When Dave Nolle moved to Duluth in 2010, he didn't plan to call it home for more than a few years, much less run for mayor.
He had been ascending in the leadership ranks of Boy Scouts of America, when he was tapped to serve as CEO of the Scouts’ sprawling Voyageurs Area Council.
“I’d never been to Duluth before the interview,” Nolle recalled.
Nolle grew up in scouting and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
In adulthood, he led Scout organizations in his home state of Missouri, first in Jefferson City and Columbia before taking a post in Topeka, Kans.
Nolle likened advancement in the organization to military service, where the path forward often meant moving to a new locale.
“When I came to town, I thought: Well, I ‘m going to be continuing to climb the ladder, and sometime around 2014 or 2015 I’ll start paying attention to what the next opportunity is. But that really ended up not being in the cards quite simply from a familial standpoint. My then-wife had a little bit of a rough go with the transition from Topeka to here and didn’t want to do that again,” Nolle said.
The couple has since divorced yet Nolle said they amicably co-parent their three children, ages 7, 10 and 12, splitting time with the kids.
Nolle left the Scouts in 2017 and described the end of his 25-year stint with the organization as follows: “I did my best to reinvent myself from a guy that was brought in to frankly kind of stir a few things up and grow the place and maybe ruffle a few feathers along the way and to reinvent myself as a steady Eddy, finishing out what I thought was going to be a lifelong career, at least when I started it. But we mutually agreed that wasn’t going to happen.”
While Nolle’s Scout career ended in Duluth, he professes absolutely no regrets about setting down roots in the city.
“I can think of no better place to have landed and to raise my kids. I made the case so much so that I convinced my parents to move up from Missouri, where I’m originally from,” he said.
Nolle’s parents now live in Morgan Park, while he resides in Lakeside.
Nolle said Duluth’s numerous outdoor amenities particularly appealed to him as a longtime Scout — the lake, the parks and the many opportunities to engage in all sorts of fresh-air activities.
He describes his upbringing outside of St. Louis as decidedly blue collar. His father worked for a sewer and water contractor, and his mother provided child daycare services from their home.
Nolle was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Now age 43, Nolle said he continues to work as a consultant in the nonprofit and business arenas, drawing on his leadership experience. As CEO of the Scouts’ Voyageurs Area Council, Nolle oversaw a 42,000-square-mile territory that stretched from Northeastern Minnesota to Ironwood, Mich., serving about 5,000 Scouts with the help of 1,500 volunteers.
Nolle believes many of his skills would translate well into public service, but he acknowledged being an underdog to an incumbent mayor.
“I like the underdog role. I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class. I certainly wasn’t the athletic star in my class.” Yet Nolle said he never shied away from leadership opportunities.
Even though he expects to be greatly outspent by his opponent, Nolle believes he has at least a chance to win his mayoral bid.
“Anybody can exercise leadership at any time, and I’m choosing to set an example, primarily for my kids. But on a larger scale for everybody, that we can have a civil civic friendly conversation about making Duluth a better place. We need more people to feel safe enough that they can step up and speak up,” he said.
Nolle notes that despite having much to offer, Duluth has not attracted many more residents in recent years, and he views that as a concern.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” he said.
Nolle said Duluth’s relatively stagnant population base in recent years begs the question: Why?
“What are we missing? I can’t put my finger on that,” he said.
“I apply a four-pronged approach: diagnose the situation; manage myself, so recognize where my biases are; energize others, so be a cheerleader; and then exercise an intervention when necessary — do something,” he said.
Nolle doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but he said: “I do know I can surround myself with experts and bring people to the table, especially those ... I refer to as the uncommon voice, the person who’s on the fringe or even a community, if you will, or a neighborhood or a demographic that’s on the fringe and engage them in the solution.”