At some point, most people will ask themelves the “big” questions, including: How well did I live my life? Did I make a difference? How will I be remembered?
Listening to his family and friends, it becomes apparent that for Noble Enge, Jr., those big questions would have had satisfying answers.
In September 2013, Enge’s sisters deeded land to North Florida Land Trust in his name, to ensure its permanent protection and preservation. The Noble Enge Trust encompasses 500 acres, much of it classic salt marsh habitat near and adjacent to the Nassau River on North Main Street in Jacksonville, Fla. within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Perhaps Enge’s generous nature stemmed from his humble beginnings. He was born in Jacksonville in1929, during the difficult years of the depression. Diagnosed with polio at age three, he endured many surgeries during his growing years and wore a heavy leg brace for his entire life. When he was nine, his father died, leaving his mother to support herself and four young children.
He grew up in Arlington and spent his life playing outdoors, exploring the woods or climbing the banks of the St. Johns River. He received his degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida, where he was an award-winning gymnast. He was also an award-winning lifelong canoeist, kayaker and windmill class sailor, and belonged to the Seminole Canoe Club. On two occasions, he won the world’s longest river race, the 38-mile Mug Race on the St. Johns River, starting at Palatka and ending at the Buckman Bridge in Jacksonville. As a canoe sailor, he won his Open Portsmouth "B" Class - a nine-hour race won over 15 other competitors, and won more than a dozen national titles in the American Canoe Association's five- meter class on the St. Lawrence River. He canoed most of America's premier whitewater rivers, including Georgia's Chattooga, the Colorado, Idaho's Salmon River, the Green River, the Rio Grande and the upper Delaware.
“Noble could do anything; he would not be held back,” said his sister, Katherine Barket. “In 1951, he and a friend completed a 500-mile, 15-day journey starting at White Springs, following the Suwannee River to the Gulf to Cedar Springs. They went on to Withlacoochee River, then crossed land to the Ocklawaha River and to Silver Springs. They spent three days on the St. Johns to return to Jacksonville. My brother said that paddling the St. Johns was the most difficult part of the trip.”
In 1982, Enge moved from Arlington to a riverfront home in Switzerland, Fla., happy to finally live on the river that he loved. He believed in the preservation of land and water and participated in many environmental groups, such as the Stewards of the St. Johns River, Bartram Trail Historic Highway Preservation and others. He continued boating throughout the U.S., Canada and Hawaii, winning many trophies and awards.
“Noble was a renaissance man of the outdoors,” said Russell Weeks, who worked with Enge before his retirement in the early 1990s. “He loved everything about nature and particularly about water. Those loves probably led him to choose a career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, since the Corps is first and foremost a water resources agency. He began working for the Corps in the 1950s, but before he did, he and some of his buddies embarked on a week-long canoe trip through the Florida Everglades - how ironic, since that area is now the number one environmental restoration project for the Corps. He was involved in water resources planning and wrote about the original flow patterns of the Everglades. Many of today’s senior Corps employees remember him as a great teacher and mentor, a reservoir of institutional knowledge.”
“Noble was a knowledgeable and trusted hydrologist. He loved working with our nation’s rivers and lakes,” said Carol White, former chief of Jacksonville District’s water management section for many years. “Noble was a close friend while we both worked at Jacksonville District, and after we both retired, he became like a brother to me – a “go to” type of person who was always there when you needed a helping hand. We shrimped together almost annually on the end of his dock. We beheaded thousands of shrimp together into the wee hours of night and shared the catch.”
“Noble was a truly nice guy and an authentic preservationist. He helped me navigate through Planning Division when I first came to Jacksonville, and he took a sincere interest in my cultural resources work,” said archaeologist David McCullough. “He was a friend and a mentor. He had a strong passion for the river and its preservation and protection. I was delighted to find out what his family had done to honor his legacy.”
“The circumstances of his early life inspired my brother to evaluate his priorities. He was intelligent, generous, humble, kind and creative. He could achieve excellence in anything he pursued. He achieved what some spend a lifetime searching for and some never find,” said Barket. “Noble knew himself and chose a life that would give him the most pleasure. He found solitude, peace and contentment in the water and the environment. He lived life to the fullest in the manner that he chose.”
The Enge family began acquiring riverfront and marsh land in the 1940s, but it was Noble who made sure that it would continue to be held by the family until it could be preserved. Enge researched different ways to conserve and protect the land before he passed away in 2010. His dream was finally realized with the donation of the lands for permanent preservation in September 2013.
“Noble will be remembered for his generosity of spirit, his concern for Florida rivers and lakes, and the flora and fauna of the region. My two sisters and I believe it would be his wish to preserve this beautiful marsh land in his name,” said Barket. "When you spend your life on a river, you can't help but want to see it preserved."