A Mardi Gras farewell

Noland’s retirement party draws huge crowd
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Jan 29, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Gail Noland hugs Nic Wagner during her retirement Mardi Gras party held last week. Noland is retiring from the Haywood County Deparment of Social Services after more than 36 years.

It was a tight squeeze in the cafeteria at the Haywood County Department of Social Services on Friday afternoon when more than 100 guests wore beads and masks and celebrated Gail Noland’s last day of work during a Mardi Gras retirement party.

The words “I’ve never seen so many people at a retirement party,” were uttered throughout the party as guests waited in line to hug Noland and attempted to find vacant seats amidst the crowd of mostly filled tables.

Noland was not hard to spot in the large crowd — her bright colored sash and tiara stood out among a sea of  purple, gold and green.

Noland, 62, has been a social worker in Haywood County for 36 and a half years, which explains why so many guests showed up to wish her well. Noland, who was flushed and bubbling with excitement during her party, was overwhelmed to see so many familiar faces.

“It’s so good to see everybody,” Noland said, acknowledging several retired DSS employees who came back to see her. “I’m just happy.”

Though Noland has dedicated most of her life to helping others, she said now was the right time for her to retire.

“Everyone told me, ‘One day you’ll realize it’s time to retire,’ and I just feel like it’s that time,” Noland said. “It's a little sad I'm leaving, but I know good people are working there who will do a great job. I’m ready to do something different. I feel like there’s something different for me to do — a new chapter.”

Carla Woody was more than happy to attend Noland’s party and see her old friend after leaving her job at DSS in 2003. Woody and Noland became close while working together for 16 years.

“This place will definitely be less lively without her,” Woody said with a laugh. “She’s never met a stranger. She’s just always going full tilt — I’ve never seen her not wound up. But that’s good; it forces people to keep up with you.”

Ira Dove, director of the Haywood County Department of Social Services, presented Noland with a plaque and thanked her for all she had done. He said everyone on staff would miss Noland, adding that he wasn’t surprised so many people showed up to celebrate her.

“This is a testament to all the work she’s done over the years,” Dove said, adding that Noland was very compassionate. “Especially when you have co-workers and people in the community coming in to honor her.”

In her newfound free time, Noland is looking forward to reading, traveling, going to the movies, and of course, sleeping in.

“I’ll miss my clients and coworkers the most,” Noland said. “I love the work. It’s just always been a part of my life — service to others. I think that’s what really counts.”

Social work changes

Noland began working for the social services department in 1977 — a time when social workers interacted with clients in person and were responsible for meeting basic needs.

Noland recalled days when she provided transportation to her clients.

"I used to help clients by taking them to the grocery store, the doctor, to get their medicine and sometimes shopping, and now we’ve got specific people to do that," Noland said. "It’s more efficient as far as time and money goes because now other systems and programs do that. But as far as the feel-good feeling, those were good times because we got a lot of one-on-one interaction. Now we direct them to the right program and document it."

As the responsibilities of the social workers expanded, so did the number of DSS employees and clients, Noland said.

"At first, the people we’ve served were low income people, and I’ve seen it change through years to middle class and upper class," Noland said, adding that circumstances such as health issues and loss of income were contributing factors. "Now, it's across the board. Since '77 it’s certainly grown to meet the needs of the increasing programs."

Noland was an adult services social worker, which meant she worked with people in the community such as patients in rest homes and nursing homes.

Since she first became a social worker, Noland has noticed that paperwork has become more thorough, but the increase of social services staff has been the biggest change, she said. The increase in staff has been necessary because of the influx of people applying for public assistance.

"People see it now as a service that's there," Noland said. "They know it's available and there to help you. I don’t think there's as much a stigma to getting public assistance as there used to be."

At the end of the day, Noland said she was happy with her career, adding that it was a joy to work in Haywood County.

"It gives you that feeling when you've done something for your fellow human being, you know you've made a difference in someone’s life," Noland said. "That makes all the difference."