Kent Noble juggles two consuming positions: he’s a principal in the law firm of Johnson, Bunce & Noble, P.C., and serves as president of The Rotary Club of Peoria. While many people are aware of Rotary, not everyone knows what the organization can offer a community—a subject about which Noble is enthusiastic. “The object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise. In particular, friendships are encouraged through opportunities for service, and high ethical standards are fostered in business and the professions. Most importantly, international understanding, good will, and peace are advanced through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service,” he said.
Noble graduated from the College of Commerce of the University of Illinois in 1965, where he was a James Scholar and earned a Bachelors degree in business and management. Following graduation, he enrolled in the University of Illinois College of Law, from which he earned a Doctorate of Jurisprudence.
]In addition to his service with The Rotary Club of Peoria, Noble has served as president of Prairie State Legal Services, Inc., the Central Illinois Legal Aid Society, the Greater Peoria Legal Aid Society, and Willow Knolls Country Club. Noble also is a member of the Peoria County Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association.
He and his wife, Bonnie, have three children and three grandchildren.
Tell about your background, schools attended, family, etc.
I was born in Wichita, Kan., but soon wore out my welcome there and, at the age of one year, moved to Chicago, where we lived on the far north side in an area called Rogers Park. I attended Gale Elementary School and, upon graduation, decided to attend Lane Tech High School rather than my district high school. Lane Tech is located at Addison and Western and basically serves the entire north side of Chicago. At that time it was an all-male school with approximately 6,000 students. I qualified for a college preparatory course and, consequently, spent the next four years taking classes with the same small group of students, all of whom were planning on attending college.
During my senior year, I was able to arrange my schedule so I was done by 12:20 p.m. I then took the Addison bus to Clark and Addison, the location of Wrigley Field, watched my beloved Cubs lose another game, and then took the “el” home to the north side. That experience, together with my father’s love for the Cubs, led me to be a lifelong Cub fan.
After high school, I attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where I was a member of and rush chairman for Beta Theta Phi Fraternity and also was fortunate enough to be elected treasurer of the Student Senate, the student governing body.
After graduation, I stayed in Champaign and attended the University of Illinois College of Law and graduated after two and a half years, rather than the standard three years. I was married with a child and was anxious to begin practicing law and earning a living as soon as possible.
I interviewed with a number of law firms throughout the State of Illinois and received a great offer from the firm of Swain, Johnson & Gard, which became the firm of Johnson, Bunce & Noble, P.C. in 1996.
My wife, Bonnie, is also a Rotarian and is director of the Peoria Park District. We have three daughters: Cindy, who lives in Chicago; Kristen, who has two children and lives in Las Vegas; and Jamie, who has one child and lives here in Peoria. Peoria has been a wonderful place to live and raise our family, and my wife and I have never regretted for a moment our decision years ago to make it our home.
Who or what influenced you to become an attorney, and what areas of law do you focus on?
My parents were the strongest influence in my becoming an attorney. They had a number of friends who were attorneys whom I respected and admired while growing up. And my aptitude tests in grammar school, high school, and college all pointed me toward a career in business or law.
My law firm practices in all areas of civil law, and all of my partners specialize in one or more areas of the law. My particular area of concentration is in estates, federal estate tax, wills, trusts, and estate planning. Focusing on estate planning has been very rewarding since I’ve had an opportunity to meet many people through the years, virtually all of whom come on a voluntary and consequently pleasant basis, rather than “having to go see the lawyer.”
You’re currently president of The Rotary Club of Peoria. When did you join Rotary?
I joined The Rotary Club of Peoria in 1996 after being sponsored by two long-time friends and Rotarians, Owen Ackerman and David Radley. I was elected to the board of directors in 2000 and, following that, served two years as secretary, one year as vice president, and began my term as president July 1.
What’s the mission of Rotary?
Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards in all vocations, and helps build goodwill and peace in the world. Approximately 1.2 million Rotarians belong to more than 32,000 Rotary clubs located in 168 countries.
Rotary Club membership represents a cross-section of the community’s business and professional men and women. The world’s Rotary clubs meet weekly and are non-political; non-religious; and open to all cultures, races, and creeds.
The main objective of Rotary is service—in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world. Rotarians develop community service projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as children at risk, poverty and hunger, the environment, illiteracy, and violence. They also support numerous programs for youth; educational opportunities and international exchanges for students, teachers, and other professionals; and vocational and career development. The Rotary motto is Service Above Self.
Tell about the history of The Rotary Club of Peoria, Club #76, which was chartered in 1913. How has it changed and grown?
In spring 1913, a group of interested Peoria businessmen, encouraged by members of the Chicago Rotary Club, decided to establish a Rotary Club in Peoria. Fifteen men met early in April and elected a committee to draw up a plan of organization. On April 26, a group of 53 charter members met with more than 100 members of the Chicago Club, and The Rotary Club of Peoria was organized with George Bean as its first president. On June 2, 1913, the club was granted Charter No. 76 by The International Association of Rotary Clubs, meaning we’re the 76th oldest Rotary Club in the world and, by the way, the first to be chartered in downstate Illinois. For 92 years, our club membership has included a distinguished group of business and community leaders who work together to make our club one of the outstanding service organizations in the Midwest.
The club has enjoyed a membership ranging from 250 to 350 since the 1950s and currently has 291 active members and six honorary members, making it the largest Rotary Club in District 6460.
