Soil Steward (Oklahoma)

  • Local Projects
  • 1945

Back before there was a state of Oklahoma, Lloyd Noble was born in the town of Ardmore, then part of the Chickasaw Nation. After stints teaching in rural schools and studying at the University of Oklahoma, he and a partner bought a drilling rig. In 1926 they struck gold—or its Sooner liquid equivalent—in the famed Seminole oil field. By the 1930s he was a very wealthy man.

It was Noble’s view that his home state’s long-term welfare depended more than anything else on healthy land—something that the Dust Bowl disasters showed should not be taken for granted. In 1945, he created the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (named after his father) to help Oklahoma’s farmers be good stewards of their soil. While the foundation has funded universities and think tanks extensively, its most important work has always taken place within 100 miles of its home in Ardmore. The foundation employs agricultural consultants who work with more than 1,700 local farmers to provide them with research, information, and new techniques in agronomy, plant biology, and related subjects. Roughly a quarter of the foundation’s 360 employees have Ph.D.s, and it has led ambitious projects like the development of a new kind of sustainable perennial forage grass for livestock.

The Noble Foundation has also awarded more than $300 million in scholarships for young Oklahomans and grants to local charities, generally in ways that link back to the field of agriculture. Overall, the foundation has spent a billion dollars on its charitable activities, and been one of the best friends Oklahoma farmers and ranchers could ever have.

As a footnote (though to Sooner fans, football is anything but a footnote), Lloyd Noble is also the man who revived Oklahoma’s pigskin program in the mid-1940s. Once described as “the most charitable and influential regent Oklahoma University had ever seen,” his benefactions ranged from paying bonuses out of his own pocket to top-flight professors, to luring coach Bud Wilkinson to Norman.

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