Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Owning a small business can be all-consuming, but Susan Noland also devotes much of her time to volunteer efforts, said Jann Freed, who first met Noland in 1981, when she designed wedding rings for Freed and her husband. "She is able and willing to use her time in ways that benefit the greater community," Freed said.

Yet, Noland shies away from the spotlight. "I think I like being behind the scenes a little bit," she said, "and helping orchestrate things rather than being front and center."

Noland has run her art studio, Susan Noland Designs in Gold, in the Roosevelt Cultural District for 32 years. After getting her master in fine arts with an emphasis in jewelry and metalsmithing and teaching at Drake University for several years, she wanted to "show students something to do besides teaching - that they could actually make their product and bring it to the public," she said.

Though "times are a little bit harder now than they were," Noland said that while working on about 20 projects during the holidays last year, she realized she was touching so many people's major celebrations.

She continues to touch the community as well. In addition to continuing to work with students at her studio, she helped the Roosevelt area gain its cultural designation from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs in 2005 and has served on the district's executive board and design team since then. As a member of the artstop committee, she also helped create an annual public art tour of seven Des Moines cultural districts.

Noland has supported women in getting elected to public office as well, because "seeing strong women in leadership positions is important," she said. She was the late Elaine Szymoniak's campaign chair in her races for the Iowa Senate and Christine Hensley's campaign chair in her races for the Des Moines City Council.

For several years, many of Noland's volunteer efforts focused on helping women, children and people of color. She served on the Des Moines Human Rights Commission from 1994 to 2004 and on the YWCA of Greater Des Moines board of directors as president. She is currently a member of YWCA's ambassador endowment committee.

Now, much of her work is focused on the environment. She has served on the Des Moines Park and Recreation Board since 2004 and is currently a member of three subcommittees. She helped start a community garden in the Drake University neighborhood when there were only about a dozen public gardens in the city - now there are about 200 - and as a member of the Des Moines Founders Garden Club since 1988, she helped secure funding and provide labor for planting projects around The Salisbury House, the Principal Riverwalk and the Des Moines Art Center.

Even her free time is spent enjoying walks at Gray's Lake.

What drives this mission? "If we don't have a place to live and breathe and have water and air," she said, "we can't do too much else."