Noel Tillman believes in creating compassionate communities

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Noel Tillman has no problem admitting that his wife has already designed his tombstone. But since she says it will be engraved with “forever the teacher,” which is a fitting tribute for a retired educator, Noel doesn’t seem to be bothered by the early planning.

Noel Tillman is one busy retiree.
Noel Tillman is one busy retiree.

Noel may be technically retired, but he has a long list of volunteer activities that keep him as busy as a bee. In fact, he refers to himself as a worker bee.

“I like to get right in and do things,” he says. “Bring about change, improve, create, fix, modify. It is important for me to be moving in a direction.”

And moving is something Noel has done for most of his life. Born in New York City and raised in Massachusetts, Noel and his wife, Cathy, both retired from service with the Department of Defense. They worked with children of military families in the U.S. and overseas.

“We were lucky to retire here in Beaufort, near family, after several years of working with the Laurel Bay schools,” Noel says.

It was Noel’s seven years in the U.S. Air Force as a parachuting/water survival and aviation physiology instructor that turned him on to teaching as a vocation. After six years of night school, he completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Noel has been a classroom teacher, a school level administrator and a district and state education administrator. Noel says that since he married a teacher, he even brought the job home at night.

“Education, to me, is a service industry. It requires you to work closely with people and to help others. So giving back to my community in retirement is just an outcropping of that service experience,” he says.

Noel currently works as a food re-distribution volunteer and a member of the Second Helpings Board of Directors; he’s a co-founder and active board member of Compassionate Beaufort Communities; he serves on the curriculum committee of the USCB/Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI); and he routinely volunteers and is a past board member of CAPA .

“If my name is attached to it, then it has to be the best I can do,” Noel says about his dedication to his volunteer work.  “My family has always valued the dignity of hard work and giving 110% of yourself to what you do.”

And he’s quick to praise his co-workers, too. “I work with very dedicated, altruistic people in each of the programs with which I volunteer. Beaufort is a very compassionate community. So many folks give of themselves, and share their talents, time, and treasure. We are all so lucky to live in an area steeped in history and tradition, yet forward-thinking enough to know the importance of change.”

Noel’s volunteer duties vary with each organization:

At OLLI, he presents classes and helps recruit talented, knowledgeable people to share their careers and life experiences as part of the adult education program co-sponsored by USCB.

At Compassionate Beaufort Communities Noel is on a team that works behind the scenes to support individuals and organizations so they might be more successful. They do this by helping the groups publish exceptional stories and meeting with the organizations to share ideas on improving the communities’ awareness of their efforts.

Noel says his Second Helpings job “requires a little backbreaking work five to six hours a month that results in over one million pounds of surplus donated food being re-distributed in the local Beaufort area each year. That success makes up for a few sore muscles.”

But don’t think sore muscles are enough to slow Noel’s pace. “The more I get involved, the more energized I become,” he says. “It has got to be fulfilling work, not a lot of meetings.  That way I don’t feel guilty about ignoring and procrastinating the lawn mowing and other chores I have waiting for me back home.”

Even with a lawn to mow, Noel has free time that he fills with carpentry, painting and drawing.

“My son-in-law is a builder and he constantly reminds me that my creative carpentry skills, what he calls ‘Noelizing,’ are in need of some polish. I started painting and drawing a couple of years ago. I am self-taught, and it shows, but I have sold about a dozen paintings and hundreds of hand drawn note cards. I know I can’t give up my day job for art, but I love the creative process, and Beaufort is an inspiring place.”

Noel also feels fortunate to stay connected to the people whose lives he’s touched. “Every now and then I’ll bump into a CAPA shelter kid that I worked with who has grown into adulthood. I love the feeling of knowing I am a small part of their lives. Being an educator, you love those moments when a former student or their parents stop you and say, ‘thanks.’”

Noel says his “death wish” days of motorcycles and dirt bikes led to three broken legs, so he gave that up.

Likewise, he says that time has caught up with him, transitioning his downhill skiing and SCUBA diving to snowshoeing, cross country skiing, a walk on Edisto or Hunting Island beaches, a kayak trip out his back door, or snorkeling.

Noel and Cathy have a daughter, Lyn Dennis, who works in the Beaufort schools. Lyn and her husband, Scott (the builder), have two children, Katelyn and Robert, who graduated from Beaufort High School. Katelyn graduated from Clemson and Robert attends Presbyterian College. Noel and Cathy’s son Michael lives near Myrtle Beach, SC, while their other daughter Christian and grandson Allen, a graduate of Stonehill College, live in Massachusetts.

Noel first references “Stayin’ Alive,” the signature Bee Gees song from “Saturday Night Fever” when asked about plans for the future. Then he quickly gets back to the business of helping local organizations.

“Actually there are several projects brewing,” he says. “There’s an April event at Chamber’s Park involving Earth Day, charity recognition, and celebration of youth.  I just finished working on seven courses for OLLI the winter /spring semester on various topics:  art, life of migrant workers, local history, music, global travel, and government.”

Don’t expect any grass to grow under Noel’s feet any time soon. And if it did, he’d probably be too busy to mow it, anyway.

For more information about Compassionate Beaufort Communities, visit cbc-sc.org or call 843-271-6912.