We have one Rotarian, Charlie Cartwright, who’s been a member for 67 years, and we’ve had the good fortune of having two excellent executive directors over the years—Naomi Schaeffer, who served the club for decades until her retirement in 1990, and Melody Roberts, who’s currently in her 16th year as our executive director.
One of the biggest changes, and an excellent one, was admitting women to Rotary in 1987. Secondly, in 1999, the club established The Rotary Club of Peoria Endowment Fund, in cooperation with the Community Foundation of Central Illinois. The fund is used to make allocations and grants to projects and programs that benefit the community and are consistent with the ideals of Rotary.
What philanthropic areas does The Rotary Club of Peoria focus on?
We focus on scholarships to Bradley University, Illinois Central College, OSF College of Nursing, and Methodist College of Nursing; Sterling Merit Banquet honoring the top academic high school seniors in the area; Rotary Foundation; Rotary Club of Peoria Endowment Fund; Wheelchair Basketball for children with disabilities; Tyng School Adopt-A-School partnership; Christmas in April; Rotary Centennial Pavilion; PolioPlus; Hunger Grants to local agencies that provide direct services to individuals for hunger-related programs; and Service Above Self in Education, which is a teacher stipend and a school stipend. In addition, we were one of the major donors to the Military Services Memorial on the Peoria riverfront.
Our club promotes volunteerism and civic involvement. Downtown Rotarians give generously to charitable causes in our community, as well as give their expertise, time, and financial resources to other community endeavors and initiatives. It’s difficult to find a group, organization, or task force that doesn’t have a member of our club as a member of its board or committees.
You personally have participated as a Tyng School reader. What are the rewards of volunteering in the public schools?
We currently have approximately 56 of our members, consisting of 14 teams of four Rotarians, who donate one hour of their time per month during the school year to visit Tyng School and read to disadvantaged third grade students to improve the students’ reading levels and their scores on standardized state tests. Each child receives weekly one-on-one attention from a positive adult role model during the year, which concludes with a special luncheon at the Hotel Pere Marquette, where the children actually attend a Rotary meeting held in their honor and are acknowledged individually for improved reading skills during the past year.
The Rotary Club of Peoria/Tyng School reading program received the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Exemplary Partnership Award” in 2000, and our club members continue to be dedicated to the Tyng Adopt-A-School program and to providing valuable tutoring and mentoring to students in need.
The overall reward is knowing you’ve given a child a better chance for success in school, and the personal reward is seeing a child become more interested and excited as their reading skills steadily improve.
Rotary International recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a conference in Chicago, where the first Rotary Club was formed. What were the highlights of that conference?
The Rotary International Centennial Convention was held in Chicago at McCormick Place June 18 through 22. There are 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, and 48,000—or about 4 percent of the membership—attended the convention, representing more than 150 countries. The Chicago Tribune estimated the economic impact of the convention on the City of Chicago to be $36.5 million.
Two Rotary accomplishments highlighted at the convention instilled a feeling of pride in being a Rotarian. First, with regard to polio, Rotary and its global partners have immunized more than 2 billion children against polio. Second, with regard to global aid, Rotary has given $1.5 billion to various humanitarian programs to promote literacy, alleviate hunger, help AIDS patients, and protect the environment.
One interesting side note is that The Rotary Club of Peoria is now larger than the original Rotary Club of Chicago founded by Paul Harris, which is nicknamed “Rotary One” and currently has 200 members.
Walking into McCormick Place actually made me feel like I was our club’s ambassador to the United Nations after hearing many of the native languages and viewing thousands of Rotarians from around the world attired in their native dress. Attending the Centennial Convention was truly a remarkable and memorable experience, and I was honored to represent our club.
What advice would you give to a young attorney beginning his or her practice in central Illinois?
While in school, take as many English and speech courses as possible. After graduating, try to find an area of the law in which you really enjoy practicing, and involve yourself in as many community and bar association activities as possible.
What would you like to share with our readers that hasn’t been addressed?
The achievement of Rotary’s goal to eradicate the disease of polio is coming close to realization. Rotary’s polio work recently was featured in two of the most read newspapers in the United States: the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Times ran an op-ed piece about Rotary on May 11 of this year that quoted Dr. Rima Salah, Deputy Executive of UNICEF, who said, “Rotary is the heart and soul of polio eradication.”
In its April 12th edition, the Wall Street Journal, marking the 50th anniversary of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, published an editorial summarizing Rotary’s polio work and offering high praise. The last two paragraphs of that editorial follow: “In 1985, when Rotary launched its eradication program, there were an estimated 350,000 new cases of polio in 125 countries. Last year, 1,263 cases were reported. More than one million Rotary members have volunteered their time or donated money to immunize two billion children in 122 countries. In 1988, Rotary money and its example were the catalyst for a global eradication drive joined by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2000 Rotary teamed up with the United Nations Foundation to raise $100 million in private money for the program. By the time the world is certified as polio-free—probably in 2008—Rotary will have contributed $600 million to its eradication effort.
“An economist of our acquaintance calls Rotary’s effort the most successful private health care initiative ever. A vaccine company CEO recently volunteered to us that the work of Rotary and the Gates Foundation, both private groups, has been more effective than any government in promoting vaccines to save lives. It’s become fashionable in some quarters to deride civic volunteerism, but Rotary’s unsung polio effort deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.” IBI