March 15, 2004 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Kiribati RPCV Fran Noonan at 75 shares joys of adventure helping others

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kiribati: Peace Corps Kiribati : The Peace Corps in Kiribati: March 15, 2004 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Kiribati RPCV Fran Noonan at 75 shares joys of adventure helping others

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Kiribati RPCV Fran Noonan at 75 shares joys of adventure helping others

Peace Corps in Kiribati

Kiribati RPCV Fran Noonan at 75 shares joys of adventure helping others


Mar 15, 2004

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author(s): Renee Stovsky Of The Post-Dispatch

* The program lets volunteers "demonstrate our positive values, lead by example and make a difference in people's lives," says Fran Noonan.

Long before sociologists invented the term "sequencing" to describe how women can have it all - just not all at the same time - Fran Noonan of Kirkwood was busy experiencing marriage, motherhood and career in her own, unconventional way.

Noonan, 75, grew up in Maplewood and married when she was 22. She and her husband, Jim Noonan, raised seven children, Jeff, Tim, Patty, Kitty, Dan, Maureen and Mary Ellen, in Des Peres. Noonan was a stay-at-home mom until her mid-40s. That's when she decided to go to college; she earned her bachelor's degree from Webster University in 1977 at age 49.

Then she embarked on various careers from project manager for HBE Corp. to administrative assistant at the Adam's Mark Hotel. When her husband sold his road-building business, Maplewood Construction Co., in 1980, the two began thinking about retirement. But it wasn't until Jim Noonan had operated an electrical-supply firm for a few more years that the couple hit upon an exit strategy from the 9-to- 5 workaday world. And as usual, it wasn't conventional.

"We remembered when President [John F.] Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961; he talked about serving the country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries," says Fran Noonan. "At the time we thought that would be a marvelous adventure, but we had a bevy of children around."

With their youngest daughter preparing for her marriage in June 1988, the Noonans realized they finally were free to pursue their dream. Five months later, they had sold their cars, each packed up 80 pounds' worth of possessions, left daughter Patty and granddaughter Katy in their condo, and flew to Abaing Island. The island is part of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific. Until 1979, it was known as the British-governed Gilbert Islands; one of World War II's bloodiest battles between the United States and Japan took place in 1943 in the capital, Tarawa.

Fran Noonan spent her 60th year living in a thatched-roof hut, teaching English to island teenagers, running a library and passing on sewing skills.

When she returned, she and her husband embarked on yet another career: managing the International Student House, a residence for foreign students in Washington, for three years.

By 2002, at age 74, Noonan decided it was time to pursue another college degree, this time a master's degree in liberal arts at Washington University.

"I go to school every 25 years or so," she laughs.

Little did she know that her enrollment would lead to still another ca reer one year later: Peace Corps recruiter. And by all accounts, her performance has been so stellar it's fair to conclude that Noonan may have just begun to really hit her stride.

Scot Roskelley, the Peace Corps' public-affairs specialist in Chicago, s aid: "We have campus representatives at eight universities in our six-state region. They conduct informational meetings, interview applicants and give community and classroom talks about the Peace Corps. Fran recruits more applicants than any of our representatives at much larger schools."

For example, Roskelley said that in 2003 the Peace Corps representative at Michigan State University, with more than 43,000 students, nominated 56 applicants. A University of Illinois-Urbana counterpart nominated 21 ap plicants from a pool of almost 38,000. By contrast, Noonan, based at Washington University's Hilltop campus, with approximately 12,000 students, nominated 67 applicants.

This year looks to be equally promising.

"My target goal is supposed to be 41 recruits, and I've already processed 40," reports Noonan, who maintains that the best part of her job is that "I'm in a unique position of seeing young people at their best."

Her appetite for adventure makes her a good role model for potential Peace Corps candidates.

Ask her to describe her own Peace Corps experience, and she's likely to offer this quote from "West With the Night" by pioneer aviator and best-selling author Beryl Markham: "It makes you feel bigger than you are, closer to being something you've sensed you might be capable of, but never had the courage to seriously imagine."

Then she'll add details of primitive living conditions and isolation - Air Tungaru served the island once or twice weekly - along with the enchantment of the South Seas. "Kiribati had the most beautiful, empty beaches, and the air smelled heavenly from the perfume of flowers," she says.

But mostly she'll talk about "an irreplaceable bond" between Peace Corps colleagues and friendships, many still continuing, with Kiribati natives.

"The Peace Corps has three goals," she said. "First, it's a way for Americans to learn about another culture and bring that understanding back here. Second, it's a way for another culture to learn about Americans. And third, it's an opportunity to do a job that another country requests help with. It is simply the most cost- efficient goodwill program the United States operates."

And Noonan, who spends time at area colleges, from Fontbonne College, Harris-Stowe and the University of Missouri at St. Louis to Principia College and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, happily reports that the idealism of the '60s that first sparked the formation of the Peace Corps is alive and well 40 years later.

"On every campus, I meet students who realize how fortunate they are and want to give back to others," she said. "Especially since 9/ 11, I think young people are eager for cross-cultural experiences. The Peace Corps, which currently operates in 76 countries, offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate our positive values, lead by example and make a difference in people's lives."

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Story Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kiribati; Recruitment



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