Alumni Profiles

Our alumni are leading interesting and inspiring lives.

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Ken Noack Jr. ’73

Published on: Feb. 15, 2019
by Sara Berglund


Ken “Kannes” Noack Jr. ’73 shares the same passion for mountaineering as he does for the causes in his native Sacramento community and throughout the world. August 2018 marked Noack’s 39th mountaineering sojourn in the Dolomites of Italy as well as his 46th year as a philanthropic leader who has raised millions of dollars for the likes of local PBS affiliate KVIE 6 TV, Sacramento Society for the Blind, Rotary Club of Sacramento and its Foundation, and the California State Library Foundation, just to name a few. Among the multiple accolades Noack has received for his extensive commercial real estate work, he has been recognized three times as Humanitarian of the Year by the Sacramento Association of Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) and as Fundraising Volunteer of the Year on National Philanthropy Day by the Association of Fundraising Professionals California Capital Chapter. Noack began his schooling at OES (Bishop Dagwell Hall at the time) as an eighth-grade boarding student.


You started boarding school in eighth grade when it was still Bishop Dagwell Hall. What was it like to be so far away from home and how did this experience shape who you are today?
It was a paradigm shift and life-changing event, as the oldest child of three. It was the brainchild and recommendation of my parochial grammar school principal, Thomas Parker. My mother had attended boarding school and that was an influence as well. It had been a good experience for her. My experience shaped who I am today by instilling, virtually overnight, responsibility, discipline, independence, self-awareness, the trials and tribulations of group living and group dynamics, and mixing with peers from very different cultures of the world. I don’t regret one minute of it and applaud my parents for the courage to send me off to boarding school. What a remarkable school it was and continues to be today.


What are you currently working on professionally?
I am in my 40th year of commercial real estate, primarily focused on my first love and passion of land brokerage with a little retail leasing and investment sales brokerage thrown into the mix, just for the variety and perspective to keep it interesting.


What has your path been from OES to where you are now?
I graduated from OES and attended the University of Denver. At the time, it was the closest institution of higher education I could attend, without going to the East Coast, to continue my love for playing lacrosse (thanks, coach Fred Wood and John Hicks) and to ski, hike in the Rockies, join a fraternity, and go to school (in that order of priority!). I then transferred to UC Berkeley, was elected president of my fraternity, skied, hiked, and studied (again in that order). I dropped out of college to the dismay of my folks, joined a lifelong friend (and OES student, Nils “Harold” Larsen) in the Pacific Northwest, building custom homes and converting old brick apartment buildings into condominiums for about a year.

I then travelled through the mountains of Asia for a bit and settled in Santa Rosa, California, where I built about 2500 homes, mini storage, and office buildings for six years while also obtaining my sailplane license, pilot’s license, and real estate license. I completed my college degree (BS in human relations and organizational behavior) on the 10-year plan (as it was the only thing in life I had started but had not completed).

I then moved back to my native Sacramento where I have enjoyed practicing land brokerage as a career, self-employed, travelling, and climbing worldwide along with my philanthropic passions.


When did you first recognize a desire to exercise your "power for good”?

Giving is a passion and it is something that either comes to one’s soul naturally or not at all. You can’t make it happen; rather, you just can’t help the feeling. You are moved. It struck me as a teenager, but I really couldn’t be as effective as I wanted to be on a larger scale until my professional life.


How did your passion for the outdoors develop? Did any of your OES experiences contribute to this passion?

My parents instilled this passion in me. As kids, we spent summers and winters at our cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and our beach house in Bolinas, on the Pacific Coast of northern California. At OES, my sister Karen Chickering ’74 and I, among others, desired to continue our passion for skiing, but as boarding students there was no way to get to Mt. Hood. Skiing was not a school sport, but we made it a school sport by getting our chemistry teacher, Mr. Hutchison, to be our official “coach.” We taught him how to ski, raised money at a concessions stand we created at home basketball games and wrestling matches, we started a ski team, and raced! I was never a good racer but it afforded the ability to ski on the weekends. The late Paul Gerhardt ’74 was our star racer. He was really good!


