The career of Dr. James Noland: Missouri’s oldest living former state legislator

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Perhaps the most storied lawmaker in state history, 95-year-old former state senator and World War II veteran Dr. James Noland was honored today as Missouri’s oldest living former state legislator. 

Noland’s daughter, Cynthia Dunbar, sat down with The Heartlander to discuss her father’s legacy and why his name still carries weight within the Capitol walls. 

Born Feb. 2, 1927 near Macks Creek, Noland grew up in Camden County and spent the majority of his life serving that area and the Show-Me State. But before he represented Camden Countians, Noland represented the United States in the Army Air Corps (Air Force) during the deadliest war in world history.

In 1945 at just 18 years of age, Noland was sent into the jungles of the Philippines, where guerrilla warfare was still erupting – due to local forces being unaware of World War II having ended, Dunbar said. Noland spent 10 months in the hostile jungles carefully and benevolently informing everyone that the war had ended, and that the devastation of millions of lives was over.

After his military service, Noland pursued his passion for education, receiving both his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in the field while later earning a master’s degree in Public School Administration. The veteran attended Southwest Missouri State University, Lincoln University and the University of Missouri-Columbia – a true product of the state.

Noland became a teacher in Camden County School District, and because of his dedication to the district and zeal for education, he rose to principal and eventually superintendent. Furthering his experience as an educator, he later became a professor of psychology at Central Methodist University. 

Noland, a Republican, was first elected in 1956 as state representative of Missouri’s 140th House District. Later taking a two-year break to serve as Camden County tax collector, Noland ran another successful state representative campaign in 1962. He served in the lower chamber until being elected to represent Missouri’s 33rd Senate District in 1968, where he served two full terms.

Dunbar said her father’s ties to the Missouri Capitol run so deep that he even met her late mother, Janice, in the building while working as a young state representative. And because they actually met in the building, the couple was allowed to have their wedding ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.

When asked what type of man she believes her father to be, Dunbar answered with a proverb from the Bible that her mother loved.

“I would use the words of my mother,” Dunbar said, referring to the scripture. “She would say, ‘Each man will proclaim everyone his own goodness, but a faithful man who can find?’ The impact being that finding someone faithful is very rare and special, and that’s what he is. I think the best-ever commendation is going to come from her.”

Noland was a conservative who always held tightly to his limited government, pro-life and pro-family values, but he also understood the importance of working with others who disagreed with him.

“He tried to work across the aisle, never compromising the policy or his position,” Dunbar said. “But he did so with decorum and respect. And that’s something that seems to be of a bygone era.”

As a devout Christian, Noland read the Bible to Dunbar and her two sisters every night when they were children, she said. In a 2020 interview with the State Historical Society of Missouri, Noland requested the following to be recognized as his opening statement:

“Early in my life I accepted the Holy Bible as the Rule and Guide of my faith and practice. I received Jesus Christ as my savior and have tried to follow his teachings.”

After serving consecutive terms in both legislative chambers, many former legislators find it easy to step away from the often-hostile world of politics. But Noland couldn’t disagree with that more.

“Oh my gosh, I think that’s why he’s still so active and alive, because he’s so interested and involved in politics,” Dunbar said. “He stays involved with elections. He’ll sponsor events for different candidates. He stays connected in all of it as much as he’s able to, and I think that’s part of what encourages him. 

“He gets frustrated with the direction things are going, but he’s always taught us to stay in the fight no matter what. It’s always worth keeping moving forward.”

“Dr. Noland is a true statesman who has given many years to our state and community,” said state Sen. Justin Brown, who helped organize Noland’s recognition. 

Throughout his life, the record shows Noland accomplished great things and was a role model to many. His passion for education, dedication to the state of Missouri and decades of diligent public service will forever be stamped in the history books – making him one of the most storied lawmakers in Missouri history.

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