Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Noni Wood, Mayor of Clarksville, Ohio

Noni Wood on election night.
At an age when many people would be slowing down, if not retiring, my friend Winona Wood, or Noni, as she is better known to family and friends,  has chosen to head down a path many today might consider temerarious at best—that of becoming an elected official, the mayor of her adopted hometown, Clarksville, Ohio.
On election night I drove to Noni’s small village—and when I say small, I mean small as in the size that brings to mind the old Hee Haw population skit, “Clarksville, Ohio, population, 497, SAA-LUTE!!"—to be with her, and 20 of her supporters at Friends Backyard Grill, a diner that sits on the edge of town. Throughout the evening we drank coffee and ate sandwiches and chili as we waited for the results to come in. Around eight, Kimber, the local Precinct Judge, called to say Noni had won the election by 77 votes (101-24).
Choosing Friends  
Noni Wood and I, waiting on election results.
Even though I am not from Clarksville, I was there because Noni and I have been friends for... well, let’s say, since we were kids many years ago. We went to the same church where my father was the minister. I can’t remember the exact time or details surrounding the moment we recognized that we shared a special bond as friends, but by junior high we were tight.

             As I started to think about this post, I got to thinking about friendship and why it is two people will single out each other to create a special attachment. In fact, I researched it a bit to see if anyone had addressed this social phenomenon—friend selection—and lo and behold, or rather, of course, someone had. Maureen Solomon, reporter for Health Day reported in an article titled, Your Genes Help You Choose Your Friends, Study Says, posted on, that some researchers  have found that genes play a role in friend choice.  She writes that “Mapping specific genetic markers within each individual's social network, the researchers learned that individuals tend to forge friendships with those who share two of six tested [genetic] markers.”  I’m not surprised. Special friendships are that kind of thing—the thing that is hard to explain and therefore most surely driven by something like biology. We’ve all experienced it. Many people come and go in our lives. There are precious few we click with in that magical way and even fewer with whom the relationship lasts throughout a lifetime.
Noni is just such a person for me. She is likeable to begin with, affable and not the least bit chary. She makes friends easily. It’s no wonder she was successful in her mayoral bid in Clarksville. She is a hard worker and seems indefatigable, just the kind of person you would want as the mayor of your village.  Also, I have always recognized in her a keen intellect (I’m hoping this is one of the gene markers we share). She has one of the most remarkable memories of anyone I know. She can dazzle me with recitations of our phone numbers from childhood, of street names, and recollections of people from our church that I don’t even remember having known at all. However, what I connect with most in Noni is the one thing that might just determine how well I click with anybody—her  sense of humor. (Probably also another valuable attribute for a mayor.)
By our early teens, Noni and I had become good friends, hanging out together, going to church camp, sleeping over at each other’s houses, and spending time together at church functions. Our shared sense of humor got me into trouble more than once at church when muffled laughter occasionally released itself down the pew during otherwise quiet moments. Mid-way through high school, I moved 30 miles away. It was the days before Facebook, cell phones, Skype and all the other great ways we now have for staying connected; so, as happens, we lost touch with each other until several years ago when we reconnected and discovered that the same strong bond still exists between us. (We’re genetically predisposed to be friends anyway, right?)
Making Choices in Our Lives
Noni Wood on the campaign trail.
But this post is only partly about friendship. It is also the story of someone that has made a conscious choice to continue to be engaged and active even as she heads into what Gail Sheehy, in her book, New Passages, calls, the third age. Sheehy suggests that individuals who have made the choice to not slip into social and spiritual isolation during late middle age and even later life are more likely to enjoy life and to continue to thrive during this period. While many pop psychology books come and go, Sheehy’s book seems amazingly relevant even though it was written in the 1990’s. In it, she writes,
“The consequences of genes, gender, race, class, marital status, income, and preventive health care (or carelessness) all pile up. But while our genes largely determine our health status and longevity, this hold true only until we reach 60 or 65. After that, if we have escaped catastrophic illnesses during the critical middle life period from 45 to 65, it is our psychological attitude and behavior that more likely determine the quality and duration of our third age.”
All along Noni’s journey, it is evident she has made choices, like moving to Clarksville or running for mayor. Rather than letting life happen to her, she is deciding how she will live. There’s a difference. I think this is the quality Sheehy sees in individuals who continued to bloom into later adulthood, or into the Age of Integrity as Sheehy calls it. 

