Normal to Noble
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Pub Date: 01/01/2013
Price: $14.95 USD / $15.95 CAD
Trim: 6 x 9
Format: Trade Paper
BISAC Code – Category:
BUS074000 – Business & Economics/Nonprofit Organizations & Charities
SEL021000 – Self-Help/Motivational & Inspirational
Part memoir, part manual, Normal to Noble is one normal, “middle-of-the-road” guy’s journey to Greatness Through Giving. Al Midgett, founder of the successful non-profit known as The Noblemen, recounts the early and adult-era influences that inspired him to start an organization dedicated to philanthropy… and fun! The Virginia Beach-based organization has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding (as the Robin Hoods of Virginia Beach in 1995). Now a powerhouse of a non-profit, it is expanding throughout the region with ambitious plans “farther a-field.” So whether you’re a Noblemen, NobleTeens, NobleWomen – or even NoblePets! – member – or simply a sidelines supporter or curious admirer—come learn what makes The Noblemen tick.
Al Midgett, a lifelong Virginia Beach local, stumbled on his true calling back in 1993 when his life took a scary turn with the birth of his dramatically premature son, Matthew. Al and his wife Marge, awed by the power of community love and support, decided to “give as good as they got,” and ever since Al has made philanthropy both his life… and his living. As the founder of The Noblemen, he recounts the stories, adventures, successes, setbacks and exciting plans for the organization’s future. Al lives on Sherwood Farms in Back Bay with his wife Marge – and countless critters! This is his first book.
A Spirited Mission
For people to commit their time, creativity, energy, and resources to any endeavor—to selflessly give the way our members are asked to—they need to believe in what they’re doing. Not only believe in it, but be excited about it. To be successful, you have to have more than a purpose or mission (however honorable)—you’ve got to have spirit. And this is an area in which The Noblemen are truly blessed.
It has become very fashionable these days to make a distinction between “spirituality” and organized religion. But I think it’s a wise distinction, and more than just pandering to some New Age vogue. Religion is denominational, and sect-based. It’s easy to get hung up on the practical differences of the various paths versus the commonality of the destination. I mean, there’s a sound, sensible reason that you’re not supposed to bring up politics and religion in polite conversation—and that’s because the conversation won’t stay polite very long
Years ago one of our members had a sister who was dying from cancer and he asked the group to say a prayer on her behalf. Most members had no problem with the request, but a few did. “We are not a church!” was the feeling of those who objected. At first I was surprised by their vehemence, but, after a little reflection, I realized they had a valid point—we’re NOT a religious organization. And that reaffirmed for me that The Noblemen would not engage in such divisiveness—no “us and them.” We would dedicate ourselves to “noble” actions for their own sake and not invoke any specific “higher calling” along the way. After all, you know what they say about “faith without works,” right? (Here’s a hint: it’s DEAD!) So we promote the “works,” and leave the question of “faith” to our individual members to weigh in on however they privately choose.
Basic tenets like “man’s humanity to man” are our bedrock. We foster this spirit without getting derailed by various beliefs or principles by focusing on our actions—keeping our philanthropy “real and in the road,” so to speak.
One of the things that makes us such a spirited group is that most of our causes and beliefs cut to the very core of the human condition. It is almost impossible NOT to get inspired and fired up by the needs in our community, and the stories that put a human face to them.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Not long ago a gentleman named Ernie Easter called to share with me that his son was dying of cystic fibrosis. The young man needed a lung transplant but was not on the “A List” because of the family’s financial situation. The father was desperate and grasping for straws. I’m sure we were just one of many, many calls he had placed. I asked him to come to a meeting and share his story. As a man who was not comfortable asking for help—much less addressing 80 + business leaders—he was reluctant. But as a father desperate to help his son, he agreed. I handed him the microphone and he cried his way through his incredibly moving story.
