Thousands of people visit the Noble Research Institute each year. Wide-eyed students ready to conduct hands-on experiments. Agricultural producers eager to improve their operations. Visiting scientists, civic groups, teachers, the steady flow of people offers a familiar backbeat to the organization’s rhythm.
Then Jim and Marge walked in.
Parents of a friend of a friend, they visited Noble for a personal tour on a frenzied day that had exploded to-do lists across campus. Both in their 80s, Jim and Marge had no agenda other than fulfilling their curiosity.
The couple were celebrating their 67th wedding anniversary, and they had returned to Ardmore’s Lake Murray for the first time since their honeymoon. They heard about this Noble Research Institute and — to quote Jim — “We wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”
The frenetic morning faded as the three of us swapped stories. Me about Lloyd Noble’s vision for agriculture and our programs. Them about their globe-trotting as part of Jim’s military career.
We toured the campus and laughed together. They gazed and giggled and asked questions. The day’s pace slowed, and my full attention focused on the present. By the time we returned to the front lobby, Jim and Marge had managed to reshape a day with nothing more than their kindness. So unexpected. So appreciated.
Several weeks later, another busy day ended with me standing in the glass-fronted foyer of my building. Email and meetings had worn me out like an old sock. The heating grate offered some solace from the Arctic front outside while emails still held my attention hostage. Suddenly, a passel of children came streaming out from the building’s lower level.
The Botball class downstairs had dismissed. (Botball is an international competition-based program that teaches elementary through high school students how to program mobile computers with sensors — think small robots — to accomplish tasks. Noble Learning trains elementary school teams in the Ardmore area.) The students moved as a single organism, a mass of arms and legs, bright coats and scarfs. They bolted into the parking lot to find their awaiting parents, never seeing the adult standing to the side. I returned to my phone.
A few minutes later, I looked up to see one boy alone. He wore an overstuffed coat and paced outside in the cold. I popped open the door and asked if he’d like to wait in the warm lobby. A silly smile spread across his face, and he marched inside.
We were both waiting on a woman — me my wife and he his mother.
He surveyed me through his heavy-framed glasses in silence. His steady gaze communicated an unspoken request for conversation. I obliged. He immediately smiled and answered all of my questions in short, respectful clips, rising onto his toes with each response. Marshall was in fifth grade. He attended a local elementary school, and this was his second year participating in Botball.
Marshall was like many of the students who traipse through our halls and laboratories each year. They carry with them unexplored potential, dry kindling looking only for a spark. They may come here to play with robots or conduct pint-sized experiments, but they experience something so much greater. Noble invests in youth programs hoping to cultivate a sense of wonder in a life just emerging.
Marshall and I chatted for a moment more before headlights pulled into the semicircle drive in front of the building. One of us was headed home. As I slipped into the driver’s seat, I looked back at a young man I may never see again. His nose pressed against the glass, waiting on a ride today but preparing for a much grander journey tomorrow.
In the quiet moments since, my mind has wondered back to Jim, Marge, Marshall and the countless other visitors of the past 12 years. So often in life, we fixate on immediate circumstances and miss the unexpected blessings right in front of us. The couple who has stood by each other for almost seven decades that infuse an average Tuesday with wisdom and whimsy. The young student filled with potential and energy, a reminder that hope for a better future can actually shape the future.
All of these individuals are so much more than visitors. They are the embodiment of our mission.
The outcomes of Noble’s work are not measured in abstracts; rather, it is fully realized in the lives we impact. Every Noble employee works for these men and women, for the students and teachers, the farmers and ranchers, the researchers and collaborators, and the world beyond. It is our passion and privilege.
Because in the end, despite all that we give, we are the ones who are blessed.