Hodge: Colourful character enshrined as part of Kelowna’s history

Ken Noble was not a big man but he had a big and bold heart, despite his occasional attempt at times to be gruff.

I’m rather surprised the sad fact did not garner more media acknowledgement, and I am equally sad I did not have the ability to personally bid him a fond farewell.

Kelowna lost a hard working, well-known, and respected savvy businessman last week with the death of long-time resident Ken Noble.

With Ken’s physical departure from our community, another unique character in the mosaic of people who compose the Kelowna quilt has disappeared.

Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, the equally well-known building which he owned and managed for so many years of his life, the Willow Inn Hotel, fell before he did.

Noble succumbed to cancer last week, and much like his life, he never gave in easily.

He was not a big man but he had a big and bold heart, despite his occasional attempt at times to be gruff.

His employees had a healthy fear of the diminutive man who, while helpful and kind, did not suffer fools.

Over the years, I knew Ken on a variety of levels and in a variety of rolls; however, my best and favourite memories of the man were during my younger days when I not only worked for Ken but I also actually lived in the hotel.

To suggest those were interesting times is an understatement to say the least.

I have no doubts that there were probably many a day when I drove Ken Noble to the end of his tether—either as a tenant or an employee. On the other hand, anyone capable of running such a nefarious and unique hotel and related facilities was probably hardly fazed by the odd and often unpredictable antics of a 20-year old beer and food slinger such as moi.

I am still not sure if it was bad luck, good luck or simply twisted luck that played a role in the fact that I wound up working at the Willow.

It may have had something to do with my father’s meddling to find me work (dad and Ken knew each other fairly well), or that Ken was simply desperate to find yet another soul brave or dumb enough to actually work there.

Regardless, there was certainly some bizarre humour involved, evoked by some strange source I am sure, the day that I first picked up a bar tray and started slinging draft beer around the Willow Inn bar and lounge.

When I was not working in the bar or lounge I also often worked in the restaurant either serving tables or cooking in the kitchen.

Ralph, one of my best high school buds, and I decided that with school ending we should take a mixology course together and get jobs as bartenders.

After completing the night school course, Ralph went to work at the classy and relatively calm Royal Anne Lounge, while I wound up slinging in the Willow.

That scenario hardly seemed fair or logical. Ralph was not only eight or nine inches taller than me and 50 pounds heavier, he was also a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do while I was a couple of belts lower than he.

It only took me several months and several stitches and bruises to figure out that perhaps I was wiser to return to pouring out words on paper than beers into a glass.

By the time another character named Patrick Denton hired me to work as the first reporter at the Capital News, I was ready for anything.

But I sure had a lot of fun and amazing memories learning those life lessons.

Ken Noble gave me that chance and I have no doubts he had his share of chuckles and head shakes in the process.

One of my best memories of a ‘Noble moment’ involved a small scolding I received early one morning when I was in the kitchen making up sandwiches for the inmates at the Kelowna cop shop jail cells. (The Willow had the contract for such food prep.)

Ken wandered into the kitchen in his particular, no-nonsense style of entrance, and announced, “Charlie, you have to keep your damn TV quieter late at night. I had three complaints from the front desk about the TV in your room being way too loud last night. What’s that about?”

When I explained that the working girl who was residing in the hotel room next to mine at that particular time was very loud entertaining her customers, and I was simply trying to drown out the graphic sounds, Ken just shook his head and said, “Charlie, that sort of noise is par for the course around here. Front desk staff and other regular guests around here are used to that sort of noise, but your TV—you got to tone that down my friend.”

Another time when I was making sandwiches he admonished me for putting too much egg into the egg salad slabs.

“Look, the guys eating them could not care less, the guys serving them certainly don’t care, and the only ones paying for them are the taxpayers,” he lectured.

A few weeks later when another bar worker and I had survived a wild and woolly night of bar brawls and silliness which had led to a slightly earlier than normal closing time, Ken showed up during the clean-up and threatened to fire us.

“I ought to run your butts out of here. I walk in the back, start walking down the hall, and there is some guy lying on the floor in the hall bleeding all over the place. I can’t have that. It’s just not good for business,” he said, stomping away.

The other bartender looked at me in shock and said, “The !$#!!* guy thinks he’s running The Hilton for God’s sake.” I never dared laugh until Ken was out of sight.

Kelowna will never be the same without the Willow Inn Hotel and certainly not the same without Ken Noble,

R.I.P. Ken—thanks for being there.

•••

With Christmas on the horizon, the gazillionth annual Charlie’s Angels Christmas List is also pending.

Readers are encouraged to email me the names of people who they consider personal angels in their lives; folks who have gone above and beyond in kindness to help others in the year.

Send them to me and I will run them in a column before Christmas. It is your way of acknowledging someone who has done something nice without any expectation of a thank you.

Email your names and reasons to hodgepodge2@shaw.ca.

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