Joseph Noble last saw his mother, Frances, about a year ago, when she came to the United States from her native Guyana for cancer treatment. Noble was able to introduce Frances to his new daughter, Ranique, and cheer her with hugs from his young son, Jared.
Noble hoped it would not be the last time he saw his mother, who instilled in all 13 of her children a love of books and appealed to them to always be kind.
“We were hoping that she’d last until the summer months,” said a wistful Noble, a groundskeeper for 15 years at Breck School in Golden Valley.
But in the early morning hours of April 27, his sister called from Guyana, 3,600 miles away in South America. Frances had passed away at age 83. Noble wanted to get home quickly for the funeral, which will be on Thursday, but wasn’t sure how to pay for it.
He needn’t have worried.
Within 24 hours of word getting out about his mother’s death, Noble’s legions of fans at Breck raised nearly $20,000 for him, his wife, Rhonda, a home health aide, and his two children to fly home for the service.
Noble said he was “speechless” when told of the effort. “It was overwhelming.”
It was, actually, simple proof that Frances was right.
Kindness does matter.
“He is lovely to the children and to the parents,” said Amy Paster, who has five sons at Breck. “He’s always smiling, always waving. He asks, ‘How are you? How was your day?’ He’s so warm to everyone.”
Much of the money, raised through a GoFundMe online campaign, came in $25 and $30 increments donated by about 300 former and current students, faculty and friends. Others donated far more, sometimes anonymously.
“Astonishing, the size of the donations and where they’re coming from,” said Breck spokeswoman Jill Field.
Breck senior Kendall Kozikowski said the campaign “spread like wildfire. We were refreshing it every few minutes and you could see the numbers go up.”
Many online messages were heartfelt and personal. “Thanks for always smiling!” “You are special to all of us.” “You brighten all my days, Joseph.”
Marcus Harris, one of Noble’s two co-workers, secretly started planning the campaign with the help of Carrie Lennox, associate director of admissions. She, in turn, contacted Ramsey Sorrells, a 2014 graduate.
Sorrells said that Noble doesn’t just shovel walks, plow lots, mow lawns, rake leaves, plant trees and water flowers, although he does all of that exceedingly well. Noble also has been selected by students to crown homecoming royalty. He attends school plays and concerts, and prays with students and faculty in the chapel.
Noble, 50, came to Minnesota in 2001 with his twin brother, Peter. Their parents, Frances and Albert, also lived in the United States for many years, but returned home a few years ago.
He talked with his mother at least once a week by phone, more frequently in recent months.
“She always wanted us to be kind,” Noble said of his mother. “And to read a lot. She read to us a lot,” the Bible mostly, he said. And Dale Carnegie.
“And she made sure we went to church.”
Her favorite holiday, he said, was Christmas, when all the kids and grandkids piled into her house. She had gifts for everyone.
“We’re going to miss that,” Noble said.
But he is deeply grateful to his Breck family for making it possible for him, Rhonda and their children to join their siblings, 11 partners, 30-plus grandchildren and about six great-grandchildren to say his final goodbye to Frances.