I think most of us felt that there was little hope for this young man and we all grieved for the father and his family. There wasn’t one person in that room who didn’t “get it.” And he “got” that we “got it.” He came away comforted and glad he made his appeal. The Noblemen took up a collection and hosted a concert at the son’s place of business (Abbey Road Pub, where he worked as a dishwasher). We raised several thousand dollars, which went a long way toward getting him on that critical organ donor list.
The result? Almost one year later the son, Jared Easter, sporting a new set of lungs and, quite literally, “a new lease on life” ran into Pete Hansen at Abbey Road. He shared with Pete—who relayed the happy information to The Noblemen—how it felt to take his first full and healthy breath—a moment of grace that made us all “breathe a little easier.”
There are countless “magical, mystical” spiritual moments in the life of this organization, though this book is the first time they’ve ever been officially compiled, which I hope doesn’t strip them of their wonder and power. Generally, they come to me anecdotally, over a beer and cigar at some haunt like Tautog’s (where we repair to recap and regroup after The Trolley Ride). Sometimes they’re shared with me in private—and often with a catch in the throat and eyes welled with tears. It’s what I mean when I say The Noblemen truly changes lives—and not, by a long shot, just the lives of those we help.
No, not by a very long shot.
So, in the category of “it truly IS more blessed to give than to receive,” I share a few of the pivotal, meaningful moments (coincidence… or kismet?) that have become a precious part of The Noblemen’s legacy and lore.
Growing the Tree
This first story is legendary. It happened many years ago during The Trolley Ride, and is told and retold even by Noblemen who weren’t present for it. It is also depicted in Bill Rountree’s 2011 memoir, TREE (written by William F. Rountree, Jr./ published by Köehler Books).
Bill Rountree (AKA “Tree”) was a beloved local businessman and philanthropist, and an early member of The Robin Hoods. Tree was a vital, vibrant man who had struggled with various forms of cancer for most of his adult life—about 22 years in all—before finally succumbing to the disease in the summer of 2011. In 2002 he participated in The Trolley Ride, randomly assigned to those families that he would personally visit. (Most of us know very few specifics about the families we benefit beyond the vital statistics of the family members and the fact that they have a terminally ill child in the household.) Because we want our members to spend quality time with each family on the list, we divide the group into halves, with two trolleys deploying in separate directions. Like Forrest Gump famously said about the chocolate box, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
So no one was more surprised than Tree, once he got to the home, to find himself looking at a mirror image of himself “writ small” in the face of the young boy waiting there. Like Tree, this young cancer patient had lost an eye—and all his hair—to cancer and chemotherapy. So there they were—literally eye-to-eye—before busting out in conspiratorial grins that told the whole story, powerfully and wordlessly.
Pete Reuss has been an instrumental part of The Noblemen since he joined in November 2001, including serving on the board for several years, and spearheading major initiatives like the groundbreaking Community Partnership Program.
So he had long been a “believer”—in what The Noblemen stood for and accomplished, and, I’m honored to say, in me as well. “Al is very spiritual,” says Reuss, “and that’s a big part of his drive and his appeal. He’s been a critically important person in my life in recent years.”
Another person critically important to Pete—and who has also had a huge and positive impact on The Noblemen—has never attended one of the organization’s meetings or events. It’s his late sister, Tracy, who passed away from cancer in 2005. But she has left a profound, loving and enduring stamp on our community as well as on her native New York neighborhood. In 2003, the Reuss family started the Tracy Reuss Glasheen Foundation, which supports a massive toy drive to benefit underprivileged children. Needless to say, this was a cause that had The Noblemen written all over it, and we took the ball and ran with it, now gifting more than 14,000 toys (through schools and after-care programs, day-care centers, homeless shelters, and other organizations) each year. The toys are collected in approximately 300 bins placed throughout Hampton Roads, then delivered to “Christmas Central”— Pete’s office in the Virginia Beach TowneBank building — and then distributed TO the children BY children, generally members’ kids and their friends and classmates, introducing a new generation to the joys of philanthropy.
