A Life Remembered | Businessman helped build pizzeria chain

A Life Remembered | Businessman helped build pizzeria chain

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign businessman who influenced such things as regionally popular pizza, vintage aircraft, air conditioning and apartments, is being remembered for his likability, humility and philanthropy.

Charlie Nogle, 88, died at home early Saturday after a year of declining health.

"He's a super kind, well-meaning person, very generous with his time and resources," said son Jud Nogle of Savoy.

"He had a handshake that said, 'I'm here with you. We're going to bond,'" said Harry Bond of Kankakee, chairman of the board of Monical's Pizza.

Mr. Nogle helped grow the popular pizza, which originated with Ralph Monical in Tolono, from a couple of local restaurants into a booming corporation that now features more than five dozen pizzerias in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Bond first met Mr. Nogle in 1974.

"I started life as a certified public accountant in Champaign and Charlie was the first client I got assigned to as a new, green, young CPA ... because my boss knew this would be a good break-in client for a new young kid," Bond said. "He would have all his records in order and not be bringing in his taxes (paperwork) in a grocery sack on April 14."

Then in the construction business, Mr. Nogle built the first Monical's outside of Tolono in west Champaign for Ralph Monical, according to Bond.

"Charlie was the guy who made it all work in the early years for Ralph. He was Ralph's first landlord," said Bond, noting that Mr. Nogle built the building and rented it to Monical.

"He then went on to build the 'Charlie Nogle' buildings," which were rectangular, recognizable pizzerias.

"Charlie built the buildings, and we ran the restaurants. When Ralph decided to retire, I and two others tried to buy the business. Charlie was the first guy in line to capitalize us. He kept it all together and made it work."

"He had incredible insight and vision. I was fortunate to be president of the company for 17 years. Charlie never went against me on any of the decisions but he had all the right questions to ask me: businesslike and very intelligently put together."

A class act

A Champaign native, Mr. Nogle was a graduate of the renowned Champaign High School Class of 1949, which featured other local luminaries such as lawyer Tom Harrington, developer George Shapland, LifeLine Pilots founder Wanda Whitsitt and Champaign Central High track and field coach Gene Ward.

After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in business in 1953, Mr. Nogle worked briefly for Illinois Bell in Aurora before coming home to help with his father's heating and coal supply business.

His oldest son, Jim Nogle of Champaign, said Mr. Nogle agreed to do so on the condition that they move the coal-based business into the modern technology of natural gas-fired furnaces.

"They started this new thing called air conditioning. Before that, houses weren't built to be air-conditioned," Jim Nogle said. "He used his heating and air-conditioning business as his platform to get into commercial building."

Besides building Monical's restaurants, Mr. Nogle built several apartment buildings in the campus area, the former Regal 8 Motel on South Neil Street in Champaign, and the building that houses The Ribeye on South Neil, which was near the motel.

Until his health decline, he was a regular at the popular steak house, known by name to most of the staff, said Jud Nogle, who inherited his father's passion for aviation and is now a commercial pilot and aviation mechanic.

Impact on aviation

Charlie Nogle was in high school when he learned to fly in his uncle's plane.

"He saw his first T-34 when he was on his honeymoon with his first wife, my mom, and said, 'I gotta' have one of those,'" Jud Nogle said. "He built the first one up and had parts left over and it just kind of snowballed."

His son was referring to Mr. Nogle's feat of saving, almost single-handedly, the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, a single-engine military trainer produced in Wichita, Kan., in the 1950s, from the scrap pile of history.

Lou Drendel, a member of the T-34 Association founded by Mr. Nogle, said his friend was "responsible in large part for the success of the American warbird movement."

"If it were not for the T-34 Association, which led to an overall civilian formation flying program, it is quite possible that the FAA would now be considering the elimination of all civilian formation flying," Drendel said.

His love of aviation and the T-34 Mentor in particular, landed Mr. Nogle in the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame and the Experimental Aircraft Association's Warbirds Hall of Fame.

Three of his four children and one of his four grandchildren also learned to fly. Mr. Nogle also had two stepchildren, six stepgrandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one stepgreat-grandchild.

He was good friends with Rudy Frasca, founder of Urbana-based Frasca International, which produces flight simulators sold around the world, and Kyle Robeson, also a pilot whose family operated the iconic downtown Champaign department store. Robeson introduced him to his wife of 30 years.

'I kept saying yes'

Diana Nogle was Robeson's secretary when he set her up on a blind date with Mr. Nogle without first consulting her, a move that riled the then-single mother of two.

"I was angry with Kyle. I literally didn't speak to him for three days and by the third day, it had gotten to him. He said, 'It's not a big deal. It's a (UI) basketball game. Just go.'"

Intending to go on just one date, Diana Nogle said instead, "Charlie and I really clicked. I was very pleasantly surprised because Charlie was such a gentleman, interesting with a great sense of humor and I really enjoyed his company. He kept asking me out and I kept saying yes. We dated four years before we married," Diana Nogle said.

"I don't know anybody who didn't like Charlie. They loved him for the person he was," she said.

She said her late husband was very humble and quietly generous.

A military buff, Mr. Nogle was a huge fan of World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle and gave generously to the museum named for the Pulitzer-Prize winning news reporter in Dana, Ind.

"He financed the shooting range for the Boy Scouts at Camp Drake (in rural Fairmount in Vermilion County). He named it in honor of his dad," his wife said. "He was never prideful. He never boasted about all the wonderful things he did."

A lifelong dog owner — Corky was his first and Simon his last — Mr. Nogle was also a supporter of the local humane society and national animal protection charities, Jim Nogle said.

"He's just a guy with a really big heart."

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