LEBANON, Va. (WJHL) – For anyone who knew Ralph Kiser, they knew his appearance on ‘Survivor’ was just a natural extension of his personality.
The farmer from Lebanon, Va., had spent most of his life tending to animals in one way or another, and was more than happy to spend time in the great outdoors — especially if it meant that he was on national television.
Kiser was a contestant on “Survivor: Redemption Island”, the show’s 22nd season filmed in Nicaragua. He finished in ninth place, achieving Tribal Merge and becoming a Jury Member.
What audiences may not know about him is that one of his greatest journeys began when he returned from filming the show and met LaVonda Wood, his longtime partner. more than a decade.
“I believe it was fate, I worked at the same company he worked at even though he wasn’t there because he was on ‘Survivor,'” Wood said. “And when he came back, we met and it was love at first sight. I’ve been with him for ten years, and he was the love of my life. He was a really amazing, gifted guy.
The two hit it off and spent the next few years building the life they had always wanted. Wood, a transplant from Tennessee, had to learn to acclimatize to the mountains. Kiser, a newly minted local celebrity, had to get used to being known all over town.
“For years and years and years, it was the same story over and over and over again, but it wasn’t his fault,” Wood said. “People asked the same questions.”
Kiser was more than happy to let people know about his experience on the show, considering how hard he worked to get there in the first place.
“He just kept applying and they interviewed him every time. And if you had ever met him, you would know why,” Wood said. “He was just a big smile in the room, he was larger than life. I remember watching ‘Survivor’ right before I met him, and I believe he was the only one they looked at. had to put subtitles on because it has that southern drawl so thick.
One of Kiser’s dreams has always been to run his own livestock auction house, and the return of “Survivor” gave him the right excuse to get started.
“He was everywhere, but his main passion and number one love in life was animals,” Wood said. “He grew up on the same farm where he died in my arms; he had tons of animals. He had peacocks, chickens, roosters, a buffalo, cows, I know I miss them. And what he didn’t have, he had before.
Clinch Mountain Small Animal Sale was the brainchild of Ralph and quickly established itself as one of the area’s largest livestock and supply vendors.
“He was very good with animals; it was my Dr. Doolittle. He just had a way with them, but he also had a way with people. It was his life’s dream to have an auction house, and we’re entering our second year, and he loved it.
The two had an interesting dynamic: each work day, they switched places. Wood lived in Abingdon and worked in Lebanon, while Kiser lived in Lebanon and worked in Abingdon.
It went on for years, until Wednesday. Early in the morning of April 20, Wood said Ralph got up, went for a drink, lay down, turned to Wood, and died. A massive heart attack had struck the man Wood had watched brave the wilderness and tame creatures for years.
“I jumped up and jumped off the side of the bed to make sure he wasn’t laughing at me,” Wood said. “Called 911, then performed CPR and begged him to live.”
Now Wood and those who loved Kiser reunite with the impact he had on their lives.
“Ralph had a good heart, he had a lot of generosity in him. If it snowed a lot, he would not just plow his driveway, but his whole neighborhood. He was always doing extras like that. People would bend over backwards for him too , and if you would bend over backwards for him, then he would really do flips for you. He liked to help his friends, and very close friends, they liked to help Ralph.
After his death, Wood said the outpouring of support from the community was immense.
“It made me feel like I was on ‘Survivor’ because I was like, ‘This is what it’s like to get a million messages,'” Wood said. “We were more used to it than me.”
For those who want to show their support, Wood said a wake and lunch will be held at Ralph’s auction house on Henry Kiser Road in Lebanon after the funeral at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 24.
“Come please,” Wood said. “And help us say goodbye to a larger than life fantasy guy.”