The Kiolbassa family led by Robert Kiolbassa as they cut the ribbon on the expanded sausage factory building.
The Kiolbassa family, led by Robert Kiolbassa, cuts the ribbon on the expanded sausage factory building. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“Be generous. Live generously.”

Those are the words that stick with Michael Kiolbassa when he thinks of his father, Robert Alfred “Bobby” Kiolbassa, who died July 20 at home, surrounded by family.

Kiolbassa died following complications from a heart attack, his son said. He was 84.

Kiolbassa, who took the reins of Kiolbassa Smoked Meats after his own father’s death, “never turned down anyone” who sought a donation, no matter the cause, his son said.

“Just looking at the comments on Facebook, the impact he made on people’s lives by donating sausages” was significant, said the younger Kiolbassa. “Whether it was for a church or a school, or to help pay someone’s medical bills or funerals, he was a friend to those who didn’t have another place to turn.”

For more than 60 years, Bobby Kiolbassa led the smoked meat company that his father began. At his death, he still held the title of CEO, although he stepped back from day to day management around 2012, after a stroke, his son said.

Kiolbassa was just a few credit hours away from earning an accounting degree from St. Mary’s University when his father Rufus Kiolbassa’s brain tumor was diagnosed. Upon his death two years later, the younger Kiolbassa, just 21 years old, found himself running the company, taking care of his mother and much younger sister as well as his own young family.

It was not an easy time, but his faith saw him through, said Michael Kiolbassa.

“He told me many times how he leaned on his faith during that trying time to see him through, how many times God navigated him through very difficult situations,” he said.

A devout Catholic, Bobby Kiolbassa graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1954. He served as a member of St. Peter Prince of the Apostles Catholic Church in several lay capacities, including as a member of the choir, lay eucharistic minister, cantor, and member of the Parish Council.

In 2000, Kiolbassa was inducted into the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great by then-Archbishop Patrick Flores. In 2012, he received the Lumen Gentium award, which is given to Catholic laypeople “who have demonstrated participation in the Catholic Church’s mission to bring Christ’s light to all” by current Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller.

While Kiolbassa passed on his strong faith to all of his children, Michael Kiolbassa said, he did not pass along another of his passions: singing.

“He had a beautiful voice and he just loved to sing,” his son said. “He didn’t pass his voice along to any of us!”

Bobby Kiolbassa sang in many local choirs, including the San Antonio Liederkranz, a German men’s singing group, which has noted Kiolbassa’s passing on its homepage: “The world has lost one of the kindest, gentlest, Christian men to walk this earth. He will be greatly missed.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bobby Kiolbassa loved to cook. He was famous for his crispy fried tacos, his homemade enchilada sauce, and barbecued ribs. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman.

While he was never able to return to St. Mary’s to complete his degree, in 2003 the university awarded him the Distinguished Alumni Award, and in May 2021 awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Commerce degree for his achievements in business and commitment to the San Antonio community. 

Kiolbassa Smoked Meats marked its 70th year in business in 2019, celebrating the milestone along with new processing equipment that has allowed the locally-grown company to more than double its capacity of smoked meats.

Employees at Kiolbassa Smoked Meats slice sausage as it comes off the smoking racks to be packaged and shipped.
Employees at Kiolbassa Smoked Meats slice sausage as it comes off the smoking racks to be packaged and shipped. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

His father’s generosity, Michael Kiolbassa said at the time, “really became part of our DNA as a company. As we started to grow throughout Texas and the United States, we really wanted a way to continue that spirit of giving back in communities we’re now a big part of, not just San Antonio.”

“He was humble and kind,” Michael Kiolbassa said. “He loved people, and they loved him.”

Born to Rufus and Juanita Kiolbassa on Jan. 10, 1937, in San Antonio, Bobby Kiolbassa is survived by his wife, Linda, and their four children and spouses: Kathy and Clem Spalding, Michael and Nita Kiolbassa, Julie and John Yancy, and Amy and William Meyers, as well as their grandchildren and spouses.

Visitation will be held Sunday, July 25, at 6 p.m. at Porter Loring Chapel, 1101 McCullough Ave.; the rosary will follow at 7 p.m. On Monday, July 26, a Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church, 102 Lorenz Rd. The Mass will be livestreamed; the link can be found within his obituary page.

Tracy Idell Hamilton

Tracy Idell Hamilton is Story Editor for the San Antonio Report.