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Octogenarian building on land he's owned for 50 years

June 05, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

enlargement

Bob Stiles

RANSON, W.Va. - Despite being 81 and legally blind, Robert Stiles has no plans to retire.

Today, Stiles will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 34-home subdivision he's developing on W.Va. 9 near Leetown Road.

He bought the nine acres of land in 1948 and ran a trailer home dealership there for decades.

"I always intended to develop this land, but I never got around to it until now," Stiles said.

The modular homes are built in two sections and assembled on a foundation at the subdivision.

He calls the neighborhood Robelei Estates, a combination of his first name and that of his wife, Lei.

"If you say it really fast it sounds like Robert E. Lee, who was my hero," Stiles said.

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Stiles, who moved to Jefferson County in 1948, grew up in Alabama. He graduated from high school in the middle of the Depression in 1935. As class president, he encouraged his schoolmates to take the test for government work.

A year after graduation, 28 of his 68 classmates were working for the federal government.

"I thought the world of Mrs. Roosevelt and Mr. Roosevelt in that time," Stiles said.

Alabama was a solidly Democratic state then and Stiles knew the Democratic White House would make sure they got jobs."We brought them up to Washington in droves," Stiles said.

Stiles went to work at the Department of Agriculture and then went to the Department of Justice.

As the nation geared up for World War II, Stiles helped organize the Selective Service program to draft millions into military service.

He was at home on his farm in northern Virginia when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"All of us got into our cars right away and reported to Washington," Stiles said.

When war was declared, Stiles and others with the Selective Service program kept the government printing presses running nonstop for weeks, preparing notices to send out to local draft boards across the country.

"We sent out 50 boxcar loads of draft notification cards," Stiles said.

Two of the boxcars were lost in Georgia and years later, a farmer called to report he had found them, Stiles said. They had apparently been put on a railroad siding and left there for years.

In 1943, after his first child was born, his wife agreed that he could join the Army, Stiles said.

He turned down a commission and enlisted as a private, Stiles said. He later was promoted to lieutenant, and was assigned to serve in a tank unit stationed on the Pacific shoreline near Los Angeles.

For weeks, the Army took over the stately mansion of multimillionaire William Randolph Hearst and Stiles got the chance to live in the home.

In 1957, with his eyesight worsening, he left the military with the rank of major. He moved to Charles Town to be near the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

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