Your deep desire to help your community is obvious. How does the work in your volunteer commitments play a role in your professional life?

It has returned benefits to my professional career in spades, through name recognition, respect by peers for the contributions made to the community, and any number of other six degrees of separation. I pursued community work because I was passionate about those specific needs in our community and in the world. But I had no idea, nor did I even think about what the beneficial repercussions could be and how it would influence my professional and personal life for the better.


With all the many good causes out there, what advice do you have for young alumni in balancing their professional careers and the desire to give back?

There is no free lunch in life and so much in the world frankly cannot be achieved without the voluntary and financial contributions of individuals. The gratification of giving is indescribable. It also affects one’s self-worth, perspective, and attitude. You might have had a bad day in the office but look what you did for that blind person, that kid without a book to read,
eradicating polio worldwide, digging wells to provide potable water, opening library collections to learn from by millions, providing computers to those who can’t afford them so they can educate themselves, exposing the world to the redeeming media of public television, and on and on and on. My advice: pick a cause you have a natural passion for and the organization of that passion whose majority of dollars go to the cause, not overhead. Although we are just one, we can and do make a difference.


With the recent tragic fires in Paradise, has your community come together to support the fire victims? Have you been involved in supporting the fire relief efforts in California?

Yes, it’s one of many increasingly tragic events on the planet. Rotary has played a major role in helping the affected, including my club, through financial assistance and just about every other imaginable contribution you can name. It is remarkable and fascinating to me, with respect to almost every tragic event worldwide, how the species of Homo sapiens comes together to help one another, unlike most other species on our planet. We all have a lot for which to be thankful!


Yunha Kim '07 - Making Meditation a Simple Habit

You may recognize Yunha Kim ’07 from her appearance on Season 9 of Shark Tank in October 2017. Or perhaps you saw her listed on Forbes Magazine's 2017 30 Under 30: Consumer Technology. Maybe you read about her newest company, Simple Habit, in The New York Times. But only a lucky few at OES can say “I knew her when . . .” 

Bonnie Brennan, current OES Admissions Associate for Middle School and former Dorm Parent, remembers Kim from her time in the dorms: “Yunha had a can-do attitude. She brought positive energy to everything she did, from mock fire drills to “Pump it Up”; from our annual Intercultural Retreat at Menucha to look at identity and make masks, to all-dorm trips to the local ice rink. Her response was always, ‘Let’s go!’”

What are you currently working on professionally? 
I’m founder and CEO of Simple Habit, working to build Simple Habit into your go-to mental health and wellness platform.

What has your path been from OES to where you are now?
I went to Duke for undergrad. After graduating, I moved to New York where I took my first job as an investment banker on Wall Street. I started my first company, Locket, shortly after. When I sold Locket, I moved to California to attend Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). The stress of building my first startup led me to build a meditation habit. While attending GSB, the idea came to me to build the "Spotify of meditation." I used my own savings to bootstrap the project. When I saw the business model was successful, I dropped out of grad school to focus full-time on building Simple Habit. Simple Habit went through Y Combinator in April 2016 and is now backed by YC, NEA, and prominent investors like CEOs of Dropbox and Gusto.

How has OES played a role in your approach to learning and work, and what do you carry with you from OES today?
I was 14 when I left home in Korea to join the boarding school program at OES. Being away from family at such a young age was very difficult, but I learned a lot through that process and got a lot of support and guidance from school and faculty. I learned how to work hard, and how to be proactive in planning my future. But of all the impact OES had on me, I'm most grateful for the lifelong friends I've made at OES. I roomed with Qingyuan Ma ’07 for two to three years and she's my best friend to this day.

Simple Habit is a great success. What do you attribute that to?
A strong team that is also passionate about meditation and mental health. Our commitment to being data-driven.