Noni with her siblings, seated L-R, Sandra, Alana, Fonda, (Winona)Noni
Standing, (Charlina)Gai, (Nadina)Dina, (Chester)Butch, Allen, (Verona)Roni
On election night, Noni excitedly drove me all over Clarksville—it only took a few minutes—to show me her campaign signs. While we drove, I asked her how she had ended up in in this small town. She related that, as a child, her father and mother took her and her six sisters and two brothers on an outing to Cowan Lake, a picturesque lake near Clarksville, in rural Clinton County. A little over five years ago, on a reminiscence trip to the lake, she made a wrong turn and drove through Clarksville. Noni said that she was so taken by the quaint little village that seemed so inviting, that she made an on-the-spot decision to one day retire there. Just, a few years later, she rented a place in Clarksville, and then ultimately bought an old home on six acres that she has since been restoring.  Each summer she holds a large family picnic there, complete with blue grass band, dancing, and tents.
Now days, Noni travels on weekends to art shows, selling candles for her niece, Anna's business, Little Creek Candlesalways on the go, enjoying getting to visit different cities and towns. And, she still has a food business that she started over 30 years ago, Flamingo Concessions, that she has been selling off in smaller pieces over the past few years.
When I asked her why she decided to run for Mayor, she said that she believes it is important to care for family and friends, and for her community. Running for mayor was just one way in which she could demonstrate her caring and willingness to help others.
I have always, been community minded,” she told me, “and when I moved to Clarksville I became actively involved with the village, hoping I could use my past business experience and skills to help the village progress.”
Before becoming mayor, Noni held a council seat. She told me she never dreamed she would take on such a task, but that she feels humbled and honored by the trust the voters have shown by electing her Mayor of Clarksville. She adopted them, and now, they have adopted her. She serves not just as a role model for other citizens, but also as a role model of how to beautifully move into later adulthood. Clarksville is lucky to have her as their new mayor and I am lucky to have her as a genetic soul mate.

More Election Night Pictures

Noni with partner, Ken(Rug) Roberts, Katie Roberts
Katie Roberts, Noni,  Katherine Boyer
Noni with fellow campaigner, Mike Rickman, Owner of
Unique Gifts & More in Clarksville, who also
won a seat on the village council this year.
Village supporters gather for a photo after hearing the results.

Ohio House Representative, Cliff Rosenberger,
a lifelong Clarksville resident stopped by say hi.
Noni, with two of her eight siblings
on election night, Allen and Sandra.


  1. I have only recently had the wonderful chance to know Noni. God finally Blessed my to have her in my life. I am so glad I have the chance to get to know her better. I find her so Fantastic.
    Barb Wright Courter

  2. This is a wonderful story and I feel very blessed to have Noni as a friend as well. Having asked her to consider a run for Mayor, I was over joyed when she won, and as a council member, look forward to working with her for the next few years.
    She is good hearted, community minded, and has a sense of humor I can relate too. I think Clarksville will be shocked at what is about to happend to this little quiet village in the next four years. Watch out Clarksivlle, cause here comes NONI...

  3. Grace,
    What a wonderful tribute to our friendship. I am so blessed to have traveled through my life with such a caring friend.
    We have laughed,cried and shared much.
    And here we are!


  4. Hi Kim, Thank you for your comment. Yes, I think things will be fun in Clarksville. It is a lovely community and I was touched by the friendly people I met while I was there. I see you already have a Facebook page at

    I look forward to more visits to Clarksville.

  5. Hi Noni, Thank you Noni! Best wishes over the term of your mayorship. I look forward to great things in Clarksville. I'll be back.

    Love you too, Grace


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