After 33 years of volunteer service to St. James Place, John Noland is retiring from the board of directors of the local retirement community.
He was on the formation committee for the center beginning in 1981 and has served on the board for the past 30 years, including some 15 years as chairman during three different terms.
To show its appreciation, St. James Place is recognizing Noland for his decades of service by naming its Health and Wellness Building and its Residency Endowment Fund in his honor.
“More than any other individual John Noland is responsible for the success and health of St. James Place through his significant contribution of time, leadership and resources,” said the Rev. Ken Ritter, president and CEO of St. James Place.
Even though Noland has taken a major leadership role in some of Baton Rouge’s most significant and dynamic community organizations, he said he prefers to work in the background. He willingly expresses his opinion on a matter, but prefers not to seek the limelight.
“I am a big believer in the idea that behind the scenes careful preparatory work can set the stage for more public people of the community to help things happen,” said Noland, who has been a guiding force behind many community organizations including the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.
Noland said that his work in the community began when he was a young attorney at Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson. “I walked by the office door of Gordon Pugh about 1982,” Noland said. Pugh was serving as president of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, which, at the time, appointed two directors to the board of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Pugh asked Noland to serve on the BRAF board.
“I got fascinated by its work,” said Noland, who in 1986, was named foundation chairman with the task of finding its first full-time executive director. He convinced John Davies, the director of development at Christ School in Asheville, N.C., where Noland had attended high school, to leave North Carolina and come to Baton Rouge.
More than three decades later, Noland is still involved with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. “I don’t know anything in Baton Rouge that has gained more traction, more influence or made a bigger impact than the Baton Rouge Area Foundation,” Noland said. “The things the Baton Rouge Area Foundation have been assisting is where we need to go, I think.”
Noland was born in Natchitoches, where his father, the Rev. Iveson Noland, was rector of a little Episcopal church. After positions in Charlotte, N.C., and Lake Charles, Iveson Noland, was appointed an assistant bishop in 1952 at the age of 36. “He was the second youngest bishop in the history of the Episcopal church,” John Noland said.
The family moved to Alexandria and later to Baton Rouge, where members of the family had lived for generations.
In 1969, Iveson Noland was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana and moved to New Orleans. In June 1975, he was killed in an Eastern Airlines crash on approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He was 59.
John Noland attributes his interest in community service to his parents. “I don’t think growing up in a clergy household guarantees the inculcation of a value system,” he said. “However I was lucky in my case. My birth put me in a household where we worshipped every Sunday. We had Bible study, prayer book study. We did all the things faithful church people did.”
After graduating from Christ School in 1964, Noland attended the University of North Carolina on a Morehead Scholarship, a full scholarship that included $2,000 spending money each semester. The summer he graduated from UNC, Noland married Virginia Bailey. That fall, he entered LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center.
After graduation in 1970, he join ed Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson. It was during his years of law practice that Noland became involved with St. James Place.
People in Baton Rouge began talking about a first-class retirement center even before World War II. About 1975, Noland said, a committee was formed to investigate the idea of building a center.
“There are studies done by academics that support the idea that living in a retirement community actually extends life by two or three years,” Noland said. “We become isolated in our big old house and our big old yard. We lose the socialization that had been part of our active lives.”
During the examination period, the study committee hired a firm of retired Methodist ministers from Lee’s Summit, Mo. “The Methodist church was the most active denomination in sponsorship of retirement communities at that time,” Noland said.
The group recommended establishing a continuing care retirement community. “We followed that model almost to the letter,” said Noland, who was not on the examination committee but was on the permanent committee that led to the formation of St. James Place, which officially opened in 1983.
Noland practiced law for 15 years. Then he decided to try his hand at business. His first venture was Roto-Rooter.
“Then I had the good fortune to be introduced to Matt McKay,” Noland said. On Black Monday, Oct. 19, 1987, the day of the stock market crash, Noland and McKay began their business partnership. They purchased and ran a number of car dealerships as part of the All Star Automotive Group.
“We worked together for 25 years and never had a cross word,” Noland said. “When he bought me out, we were both represented by the same lawyer.”
Even though Noland is retiring from his work with St. James Place, he continues to work behind the scenes in the community at-large, especially in the area of social justice.
“I am convinced that Baton Rouge’s greatest single challenge is its racial divide,” he said. “We have suffered from a legacy of racism and poverty. We have been searching for years to find some institutional response to Baton Rouge’s multigenerations of race and poverty issues.”
Noland and his wife, Virginia, are involved with Together Baton Rouge, which John Noland views as helpful in a small way to offer solutions to some of the community’s problems. Together Baton Rouge played a part in lobbying the Metro Council to restore the Blue Grass Bridge in Glen Oaks and worked toward the passage of the property millage for the bus system.
“This is a case where fairness and a lifetime of apathy for the plight of poor blacks had to be dealt with,” Noland said. “I am glad that I was able to be part of it. It is more important to deal with these issues than ignore them and postpone them.”
Noland has participated in the YWCA Dialogue on Race and is chairman of the board of commissioners of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, which has assisted with several projects including the One Stop Homeless Services Center and the restoration of the Scott School for homeless housing.
He is also involved through the Redevelopment Authority with the Smiley Heights project to create an auto training center operated by the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and a career high school through the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
“There are hundreds of jobs in Baton Rouge with nobody trained to do them,” Noland said. “We are going to have people leave Smiley Heights and go get a job to support their families.”
Today St. James Place is a haven for some of Louisiana’s most involved and successful older citizens. “People at St. James Place were community leaders in their day,” Noland said. “They have stories to tell. They were people who ran plants, deans of whole colleges at LSU, people who spent their lives in high positions, people who have led really substantive lives.”
However, he feels that after 33 years, he has done and contributed everything he can to St. James Place. “I thought it was time for some younger people,” he said. His son, Jay, presently chairs the St. James Place Foundation.
“It has been very rewarding when you see the people out there and the richness of life that is now available to retirees that had not been available until St. James Place was established,” he said. “If we didn’t have it today, we’d be building it now.”