Meditation and mindfulness are gaining popularity. Here at OES, Pre-K students are learning mindfulness techniques and the athletics program has formed over a dozen Basketball and Mindfulness teams to meet student demand. What makes that important today?
That’s awesome! Meditation and mindfulness can benefit any person at any time in life. Science shows meditation can help people reduce stress, improve focus, sleep better, boost energy and creativity, strengthen relationships, plus more. Students are more stressed than ever before. Meditation is a great resource to help young people learn not only to better manage stress but also to cope with any life challenge, like studying for a big school exam, dealing with family stress, dealing with failure (like not getting into a certain school or making a certain team), big life changes like moving to college, or not being able to sleep. Luckily, Simple Habit offers meditations for all of those situations, plus more!

What role does meditation play in your life?
Meditation has transformed my life. As a CEO, friend, and daughter, I am more focused, more compassionate, and more energized than I’ve ever been. Meditation helps me think clearly and respond to problems with better solutions. Therapists and exercise are amazing resources for managing stress, but they’re time-intensive and can be expensive. For me, meditation is a more accessible resource for my mental health. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t have to sit for 30 minutes with your eyes closed to meditate. I meditate wherever and whenever I have a spare one to five minutes—before a meeting, in a Lyft on my way to an investor pitch, on my walk home from work—and yes, we have meditations for all of these! This allows me to take advantage of the downtime to reset mentally and physically.

Where do you and Simple Habit go from here?
We continue to grow to help millions of people improve mental health, reduce stress, and feel happier. 

What advice do you have for current students interested in entrepreneurship?
If you have an idea you are passionate about, you should pursue it to the best of your ability.

What advice would you give young alumni on finding balance and satisfaction in their work and life?
Self-care is critical. Meditation, seeing a therapist, taking a bath, going for a run. You will work long days, and stress is inevitable, so it’s important to take a little time each day to step away, breathe, and reset. I learned this the hard way with my first startup when I experienced burnout. Now, I meditate at least once every day. As a boss, leader, and team member, I am more alert, focused, and equipped to handle the hundreds of unexpected things that happen at a startup. Learn to prioritize and check in with yourself and how you're feeling. Find the right tools that work for you.

You can learn more about Kim’s current venture, Simple Habit, at

Bobby Lee '88 - Helping Portland Prosper

by Helen Kirschner Townes ’85

Bobby Lee ’88 has been among Oregon’s youngest and most steadfast public servants since graduating from Oregon Episcopal School in 1988. Today, the city of Portland benefits from his expertise and passion. 

In the fall of 1985, as a teenager, Lee was a newcomer from South Korea to the US, Oregon, and the student body at OES. His parents felt it was important that he and his two brothers benefit from the opportunities in the United States, and sent them to high school in Portland in order to acclimate before attending college here. (Lee started at OES in fall of 1986, and his brother Billy ’89 followed soon after; their older brother Richard attended Jesuit High School). 

Lee was hardly daunted by his newcomer status. "I really enjoyed my experience at OES. It was such a supportive environment, with very involved parents and faculty."  He quickly made his mark at OES, recalling a goal on the soccer field against rival Catlin Gabel as a highlight of his first autumn as an OESian. Before long, his Datsun 510—known as the “Silver Bullet”—was the designated ride home for a few other students from NE Portland. He went on to become a sociology major at the University of Oregon, where he was the first Asian American elected student body president. 

“I’ve often said that being naïve is my greatest strength,” Lee laughs. 

Lee’s guileless idealism remained after graduating from the University of Oregon. He continued studying there to complete a master’s in public administration, and then decided to run for office. At the age of 26, Lee became the youngest person, and first Asian American, elected to the Eugene City Council. He would later become its president. 

Until 2011, Lee threw himself into work at public and private sector organizations in Lane County and at the state level, serving on (among several others) the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, McKenzie Watershed Council, Lane Metro Partnership, and Eugene Area YMCA Board of Directors. 

