By Rick Fromm
By Rick Fromm

    Talk about a long, strange trip -- 2016 will rank right up there with the strangest of all time.

Besides your average, run-of-the-mill (not hardly) natural disasters, terrorist attacks and rampant violence in general, in America we managed to elect a reality TV star to the highest position in the land in a political (or non-political, depending on your point of view) upset that is still being felt throughout the nation and world.

One year ago, if someone had insisted we’d be preparing for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as our 45th president, you’d undoubtedly have questioned that person’s sanity – big time. But, as they say, the truth is often stranger than fiction and the cold-hard reality is that “The Donald” beat Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, and everyone, even the most devout Trump supporter, is still trying to wrap his or her brain around it.

What will 2017 and beyond hold in store for the United States and its citizens? God only knows, and I’m not sure he even has a clue. Will Trump make good on his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again” in terms of financial prosperity, jobs, safety, environmental stability and a lifestyle that will be the envy of the free world? Or will he lead us down a dark and desolate road to destruction and mayhem and an America that is anything but great? Only time will tell, but I’m hoping for the former. Check that – I’m praying for the former.

In addition to the aforementioned events that created the headlines in just about every newsource known to man and alien alike, 2016 will also be remembered for the loss of so many beloved people we admired and appreciated for their immense talent and contributions to our world and individual lives. Yes, we all know our number of days in the physical world is limited, but it’s still difficult to say good-bye when the time comes.

Heading the list (at least in our house) were Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Gordie Howe, David Bowie, Morley Safer, Gene Wilder and John Glenn. 

We will also never forget the likes of Alan Thicke, Florence Henderson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Garry Marshall, Hugh O’Brian, Patty Duke, Joe Garagiola, Merle Haggard, Garry Shandling, Doris Roberts, George Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Harper Lee, Shimon Peres, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Pat Summitt, George Michael, Abe Vigoda, Carrie Fisher and so on and so forth. If I left anyone out you think highly of, my apologies. I think everyone’s priority list would be different, but it all adds up to a sad year indeed.

 Tragedies and heartache do not play favorites. We all have to deal with them in one form or another throughout our lives and that’s just the way it is … as long as the grass grows, the river flows and the sky is blue. Every person who has ever had any connection to Luther College experienced a heavy dose of such sorrow with the painful news Dec. 22 that icon and legend Weston Noble had passed away at the age of 94.

Perhaps no other individual in its storied history had as much to do with the success of Luther as Mr. Noble (I’ve always called him that). Known throughout the region, parts of the nation and even some corners of the world for his abilities as a teacher and conductor, Mr. Noble worked diligently throughout the majority of his life to make sure Luther remained one of the finest private colleges in America – especially when it came to music.

Not only did he maintain and help the Luther music program thrive and flourish, he was easily the college’s No. 1 recruiter and booster. And it wasn’t just music majors he convinced to come to Decorah, Iowa, it was pretty much anyone who had an interest in Luther – from musician to athlete.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the following comments from students and graduates when the subject of Weston Noble is broached: “I came to Luther College for one reason: Weston Noble.” “Weston called me so many times and asked me to come to Luther I just couldn’t say no.” “I wouldn’t have gone to Luther if it wasn’t for Weston Noble.” “I thought about transferring, but Weston talked me out of it.” “Weston Noble inspired me to be all that I could be.” “Without Weston, I don’t know where I’d be today.”

I could go on … but the point has been made.

While I can certainly carry a tune (especially in the shower), I didn’t come to Luther to sing in one of its amazing choirs. I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college where I could study and play basketball.

When Mr. Noble learned that Norse Coach Kent Finanger was interested in a tall, skinny kid from the northern suburbs of Chicago, he called in the spring of my senior year in high school and told me I’d love Luther, Decorah and Coach Finanger. He was right.

When I came back to Decorah to run the newspaper in 1985, one of the first people to contact me was Mr. Noble. His words of encouragement and support were just what this young journalist needed.

Over the course of the next 31 years, it became the norm for me to receive a call from Mr. Noble in praise of a recent column I’d written. If I was having a “down” day, his kind words changed my attitude immediately.

I guess it’s only right Mr. Noble passed into the spirit world at Christmas time. A deeply religious man who lived a life committed to love and understanding, I’m sure he’s organizing a heavenly choir as I write this.

So here’s a sincere “thank you” to Mr. Noble. You’ll never know how much your “pats on the back” meant to me. And please save a spot in the bass section for me.