One of Pete’s favorite stories about all this involves another beloved sister and actually took place outside the confines of the “official” toy drive activities. At the tail end of the drive, The Noblemen will set up camp in various shopping centers and gathering places to give away the remaining toys. As you might imagine, these are generally the less popular offerings. So when one little fellow, 9, sauntered over to the toy van and began “shopping,” he became a bit dispirited, and Pete asked him what he was looking for. “Something for my little sister,” the boy said. So moved was Pete by the boy’s act of selflessness, that he was bound and determined to reward it somehow. But “the pickins were slim,” and not very inspiring — when he remembered that Virginia Beach Printing had donated that classic crown jewel of Christmas gifts, a brand new boy’s bicycle, and it was still available! He gave it to the thrilled little boy, along with gifts for his sister. Then he tracked down the boy’s mother, who was waiting in a car nearby, and told her about her son’s act of love. Ever the marketer, Pete also made sure he told the story to our benefactors at Virginia Beach Printing. “And guess what?” he added with a glint in his eye. “That Santa has made sure there’s a new bike or two (or something comparably cool) under The Noblemen tree every year since.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just “how we roll”—(or) how the wheel of good karma keeps goin’ ‘round’… and ‘round… and ‘round.”And it’s been quite a ride, if I do say so myself.
Wind in My Sails
Keith Ballance, a college friend of mine, and one of our original 12 founding members, has been one of The Noblemen’s hardest-working members and staunchest supporters. He does lots of pro bono for other organizations as well, most notably for Operation Smile, which also benefits children in need. So it’s partly because he’s wired that way. But he’ll be the first to tell you that it is those mysterious “spiritual moments” that happen so often with The Noblemen that have really influenced him to remain, as he puts it, “committed for life.”
One of those moments occurred to him on Chick’s Beach (where he lives and sails). “I was out in my catamaran one day and the halyard snaps on my boat. So I’m out there, sails luffing, stuck—basically screwed. I see another boat coming my way, and it happens to be another Robin Hood, and he tows me in. So far so good. But that’s not the coincidence. I get to shore, and I’m still hacked off about my boat, cussing and grousing. And there’s a little girl on the beach playing in the sand, and she offers me a beautiful purple shell she’s just found. “I know this child,” I think. Then I remember—her name is Melanie, and she’s one of the Edmarc (terminal) patients The Robin Hoods visited the previous Christmas. I remembered her because she had such a beautiful, brave spirit, even though she was badly swollen from the chemotherapy and had less than a year of life left. And here she was on the beach offering me a shell, and I’m there cursing my bad luck because I have a busted boat! What a moment of clarity that was! As I said, “I’m committed for life.”
Trey White is a long-term, extremely active Noblemen member. He is also a dentist with a busy practice, a husband and father, a surfer, and an avid runner. He devotes himself with passion to all these pursuits, while making an enormous difference to all the lives he touches—especially those of our community’s children. He is genuine, tireless and truly joyous in it all, and I feel incredibly blessed and inspired by the time and talent he gives to his causes.
One of the things he is most closely associated with is Surfer’s Healing, a group that started in California and came to Virginia Beach through Noblemen member Pete Reuss. The founder of the group was a professional surfer whose autistic son would accompany him to the beach. One day when the child was acting up, his father took him out on the board with him, which calmed the boy down. And Surfer’s Healing, which offers “surfing camp therapy” to disabled children, was born. Today the group holds “camps” each summer on both United States coasts and in several international locations. In 2004, Surfer’s Healing came to Virginia Beach for the first time, and in 2007 Trey joined a team led by Scott and Ginny Cohen to start a Virginia Beach chapter.