Then it was time to make his entrance onto a bigger stage. Since 2000, Lee has worked in an impressive scope of organizations in the Portland metropolitan area. From workforce development to semiconductors, Lee has learned and navigated the intricacies of governmental affairs, environmental regulations, workforce training, global manufacturing and strategic planning in both the public and private sectors. 

In 2011, he was tapped by then-Oregon governor John Lee Kitzhaber to head up the Regional Solutions Center (RSC), state agency teams serving 10 counties throughout the Willamette Valley, including the Portland metropolitan region. Coordinating 10 different state agencies in the RSC (including the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Department of Energy, and the Oregon Land and Conservation Department), Lee learned that in order to integrate the activities of state agencies, they needed to be solution-focused rather than inefficient cogs in the endless rounds of bureaucracy. The key to finding deep solutions, he says, is to operate according to a common set of regional priorities set collaboratively by local and state leaders and based on economic and social trends. 

Lee’s expertise and his recognition of Portland’s dramatically changing economy and increasingly diverse population ultimately led him to his most recent position. Since April 2017, Lee has served as Director of Economic Development for Prosper Portland (previously known as the Portland Development Commission). 

Prosper Portland, the economic and urban development agency for the city, announces its ambitious mission on its website: “Growing quality jobs, advancing opportunities for prosperity, creating vibrant neighborhoods and communities, and collaborating with partners to create an equitable city, with prosperity shared by Portlanders of all colors, incomes and neighborhoods.” 

These are goals that Lee feels uniquely passionate, informed, and positioned to help address. “Portland’s new economy has not been inclusive. And many believe it will only get worse,” Lee points out. 

“High paying knowledge jobs and low wage service jobs are forcing out middle wage jobs.” Lee says. “At the same time housing prices are sky rocketing, the population is growing, and the e-commerce industry is pressuring local small businesses.” 

Prosper Portland, under the executive directorship of Kimberly Branam, is establishing a new approach to community-driven economic development in Portland through the creation of six Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative Districts. With support from Prosper Portland, each district creates and implements projects that increase economic opportunities and reflect the vibrancy of their communities. In the next five years, Prosper Portland hopes to see at least 1,000 diverse businesses become stronger and poised for further growth with support from their Inclusive Business Resource Network partners. 

“I hope that Portland celebrates the stories of these successful entrepreneurs who are women and people of color,” says Branam, who coincidentally also attended OES, from fifth to eighth grade.  “Their growth inspires more equitable access to financial capital—as well as more inclusive workforces and workplaces.” 

When asked what Lee brings to his role at Prosper Portland, Branam is nothing short of enthusiastic. “Bobby stood out not only because he brought extensive public and private sector experience, but also because of his experience delivering projects and programs that promoted inclusive economic growth,” she points out. 

“Bobby’s the utility player you want on your team; he can do anything he sets his mind to, motivates the team with his enthusiasm, and doesn’t care about the credit,” Branam continues. “He cares deeply about our city and state and has developed an amazing network of relationships and partnerships in his career. He’s smart, extremely capable, and has a terrific sense of humor. We’re incredibly fortunate to have him at Prosper Portland.”   

Lee, Branam, and Prosper Portland are working toward lofty goals over the next 10 years. They hope to catalyze dynamic, inclusive neighborhoods in key Portland locations; maintain affordability in East Portland neighborhoods from Rosewood to Lents and Gateway; increase access to goods, services, and connections to employment centers; maintain a high concentration of employment and maker-space through public/private partnerships in the Central Eastside; and finally, establish The Broadway Corridor, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add to Portland’s economy and vitality and to deliver community benefits.   

“Everyone, at every level, holds a piece of the larger solutions,” Lee points out. “To address the emerging challenges, we need to collaborate in ways never seen before between private, public, and civic sectors. Are we naïve enough to try?”

