Ray Kinsman has extraordinary energy and drive for someone who just turned 85 (Oct. 21). Getting him to stay in one place for an interview is a challenge. He always has things to do and places to be — usually those tasks are to help out someone in need.
He knows about need and what a difference it can make knowing someone cares enough to help.
Kinsman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and grew up bouncing around foster homes. It was an existence of hard work and frequent harsh treatment; and it built a foundation of anger and hate in the young man. When he was only about 15 he was told by the social service people he could finish the ninth-grade and then he would have to leave school, get a job and support himself. So, with the advent of World War II and the draft, he had a way out of a life that had little future for him.
He went into the Army in early May 1943 and trained at Camp Shelby, Miss., and then sailed across the Atlantic on a Liberty ship. Kinsman was assigned to the 36th Texas Division and was about the only Easterner among all those Texans.
His ship took him to Casablanca, Morocco and from there he was sent by train to Iran and then to Naples, Italy.
While fighting in Italy, he was wounded — hit in the head when he encountered a booby trap. Kinsman was hospitalized for only a couple of weeks and then assigned to a “replacement depot,” which was responsible for shipping soldiers to wherever they were needed.
“I wasn’t going to do that. I went AWOL and rejoined my unit,” Kinsman said.
The Texans battled their way up Italy to France. Kinsman was wounded again in France and when he recovered, again made his way back to his unit rather than be shipped out to strangers.
He was captured by the Germans and put in a prison camp near the end of the war. When the Allies were closing in on the camp, the guards lined the prisoners up on the road and started marching them down it — supposedly to freedom, but in fact it was deeper into Germany territory. The guards started running off and when none were left, the prisoners turned around and started back in the other direction. They met up with an advancing British unit and were liberated.
“When I woke up in the hospital in a real bed with real sheets, I thought I was in heaven,” Kinsman said.
For his service, he was awarded two purple hearts and acknowledged as a prisoner of war.
When asked what lessons he learned during the war, Kinsman teared up and said, “I had no love. I had no one to tell me what was right or wrong.”
After leaving the service, Kinsman became a postal carrier in California, married and had three children. The hard times weren’t over though. His wife left and cleaned him out. He became a single father with three small children to raise.
As was his habit, he visited with some of the people on his route and shared his troubles with one of them.
“Back then, you put the mail through slots in people’s doors. Some how this woman found out what my route was and put a note in the slot of the first house on each block, explaining my situation.”
This woman encouraged everyone on Kinsman’s route to help him if they could.
“Money and gifts came pouring in and that’s when I learned about love and giving.”
He said he could not believe how generous people — strangers — could be. That experience started to open his eyes to the fact that there was kindness in the world, not just the harsh, hard life he knew as a boy and the bitterness that remained after his first wife left.
His second wife, Dorothy, completed the lesson, he said, tearing up again. She died in 1995.
Kinsman became a salesman and was successful enough that he was able to open his own business, which he dedicated to be a service to God. He was doing more than $1 million a year at the business by the time he sold it.
He and Dorothy came to Payson in 1991. Kinsman was far from retired though. He volunteered with the hospital, the library, Habitat for Humanity and Hospice.
Then he became involved in the Salvation Army here (he had worked with it in California). He gets the volunteers that ring bells in Payson between the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
Kinsman started getting his volunteers lined up in October and will thank them for their efforts at a potluck Nov. 14 at the Payson First Church of the Nazarene. He still has room for volunteer bell ringers — he needs to fill 555 slots. To help Kinsman help others, give him a call at (928) 474-6577.
Leave a message if you don’t reach him immediately, he’s a busy man. He gets food from the St. Mary’s Food Bank for Time Out, Inc. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then distributes any that they don’t need to Veterans Helping Veterans and U-Turn for Christ and sometimes to Mountain Bible Church, where he helps with the free Monday night supper. He also hikes with the Payson Packers every week.
He also has a new wife, Theresa, who he likes to take places. They will celebrate their 10th anniversary Nov. 13.