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NOEtworthy: Ken and Nancy Noe prepare to retire from Auburn

Kenneth and Nancy Noe

Dr. Noe may sound like the name of a villain in a James Bond film, but we're pretty sure that isn't the case. In fact, it would appear that Dr. Kenneth Noe, Draughon Professor of Southern History, is quite the good guy. 

"He really cares about his former doctoral students. He has supervised 16 doctoral students to completion at Auburn--including myself. I am proud to be his first doctoral student," said Associate Professor of History and Public History Program Officer Keith Hébert. 

Kenneth Noe started his career with Auburn in 2000. He and his wife Nancy, who is a librarian for the College of Human Sciences, met in graduate school at the University of Kentucky.

"Both of them have made an exceptional mark on the university, and both have made their mark in their respective fields. Ken and Nancy are known across the nation," Hébert said. 

We caught up with the Noes as they prepare to retire and asked them to look back at their illustrious careers at Auburn, and to find out what lies ahead in retirement. 

Would you please tell us a bit about yourselves? And how your path brought you to Auburn?
KEN: I was born in Richmond, Virginia, grew up in the mountains, and spent my entire life in the South until I went to grad school at the University of Illinois in 1985. My first job out of school was at the University of West Georgia. Nancy and I missed Urbana and started driving down to Auburn just to spend a day in a classic college town. One of my colleagues also was a big Auburn football fan, so we started coming to a game every year. I remember saying to my friend one game day, “Wouldn’t it be fun to work at a place like this?” A few years later, there was a job opening.

NANCY: I’m originally from St. Louis and after spending my childhood in the Midwest, my family settled in Louisville, Kentucky. I attended the University of Kentucky for Graduate School where I met Ken. We’ve been a dual career couple ever since. After Ken accepted a position in the Department of History at Auburn, a position opened in AU Libraries; I applied and was hired.

How/when did you first become interested in history, and specifically the history of the American Civil War?
KEN: My grandparents raised me, and the past was a constant presence in my house. My grandfather was a remarkable storyteller. I also grew up in the 1960s during the Civil War Centennial. It saturated Virginia. I still remember my first visit to the battlefield at Manassas, and especially my father hoisting me up illegally on the Stonewall Jackson statue. For my generation, history was the Civil War. It was in the water. I like to tell the story of how I worked construction one summer in college, and I was one of only two people on the crew who had not spent hard time in prison. Those guys were not only were among the best coworkers I ever had, but once they had an amazing discussion of the Civil War while we were digging ditches and pouring concrete.

How/when did you first become interested in library science? 
NANCY: Most librarians actually enter the profession from another track. I can’t say for certain why, but I always wanted to be a librarian, and worked towards that goal through my undergraduate and graduate studies. Prior to coming to Auburn, I was Director of Libraries at what is now West Georgia Technical College. I’ve held a number of roles within AU Libraries, including liaison to the English Department and Women’s Studies Program, Instruction Coordinator, and interim Dean. Currently, I serve as liaison to the College of Human Sciences and interim liaison to the Harbert College of Business. 

You’ve both had long and successful careers here. Would you please tell us a little about your time at Auburn – What were some of the highlights? What were some of the challenges? 

KEN: People ask me what I will miss most about Auburn, and I always say it will be the people. I’ve never lost my affection for Auburn students. My colleagues are good people, too and excellent scholars. I do worry that it has been too easy lately for our teaching and our kind of research to get lost at an institution that increasingly defines “research” as grants and government contracts. Auburn has one of the premier History departments in the South, and I wish more people on campus grasped that.

NANCY: I enjoy working with students, faculty, staff and community users in helping them find resources, and learning how to use, find and evaluate information in all its different forms. One of the challenges I think the Libraries faces is that my coworkers do such an amazing job in providing seamless services and resources that users don’t always see or understand the effort that goes in to making those available. I work with an incredible group of dedicated and hardworking people who deserve a great deal of respect, recognition, and support.

What are a few of your favorite memories?
KEN: Our son graduated from Auburn in 2009, and Bo Jackson was the speaker. I was down on the floor, having just hooded a grad student, when my son decided to run over and fist-bump Bo. Every other graduate decided that was a good idea. As I said recently in another interview, thank you Bo for not calling security. I also have a favorite place on campus, walking up the hill from Thach Hall toward Little Hall, just at twilight. It reminds me every time why I’ve been lucky to spend my career in higher education. Finally, I was in the stadium for the Kick Six. Speaking as a beat-up former defensive lineman, it was an incredible moment.

NANCY: My favorite memory is also watching our son graduate from Auburn.

What’s your favorite Auburn tradition?
KEN: There’s a cliché that college opens doors. Truly the thing I’ve loved about Auburn most is that people quite literally open doors for others. Walk out of any building on campus and the person in front of you will hold the door open for you, and then you hold the door for the next person. It is the loveliest tradition on the Plains.

NANCY: Watching the Auburn University Marching Band come out of the end zone tunnel for the pregame show.

What is your go-to place in Auburn for a good meal?

KEN: I swear allegiance to Chuck’s Bar-B-Que in Opelika.

What are your plans for retirement?
NANCY: Ken and I are returning to the Midwest, to Illinois. I look forward to having time to volunteer and travel. And read. Many people think that librarians spend most of their days reading. While we do read, its mostly job related. My reading and research list over the past year has mainly focused on information literacy, pedagogy, and critical librarianship topics. Finally, I’ll have time to read fiction and non-fiction for pleasure. I imagine that I will be a weekly visitor to the Champaign Public Library.

KEN: We’re moving back to the Land of Lincoln and I’m planning to write a book about him.

Lastly, is there anything you would have done differently if you had the chance to do it all again?
KEN: I’m sure I’d redo a lot of things, but the past is the past. That’s the hope, try to learn from the past and don’t make the same mistakes.

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