Chuck Duff '77 - Taking Business to New Heights

On the History Department page of a bygone OES yearbook, there’s a picture of a sign that reads: “Doctor Duff: Office Hours 10–1.” Another photo showcases a smiling student clad in a striped sweater and looking at ease with a book in his hands.

The student is Chuck Duff, OES Class of 1977.  After walking out of the school’s doors and into the broader world, he has taken his life to grand heights. Over the course of a 35+ year career, Duff has worked for the United States Air Force, established an incredible track record at NASA, and now serves as an independent consultant. We caught up with him recently to ask about this exciting path and garner some snippets of advice for current OES students.

Q What paths have your life and career taken since graduating from OES?

I attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. I started out as an economics major because I had an interest in business, but what I really loved was international security affairs, politics, and history. I took a pivotal class from Dr. Graeme Auton on Post-World War II International Security. He was an amazing mentor and had a profound effect on me by helping me refocus on what I was really interested in. I learned more than I could have ever imagined, and it set me on the course that ultimately became my career in aerospace.
After graduating from college, it took me a year and half to secure a position. Jobs for computer science majors were unlimited, but if you had studied liberal arts, it was different. I was repeatedly told the aerospace community was looking for technical talent. I was told “no” more times than I can count, but I knew someone would eventually say yes! Perseverance paid off. Once hired and with the benefits of timing, mentors, and a lot of hard work, in a span of over 32 years, I never had to look for another job.

I started with the United States Air Force as a civilian and worked in procurement on the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) program. This was followed by serving as the contracting officer for the $1 billion acquisition of five Defense Support Program (DSP) launch detection satellites. I met incredibly talented people, each contributing something different to make the program successful. I’m a red, white, and blue person, so it meant a lot to have the opportunity to work with folks all dedicated to serving their country. 

I was with the Air Force for eight years, and then NASA called, saying, “We’d really like you to come our way.” Everything was going perfectly at the Air Force. I had no reason to leave until I looked at the NASA opportunity as a way to learn new things and see the aerospace industry from the commercial, academic, and civil space perspectives.  

Over the next 24 years at NASA, I worked at both Headquarters and Field Center locations. Each brought its own flair and culture. I worked on the Space Shuttle program for four years. The real fun was going out into the field. The engineers and scientists leading the missions could tell I was sincerely interested in understanding their work. They brought me into all of the details and the issues. In turn, I understood what they needed and could help them frame a way to get it. A true win-win. Even though I was a non-technical person, they included me in design activities, critical tests, and manufacturing events. There was nothing better than seeing how things worked—and even more exciting was seeing those things serve the mission they were designed for. Ultimately I had the privilege of witnessing over 15 Shuttle launches (the night launches were particularly spectacular), countless expendable launches, and six Shuttle landings!

Later I moved into Operations. My responsibilities expanded to leading facilities like Maintenance, Logistics, Aviation Management, Environmental, Protective Services (Police and Fire), and Information Technology as well as Procurement services at a major NASA Field Center. This meant responsibility for over 500 people and over $200 million in annual budget authority. What struck me was the people doing the day-to-day work. They all believed what they were doing was important, and were always willing to go above-and-beyond to get the job done.  

But in 2015, as hard as it was, I elected to make another change: retire from NASA and start my own company. The desire to keep learning gave me the confidence to take another chance and start something new, based on confidence OES helped to instill.

Q What are you currently doing for work?

I have been an independent consultant since 2015. As usual, I decided not to take the easy path. Instead of continuing my NASA career, I started my own company. As expected, there were new challenges to overcome, but I have always found these to be stimulating and motivating. 

I now have the opportunity to work with several different clients, drawing on experiences gained over a diverse career to work well with them all. I must say, I would not change a thing!

Q  What would you say to current OES students interested in a business career?

Here is the reality: For most of us, there will be plenty of years to work. The question is, can you work and be happy? The answer is unequivocally yes! Identify what your interests are, and work to craft yourself a niche that allows you to make a living while stimulating you to continue to learn. My hope is for all to find something they love, and then to go make a difference. Never give up. Plenty of folks told me I was not what the aerospace industry was looking for.

