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Foundation will honor Erin Noble.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

How do you honor a son who's gone? If you're Peter and Deborah Noble, with great expectations.

On Nov. 7 - the day their son would have turned 28 - the parents of Erin Noble will throw a party to launch the Be Noble Foundation.

"This is but a grain of sand in what we're hoping will be a much bigger story," his father says.

Erin Noble was among four people who died June 23 in a plane crash in Veneta near the Oregon Country Fair, the annual gathering that the 2003 South Eugene High School graduate embraced with gusto.

The foundation, spearheaded by Peter, will be aimed at promoting environmental and social causes, things close to the hearts of Peter and Deborah - and to Erin.

Shortly before the accident, he had heard his parents talking about a long-standing - and fruitless - effort to acquire a 26-acre parcel of forestland that encompasses the headwaters of Amazon Creek near south Eugene's Ridgeline Trail.

The property's owners, Martin and Leslie Beverly, have long wanted to build a housing subdivision on the site but are 0-for-4 in getting city approval, most recently because of slopes too steep and lots too small. (They are appealing the decision.)

Since 1999, as part of the Southeast Neighbor's opposition to the project, the Nobles have explored ways to buy the property and turn it over to some entity - probably the city of Eugene - to keep it in its natural state.

But the owners were asking more than three times what the Nobles believed to be the property's fair-market value of about $1 million.

"Erin wanted to jump in and help lead a fundraiser to save the headwaters," says Deborah Noble, 63.

Peter, 65, liked the idea. "When the Country Fair was over, Erin was going to put his energy into doing this thing. Well ..."

Erin died three weeks before the fair.

So, now, the Nobles - with help from Erin's friends - hope to make his wish come true.

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think he would be thrilled," Peter Noble says.

As we talk, workers are remodeling the west Eugene offices of the West Wind Forest Products company Peter founded in 1993 to manufacture and distribute sustainable wood products. And where Erin spent two years working as a forklift operator.

The headquarters have been moved to Jasper, where Peter's Cypress International mill operates.

In their place? The new office for the Be Noble Foundation, flanked by a cavernous warehouse - solar-powered - that will continue to store West Wind's speciality lumber.

Parts of the building are being painted in what Peter calls "Erin blue," his son's favorite color. A conference room is being redone in Alaskan yellow cedar, his son's favorite wood. Keena Holland, who was office manager for West Wind, is now the office manager for the new foundation.

"This is Peter's way of working through his feelings, by memorializing his son," Deborah says.

He admits to being lost in the months after Erin's death. "He was my only son," he says. "My only child."

Now, he's found renewed purpose in a project that he hopes is the first of many.

"Erin packed more into his 27 years than most people would in two lifetimes," he says. "He used to love walking through the woods up there to Spencer Butte. I remember him coming in the door and saying, 'I saw the woodpeckers!'"

Which is great, but $1 million? Is that realistic?

You have to understand how many people's lives Erin touched, says Scott Landfield, owner of Tsunami Books, of which Erin was a shareholder.

"At his wake on Mount Pisgah there were 575 people there," Landfield says. "When you looked at that crowd, it was an exceptional bunch of people, so much youth and energy. And Peter has the skills to do this."

Peter is thinking big. The remodeled office at his West Winds company seems roomy for what's now a staff of two - Peter and Holland.

"But if this thing takes off, I imagine a lot of young people - Erin's friends - working in here," he says.

He plans on fundraising around the world. "Who knows, in all my travels I may run into a billionaire while hiking."

Betty Taylor and her opponent in the Ward 2 City Council race, Juan Carlos Valle, have thrown their support behind the foundation. So has Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson.

If the journey of a million miles begins with a single step, that first step is the Nov. 7 event at West Wind, 3445 W. First Ave. An open house begins at 3 p.m. with entertainment to follow at 6:30 p.m.

From there, who knows? Says Peter: "This is only the beginning."

For more information call Peter Noble at 541-501-9707 or e-mail him at Follow Welch on Twitter @bob_welch. He is at 541-338-2354 or
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Title Annotation:Bob Welch
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 28, 2012
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