For the first founding Kitzmans, the journey to California was not easy or direct. Bryant Kitzman learned the laundry business from his dad, and later landed an important position when he became the head of the enormous laundry department for the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. When Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII by the Japanese, Bryant (like most young, able American men) answered the call to enlist in the military. However, there was no time to find someone else to take Bryant’s important civilian position, so he was told he was most needed serving in his current position. For safety reasons, his wife Betty (whom he had met in 1933) left Honolulu (where Arby—born on the 4th of July— and his sister Joan were born) and found passage on a boat to San Francisco. They settled in Oakland, where Betty had relatives.
After the war, Bryant joined his family in 1946, and later they moved to Sonora where Bryant and a partner started a laundry business. A few years later, the family moved to Paso Robles where Arby would graduate high school. Eventually, Bryant and Betty Kitzman decided to settle in the small town of Morro Bay.
Together, the Kitzmans experienced the exciting discoveries being made in their new beach town. For example, in 1961 an archeological “dig” at the base of PG&E revealed Chumash Indian cemeteries, and they marveled at Morro Rock—formed by long-extinct volcanoes 23 million years ago. Yet, they needed to find a niche where they could make a decent living and support their family. Bryant first partnered with Culligan while in Paso Robles, yet his decision to move the business to Morro Bay proved to be a wise one. Using his past knowledge of water systems, Bryant expanded Culligan Central Coast in 1959 serving exclusively the North Coast area. One can picture Betty running the office, answering phone orders, and carefully keeping track of the billing. Bryant was responsible for sales and installations, and when his son Arby graduated from high school, he handled most of the deliveries (using the family’s pickup truck) and helped with the install/service jobs. The three of them ran the entire business until Grandpa Bryant died of Lung Cancer in 1964; he was only 53.
Not long after, Arby met the love of his life—Jeannie Bickford. She was in the first graduating class out of Morro Bay High in 1962 and was elected Queen of the Christmas Formal in 1961—her junior year. Arby and Jeannie first met at a dance at the Cayucos Veteran’s Hall the year Jeannie graduated. Before graduation, her father would not allow her to date.
Jeannie told me, “It was love at first sight, but at the time, I was dating a nationally ranked wrestler from Cal Poly. Still, when I saw Arby, I knew he was the one for me.” Arby readily admits he is still the luckiest guy in the world.
After his father passed away, Arby ran the business for the next 50 years with Jeannie right by his side. Arby would be honored many times by Culligan including the prestigious Culligan Dealer Sixty Year Award.
Jeannie’s family history is also fascinating and began with her father Wayne Bickford. Wayne’s brother (Glen) left their Iowa farm and became a hard-hat abalone diver in the 1940s (a dangerous, but lucrative job), and Wayne soon followed his older brother to the Central Coast of California. Wayne managed to create his own niche when he built the Bickford Concrete Company (across from MBHS). Wayne’s business received a boost when he landed the job to pour the concrete forming the second and third prominent PG&E power plant stacks by the bay. He soon began pouring foundations for many Morro Bay homes. When Botso Koresheli (famous MB musician and sculptor), asked him to pour the giant chessboard below Dorn’s restaurant on the Embarcadero, Wayne obliged him. They became good friends, and when Botso was ready to carve the huge wooden chess pieces, Wayne built a huge lathe powered by a motorcycle engine to help turn and shape the giant blocks of wood. Those chess pieces are still used today much to the delight of passing tourists and savvy locals. Wayne eventually became first vice mayor of his growing town.
Meanwhile, Arby, his sister, and Jeannie bought the Culligan business. Not long after, the Kitzman’s family grew to five with three children: Hilary, Rob, and David—all three siblings attended MBHS where I was fortunate to be one of their English teachers.
Fast forward two decades—today, Arby and Jeannie are proud grandparents to thirteen grandchildren. In 1994, Arby and Jeannie’s son, Rob, joined Kitzman Culligan full-time. Rob had taught for two years, but he and his wife Tracy decided to invest in the family legacy and bought the business outright in 2006. Tracy had been a surgical nurse for six years, but as their own family grew, she took on more familial responsibilities while helping Rob when he needed her.
