PORT ORCHARD — Very few citizens of our Kitsap County burg have cut as wide a swath as has Robert Geiger.
Now 91, Geiger’s name is synonymous with this city of 14,000. His last name graced the front sign of Geiger Family Rexall Pharmacy from 1957 to 2009 at the location where 7-Eleven now sits just off Bay Street in Port Orchard.
Perhaps most notably, this community leader and former small business owner is best remembered for his civic service. Geiger served 46-plus years as a member of the City Council until the end of 2007, when he retired from office. His years as a councilmember were recognized as having been the longest continuous tenure of any elected official in the state of Washington.
Fittingly, at the end of his time in office, Port Orchard City Hall’s council chambers were named in his honor.
On Saturday evening, Geiger and his wife Ursula — the couple married in 1959 and are celebrating their 60th anniversary of marriage this year — will sit atop a convertible while shepherding over the Fathoms O’ Fun Summer Festival’s Grand Parade along Bay Street. And Geiger will serve as the parade’s grand marshal.
Geiger said he remembers the “Days of ‘49’” celebrations in Port Orchard, a precursor to the Fathoms festival that now enlivens South Kitsap’s summers. He was a sponsor of Royalty Court contestant Sharon Vaughn, whose stint as Fathoms O’ Fun Queen led to a term as Miss Washington.
Geiger’s pharmacy store also sponsored numerous youth groups and young students over two decades.
In addition to his time as an elected city official, the Lincoln High School of Tacoma and University of Washington graduate was the familiar face behind the pharmacy’s counter.
While running a small business is difficult any day of the week, Geiger said he remembers when it sometimes became a life-or-death proposition. In the 1970s and 1980s, he and other pharmacists endured troubling instances of robberies and burglaries.
During that time of rampant drug use in the nation, the former pharmacist said no business was immune to holdups and break-ins. “Every pharmacy in the state of Washington had been robbed at least once” during those years, he said.
His business had been broken into by burglars seeking drugs — one instance via entry hatches cut from the business above his and other times busting through the store’s entry doors.
Thankfully, those turbulent times have passed, he said.
The pharmacist shared a favorite, more enjoyable story from his days at the pharmacy:
Geiger recounted how one day, a big black Cadillac pulled up outside the store and the driver came inside. He asked the pharmacist to venture outside and speak with his mother, who was inside the Caddy. When Geiger leaned in toward the car’s window, the hand of the man’s mother jutted out and grabbed him. She then placed a big kiss on his lips and asked Geiger, “How does it feel to be kissed by a 90-year-old woman?”
The retired businessman now lives a quieter life with Ursula in the same Port Orchard home they’ve lived in since 1959. The couple has three children, two of whom are retired South Kitsap High School teachers. Daughter Carol Nelson was a Fathoms Queen at one time, and granddaughter Bailey Jo Nelson also took on Fathoms’ queenly duties.
The longtime Port Orchard community icon has seen the ups and downs of this community over the past 62 years. Asked if he had any observations to share about the city’s long-term future, Geiger said he is as interested as anyone to see what the future holds for Port Orchard.
“It’s as unpredictable as anything else because good things happen here and there,” Geiger said. “But most of the buildings downtown are owned by people who don’t do anything with them except collect the rent.”
The Fathoms parade’s grand marshal said that he hopes current community leaders instead look to the example set by Hannah Langer, widow of Frank Langer, who purchased Kitsap County Bank in 1922 (it was renamed Kitsap Bank in 1987). She became the first female bank president in the western United States and ran the operation until 1972.
“Mrs. Langer had the best interests of Port Orchard at heart while running the bank. More leaders should follow her example,” he said.