Kathryn A. Noonan, 81, of Germantown, an innovator in the development of programs for seniors whose career was cut short by an accident, died Thursday, Sept. 12, of respiratory failure at Chandler Hall in Newtown.
Born in Shenandoah, Pa., she came from a coal-mining community. After her parents, Peter and Helen Ronick Feledick, moved the family to Nicetown, she graduated from Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in 1957.
In 1972, Mrs. Noonan was hired as a secretary at a small senior program in the Germantown YWCA, then known as the Center for Older Adults Northwest. It had been created in 1968. In the 1980s, the program moved into a library building in Vernon Park, and the name was changed to the Center in the Park.
Mrs. Noonan was instrumental in establishing the Center in the Park. She became its program director in the mid-1980s.
By the 1990s, the center had grown from 68 members to thousands. The program became a standard in the city, state, and nation at a time when the concept of senior centers was evolving. She helped develop and organize citywide senior events such as the Philadelphia Senior Games and a senior spelling bee.
A guiding principle of her work was that seniors should be offered tools through programs that covered a range of interests — fitness, creative arts, trips, and support and discussion groups. The aim was to help them build and maintain their dignity rather than being infantilized.
"The Center in the Park has a national reputation,” said Renee Cunningham, who came to the center in 2000 and in 2018 became its fourth executive director. “Hopefully, the founders and Kathy Noonan would be proud to know that the center is still blooming and stayed true to its mission to promote positive aging. We are a testament to their idea and stewards of their vision.”
Mrs. Noonan believed in the economic, racial, and ethnic diversity of Germantown. Besides her work for seniors, she was an active volunteer and choral singer at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
In 1993, while walking to work along Germantown Avenue at the age of 55, she suffered a traumatic brain injury when a truck tire blew out and she was struck by flying debris. She lost an eye, required facial reconstruction, and sustained damage to the right frontal lobe of the brain.
Doctors at Einstein Medical Center told the family her chances of survival were slim.
“They gave her final rights,” said daughter Lorraine N. Audet. “But she fought and fought and fought. She lived for 26 more years because of her faith and her family.”
After the injury, Mrs. Noonan could no longer work or live independently. She resided in a group home in West Chester for patients with traumatic brain injuries. She was very close to son-in-law Andrew Audet, who often cared for her during that difficult time.
“It was quite a loss for the Philadelphia area and senior centers” when Mrs. Noonan had to stop working, her daughter Lorraine said.
Despite the tragedy, Mrs. Noonan was able to enjoy her family and trips to the Jersey Shore. She maintained “her usual sharp sense of humor and strength of will,” daughter Christine N. Sturm said.
She married Joseph M. Noonan, a machinist for the U.S. Mint, in 1964. They had four children. He died in 2013.
Besides daughters Christine and Lorraine, she is survived by another daughter, Loretta; son Stephen; four grandchildren; and two brothers.
A visitation and life celebration will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in St. Andrew Catholic Church, 81 Swamp Rd., Newtown, followed by a Funeral Mass at 11:30. Interment will be at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, next to her husband, a Korean War veteran.