Since that momentous decision, the young Kitzman family has consist-ently expanded their Culligan Dealership to include four full-sized commercial delivery trucks, 13 full-time employees, and approximately 5,000 customers (in Los Osos, Morro Bay, Cayucos, and Cambria). The Kitzmans are known for their many generous gestures such as donating drinking water to local fundraisers to help those in need.
The Kitzman extended family tends to be constantly on the move. They traveled to the Amazon Jungle in Peru with their church to do mission work in 1986 and enjoyed it so much—they never stopped. Jeannie leaves this month to visit David in his new home in Southeast Asia. Jeannie estimates she has flown abroad to visit her son and his family twenty-two times. One time, Arby flew to a grandson’s graduation in Lima, Peru only to immediately fly back in time for his grandson’s MBHS graduation—all in 22 hours.
David Kitzman married Mende King after meeting her at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego. They both earned teaching degrees and taught for years in San Diego and North Carolina before moving to Peru where they have lived and worked for the past thirteen years. Later, their oldest daughter Parker (first year out of high school) would become an assistant teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Niger, Africa. She stayed in Niger for one year before attending and graduating from BIOLA University in Los Angeles. Her brother Levi attended MBHS for one semester his junior year where he was able to play “American” football before returning to Peru with his parents to continue his work there. David and Mende moved to Southeast Asia in December 2017. Today, David and Mende have two adult children in the US and four children under six years old with them. They adopted two Quechuan children in Peru, and soon after, Mende gave birth to twins. One happy, international, diverse family for sure.
Meanwhile, Arby (not one to grow old) began to run in triathlons and repeatedly won national and world championships in his age group. MB had its first triathlon around 1986, and Arby and friend Dave Howell competed in it for several years.
Andrew Wilke (long-time science and math teacher at Atascadero High and accomplished soccer coach) and Hilary Kitzman wed in 1989. They had already completed their first successful mission trip together to the Amazon Jungle of Peru where they helped build a church and afterwards hiked to a small native community off of the Maranon River where the natives had never seen white people in their village. Inspired by the experience, Andrew and Hilary (attending the University of Wyoming at the time) led a group of twelve college students to Peru. This time, they traveled through cities and ministered to and helped already established churches.
Hilary and Andrew were blessed with three boys (Isaac, Joel, and Seth), and Hilary home-schooled all three until high school. Her educational accomplishment with her children is evident. Isaac is a mechanical engineer working in Santa Maria. Joel is currently working his way through the Fire Academy and works for MB Fire (two years) where he earned his EMT Credential. Seth is continuing his studies in pre-med at Point Loma Nazarene University.
One more blessing would come years later when the boys were in high school—Sophie was born and Hilary and Andrew now had a girl (second grade and being home-schooled by her loving mom).
Before Sophie, when the boys were young, Hilary and Andrew decided to move to Costa Rica for a year. Determinedly set on a new experience, they sold their house, cars, and various possessions and left the USA. Hilary ex-plained, “We wanted time as a family away in a foreign country where our children could learn from another culture and experience life with people who are in a completely different financial situation than what we are used to here in Morro Bay.”
Rob and Tracy Kitzman have three children as well. They include Annie (18 years old) who is currently on a nine-month gap year mission/service trip to Columbia, Ecuador, Thailand, Cambodia, and Albania. She will attend PLNU in the fall. Ryan (21 years old) is completing his junior year at PLNU and has already participated in mission/service trips, and Tyler (22 years old) works at the popular (and local favorite) Galley Restaurant on the bay. He also works with Grandpa Arby on his avocado ranch just outside Morro Bay. Recently, Rob and Tracy celebrated their 29th Anniversary while in South-east Asia visiting family and helping native families develop clean drinking water systems.
Rob shared with me his personal goal of helping 20,000 people around the world achieve safe drinking water. With that altruistic thought in mind, he has partnered his business with World Concern and Life-water and Compassion International. Currently, with World Concern’s help, Rob Kitzman estimates that he is halfway to completing his goal.
Last March, Rob, Tracy, and Ryan visited three villages in the moun-tains of southern Laos (near the Vietnam border) to help World Concern bring clean water to these remote villages.
When I asked Rob what motivates him, he referred to Matt 25:40 where Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine—you did for me.” Rob went on to say, “We are the richest nation in the world, living in the richest time of all human history. It is a privilege to give and serve—not an obligation.” Well said, Rob.