of these artifacts were displayed in his grocery stores, which customers would add to. A collection of books, pamphlets and other items are arranged anywhere flat. This collection is what Kiger is about. It?s a historical look back at a man and his community involvement. It?s evidence of his interests and it?s something to be proud of. In 1970 Kiger bought his beloved classic 1958 Chevrolet, a car he restored and drove with his wife on many road trips with the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, which he joined in 1980. Kiger held the position of director of the car club for several years. ?I believe you restore a car to be able to drive and enjoy it,? said Kiger of the many trips he took in his classic car. Auburn?s Cruise Nite was started by Tom Potts in 1984 when the first one took place at the Foster?s Freeze in Auburn, drawing maybe 30-40 cars. ?I didn?t get too involved in the first two years because I was still working, but after the event moved Downtown I started showing up doing little jobs here and there, taking on more work each year,? Kiger said. Kiger spent over 25 years associated with Cruise Nite, 15 of those with the management of the event with his friend, John Knierim. ?Cruise Nite is really a labor of love for all the volunteers. All we really get is feed, we work for food,? he said. Now in its 28th year, Cruise Nite is one of Auburn?s premier functions and draws more than 350 cars a night during its summertime run. Kiger recently retired from Cruise Nite and passed the management torch to fellow committee member Jack Kenny. ?People just love these classic cars. There is a lot of personal talent that goes into these restored cars,? Kiger said. Kiger took up flying and got his private pilot?s license in 1973. He helped found the Auburn Aviation Association in 1984 and was president in 1984 and 1985, the first two years the organization was founded. It now has more than 200 active members and Kiger is still currently one of them, though he no longer has his 1963 Mooney airplane. Kiger?s eyes light up when he talks about a recent adventure when he was invited to fly on a military KC-10 tanker plane that was refueling a C5 cargo ship. As one of 50 specially invited guests, Kiger got a close look at how these huge planes are used to refuel aircraft in the air. ?That was a great trip that day,? he said. Auburn has changed much since 1954 when Kiger arrived but he still feels Auburn is a great place to live. ?God bless small-town U.S.A.,? Kiger said.