Taking risks: Dubuque Regional Humane Society executive director lives a life led by passion

Executive Director Noelle Chesney sits with Argus at Dubuque Regional Humane Society. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman

Executive Director Noelle Chesney sits with Argus at Dubuque Regional Humane Society. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman

Executive Director Noelle Chesney sits with Argus at Dubuque Regional Humane Society. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman

Executive Director Noelle Chesney sits with Argus at Dubuque Regional Humane Society. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman

Executive Director Noelle Chesney sits with Argus at Dubuque Regional Humane Society. PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Gassman

Noelle Chesney leads a life fueled by her passions.

“I have always loved animals,” Chesney said. “If I hadn’t gone into music, I think I would have done something with research.”

Originally from Texas, Chesney has spent most of her life as an artist. Getting a degree in vocal performance, she spent her time performing opera and musical theater. With her extensive background in the arts, this prompted Chesney to do something big: Start a theater company in Texas, known as Brick Road Theatre.

“When starting the theater company, there were other women who have been through it,” Chesney said. “That is something that is getting more prevalent for women in that position, in theater. At the time, having that perspective from women who have been through it and have walked in the shoes was incredible.”

Upon Brick Road Theatre entering its fourth year, Chesney and her family packed up their things and headed for Dubuque due to her husband — Thom Chesney — being selected as Clarke University president.

With this change, Chesney had big plans anticipating her arrival in Dubuque. She wanted to start a theater company locally, but after six months of COVID-19’s hold, that possibility was paused.

“Theaters were not operating anymore,” Chesney said. “It wasn’t really a good time to start a new one, so I had to put that idea on hold.”

That hold led Chesney to explore other passions.

In Texas, she and her daughter volunteered at animal shelters. They brought their shared passion with them to Dubuque, when her daughter got a part-time job at the Dubuque Regional Humane Society.

“This organization has a powerful mission of trying to help animals that would not necessarily have a second chance at a home,” Chesney said. “It seemed like a good fit at the time.”

Chesney began volunteering there. In October 2021, she was named executive director.

“I wasn’t expecting it to lead to this position,” Chesney said. “When my first passion wasn’t available anymore, mainly because of the pandemic, it seemed like a natural transition to spend my time doing something that I love and enjoy.”

When looking at theater and animal shelters, Chesney recognized that, although the two positions seemed very different, they shared commonalities.

“It’s amazing how many similarities there are,” Chesney said. “As far as what I am doing here and what I was doing when I was producing theater.”

The roles require many moving parts, with different people playing different roles. The skill sets also are remarkably similar.

“It’s about storytelling and inspiring people to care about your story,” Chesney said. “Some of those similarities have been fascinating to me because I never saw myself doing this.”

The skills that Chesney has used the most in theater she also is putting to use at the humane society.

“The only difference is, the animals are playing the starring roles,” Chesney said.

Throughout Chesney’s journey as a woman in a leadership position, she has met many other women who have become role models and mentors to her, giving her guidance and sharing their experiences with her has been something she has been very thankful for.

“I think it is always important to be open to learning,” Chesney said. “There are things in this job that I don’t feel I am as confident in, but I also have some mentors that are willing to give me information and provide that continued learning as I go. In my experience, it has been the women who have been a strong presence.”

There is another person who has remained a constant in her life: Her college voice teacher, Joyce Farwell.

“She became a mentor and a friend,” Chesney said. “Throughout all the different stages of my life, she has stayed as someone I can call to express frustrations and get advice.”

Chesney said she has one occurrence that energizes her the most about her job.

“Seeing the animals go home with their families,” Chesney said. “If I am ever feeling a little bit discouraged or frustrated, I go out and I watch an adoption happen, and that reminds me of what our mission is and why we are doing what we are doing.”

When not helping animals find their forever home or spending her time on stage, Chesney spends her time enjoying the outdoors. She also loves walking her four dogs and spending time with her family.

Throughout Chesney’s career, she has learned many life lessons she wants to share with others.

“Be willing to fail, be willing to speak up, be willing to be brave and try something new,” Chesney said. “Also, seek guidance from people who have been in those shoes before and see other women, not as competitors but as supporters.”

Katie Link is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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