Deserving locals Payne and Noling recognized by state


by Cynthia Price


The Michigan Community Service Commission has chosen to honor two of the most modest people in the Muskegon area.

And that is fitting, because if it were left up to either Mary Payne or John Noling, no one would ever know that they do a thing.

Fortunately, the United Way heard about the nomination process for the Governor’s Service Awards and entered both Payne’s and Noling’s names. When all was said and done they were among the select group who traveled to a very nice reception and ceremony in Lansing on June 5 to receive their awards.

The 91-year-old Payne, who was one of seven honored in the Senior Volunteer of the Year category, has done so much over the years she has difficulty remembering. She does recall, though, that years ago she was nominated for a governor’s service award at a time when there were five people nominated and asked to come to Lansing, but only one was given the award. She laughs over the inconvenience when she says she was not the one.

Payne, a real believer in hands-on effort, has also been instrumental in starting, developing, and leading such efforts as the local hospice and the Muskegon Dispute Resolution Center, now called Mediation & Restorative  Services.

She not only became part of a group that got the ball rolling for that center, but was also a dedicated trained mediator herself. She has given hundreds and hundreds of hours doing mediations, and it was one of the reasons the Muskegon County Bar Association chose her for its Liberty Bell Award, given to honor a non-lawyer who has advanced appreciation of the rule of law.

Both Payne and Noling received detailed “special tributes” signed by Gov. Snyder, Rep. Holly Hughes, Rep. Terry Sabo, and Sen. Goeff Hansen.

Noling was chosen as one of four Mentors of the Year. He worked with youth during his 40-year career in teaching and counseling, when he frequently went above and beyond in mentoring kids. As any regular Examiner reader knows, after his retirement, Noling has gone on to help and service the young through the Rotary since 2006, through several programs.

The form that Noling’s modesty takes is to give credit for the programs’ successes to the Rotary.

“I’ve developed a little area of interest since my retirement, in youth leadership and mentoring and getting these kids to a point where they’ll do well. I’m proud of that achievement not of me but of our club,” he says, noting with gratitude that about 20 fellow Rotarians came to the June 5 awards event to support and congratulate him.

However, as fellow Rotary Club member and Muskegon County Commissioner Bob Scolnik (who was the specific person nominating Noling) said in the event program, “He is very humble, and he never seeks credit, but his... efforts have made a tremendous difference in our community.”

Payne was also a teacher, of math and science. Originally from Iron Mountain, Payne came to this area after meeting her husband at Michigan State University, when he got a job in Muskegon. Later, when he had switched to teaching at Holton, there was a shortage of teachers – this would have been in the early 1960s. “Someone quit at Twin Lake and it turned out the superintendent was just about tearing his hair out, having a vacancy as it got closer to the start of the school year. He was willing to take anybody with a degree, so that’s how I got into teaching,” Payne says.

After several years at Holton, she began teaching at  Oakridge School District, where she stayed for 17 years. She and her husband had a daughter, a psychologist who is now 66 and living in Cleveland, but in 1965 Payne’s husband died of cancer.

Born right here at Hackley Hospital, Noling has two children with his wife of 47 years, who he says is “kind of quiet, so she’s fine with all the stuff I do.” Both his sons have recently gotten married, so Noling hopes that means grandchildren are soon to come.

“I’m a lucky man, I’m blessed. Muskegon has allowed me to bloom where I’m planted,” he says, adding, “We’re on an upswing here; sometimes I drive downtown just for the heck of it.”

One of the ways in which Noling has contributed to that is by helping start Rotary Clubs in schools, which was his dream nine years ago and now involves 150 students. He is dedicated to seeing that students are given as many outlets as possible for service, and also feels strongly that their voices should be heard, which is why he dedicates so much time to the Bar Association’s Law Day speech and essay contests (see Examiner May 23 and
?May 30 issues).

Payne is willing, when pressed, to list off a number of activities she has done. Always an advocate for justice, she also says she has derived a lot of her volunteer activities from seeing someone talk about a need in the newspaper. That is how she got involved with the Grand Trunk site as well as two other gardens she tends.

In the past, she was involved with constructing trails for the massive North Country Trails project, and she is very frugal so that she can give money to worthy projects such as the Land Conservancy of West Michigan’s Long Lake and North Ottawa Dunes preservation.

Payne was the chair of the League of Women Voters and the Community Corrections Board for years, and has given hours to planting trees and weeding for such groups as the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership

In honor of the Governor’s Service awards, the Community Foundation for Muskegon County gave $500 in Payne’s and Noling’s names, to Every Woman’s Place sobriety program and area high school groups respectively.

“I feel pretty honored to be in Mary’s company,” comments Noling with a smile.


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