The Virginia Beach Surfer’s Healing offers one-day “mini-camps” during the summer months, and may host as many as 220 kids in a day. The program still predominantly attracts children with autism, but has expanded to include those with cerebral palsy. It’s a popular and successful program, and not just for the campers. Trey, who has a special needs child, puts it like this: “For those few days, they’re the norm. The beach is filled with families just like theirs. It’s not ‘taking your disabled child to the beach for a few days.’ It’s simply enjoying a beach vacation with your family, just like everybody else. And we all need that.”
But, as with everything, great programs cost money. That’s where The Noblemen come in. In addition to having several active members participate as “counselors,” we raised money for 12 longboards (which cost $2,000 a pop), including organizing corporate and private surfboard sponsorships. “It was a critical backbone of support,” says Trey. Which is enough to make any good Noblemen member, and certainly me, “swell” with pride.
On A Roll
As I mentioned earlier, Trey White doesn’t do anything halfway. Nor does he seemingly ever do anything just for himself. Again, The Noblemen wind up benefiting from this incredible energy and magnanimous spirit. Even in his daily and competitive runs—a time that many of us feel entitled to spend alone with our private thoughts—he is focused outward, looking for opportunities to help others. In Team Hoyt, he found it.
Trey White and Team Hoyt VB teammate Angela WestDick and Rick Hoyt, a father and son team, have been participating in marathons and triathlons together for decades. Dick, 70, runs and pushes Rick, 50, who has been wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy for most of his life. Trey ran alongside them in the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon one year, and was stoked. He and his daughter Katie (who has Prader-Willi Syndrome) joined them in the next race, which benefited St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children. Then he jumped in with both feet, forming Team Hoyt Virginia Beach to raise money for more than 80 racing chairs. In addition, he assembled a team of over 200 runners and 80 athlete riders with disabilities. The Noblemen stepped up to purchase the first three $1,000 strollers and “get things rolling.”
As a result, in 2011 Team Hoyt Virginia Beach was able to take 96 people, including 26 kids with disabilities, to Massachusetts to run a race and, not incidentally, to enjoy a cookout with their inspiration and mentor, Dick Hoyt, at his home in Holland, Massachusetts.
As the Via family wrote on the Team Hoyt website: “Trey’s leadership of Team Hoyt VB and his enthusiasm and generous spirit for so many worthwhile civic causes as St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, the Hoyt Foundation, Tidewater Autism Society of America, Foundation for Prader-Willi Research and The Noblemen is an inspiration to all of us… it’s a gift to the entire community.”
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Talk about “walking the walk”… Trey not only brings charitable activism to his avocations like surfing and running, but lends his considerable professional expertise as well. One key Noblemen project has been to provide assistance to a young woman named Amber, who was accidentally shot in the face at age two by her sister when playing with their father’s large caliber handgun. Obviously, this created severe and extensive dental, facial, and cosmetic issues for the girl, whose mother called The Noblemen for help a few years ago when Amber was about 16.
Trey mobilized a team of dentists, orthodontists, and plastic surgeons: Dr. Carl Roy, Dr. Scott Goodove, Dr. Greg Waskewicz, Dr. Christopher Harris and Dr. Richard Rosenblum, and they developed a five-year game plan that was completed in June 2012. The result? A full complement of beautiful, permanent teeth, and a smile that just won’t quit. “She called me crying the day she got her braces off,” says Trey. And you can’t put a pricetag on that. But if you could, Trey and the other doctors contributed countless hours—over $100,000 worth of treatment, including more than $20,000 in lab expenses donated through Hilltop Dental Lab, Bayview Dental Lab, and Nobel Biocare. And they’d all do it again in a heartbeat.
And as for giving back? Amber was one of the first to join NobleTeens when it started a few years ago at Tallwood High School. And Trey, who had been civically and charitably involved since his college days, sees a connection between that and Katie’s birth in 2005. “I have a support group of over 200 guys I can turn to. And an incredibly supportive wife, Elissa. It’s all been a blessing.”
Indeed it has.