“Business” is such a big area, it’s like an ocean. Which island interests you? Some people are pre-dialed into what road they want to take, and some have no idea. For the ones who fear having no clue what to do, use your post-OES time to venture into areas that might not even be of interest to you: psychology, finance, people skills, etc. There are lots of different parts to business. Use and leverage your interests, but try new things to test your beliefs.

Persist, and work hard, but also have some fun. It’s important to find your “wedge” in the working world. You don’t have to have your interests identified to the 98th percent. Do the very best job you can. The relationships you build as you go through life are how meaningful work is accomplished anyway. Give more than you take. 

I like to talk to people at all levels of an organization; you build trust by engaging, not just waiting for people who come to you. In my career I’ve found that by going out and walking a mile in the shoes of your clients, by simply saying, “Tell me what you do,” they open up like a firehose.

This leads me to the importance of giving back as you go through your career. I made a point to do my best to be a mentor on several occasions, the most memorable being a NASA associate administrator named Matthew Sacco. Rising to every challenge, Matthew brought creative solutions to complex problems and always met the mission. But what made him even more extraordinary was he was deaf; his exuberance and drive allowed him to overcome what many considered a disability. Matthew turned this challenge into a strength by drawing on his other strengths. Usually the mentee learns from the mentor, but in this case, I learned from, and was motivated by, Matthew to the point of taking American Sign Language classes to help me communicate with him on his own terms. What an amazing individual!

Q Are there lessons from OES that you employ now in your work? If so, what are they?

OES instilled a passion in me to learn and build skills. The school promoted learning in a risk-free environment; you were able to dabble in things, whether it was academics or sports. You could be on a team but not worry about being at the top of the line. Experimentation was encouraged in all areas, and you could actually create something.

Our wilderness experiences also had a great effect on me. The school was small enough you couldn’t hide if you wanted to—you had to engage and be a part of it. OES taught me success should be defined by the holder. Meet your own goals, and find the guts to make change when change presents itself, or to pursue change when it’s not available. 

Q What memories stand out to you from your time at OES? Any favorite teachers to speak of?

Jim Weber [former OES principal and math educator], he was an institution. Kris van Hatcher ’69 [former athletic director and lacrosse coach] made me laugh; we played basketball with him. But for me ultimately the memories are in history. At school you could find me with my own office in the History Department—-I was a department aid and got to actually be part of the faculty!

Q What would you love to see from OES in the future?

Continuing to offer practical experiences such as programs/competitions or other hands-on experiences to make the book-learning real.

The outdoor education programs can be really valuable. We did countless training sessions over the course of our senior year culminating in the two-week Outward Bound-like experience just prior to graduation. Amazing in every way! 

Q What was the best thing about working with NASA?

NASA has good-hearted, hard-working people. They’ve been rated the #1 employer to work for six years in a row now. From the top [administrators] down to the workers, everyone is involved. It was about the missions, but more than that it was about the people. Everybody relied on everybody else. It wasn’t just engineers and scientists, as skills of all types were needed to fulfill the mission. 

Even as a business guy—I’m an ‘armchair engineer’—I had the opportunity to lead an engineering organization as the director of safety & mission assurance. A key mission for NASA was to try to find water on the Moon’s South Pole. So we designed and built the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) vehicle that crashed into the moon, sending debris into the atmosphere that proved that there was water ice there. I sat at the launch console for that mission and had to make go/no-go calls to the launch director. I had to make real decisions on the spot. Not everybody can say that they helped launch a rocket! What a thrill.

The level of commitment and teamwork from everyone was extraordinary and I will never be able to thank them enough for their hard work. NASA truly was a family. I can only hope that many others can look back on their careers and feel as fortunate as I do. OES built my foundation for believing that anything was possible, a gift I will always appreciate!

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