Campus News

Bowdoin's Oldest Alumnus Dies at 103

Story posted December 09, 1999

Frank E. Noyes, who graduated in 1917, served with distinction in both world wars and excelled at several vocations, died on Veteran's Day, just seven weeks shy of his goal to live in three centuries.

Noyes was born in Topsham, Maine, on Jan. 7, 1896, into a middle class farming family. He majored in biology at Bowdoin, joined Chi Psi and graduated cum laude in 1917. His classmates remember him largely for doing what only Adm. Donald MacMillan had done before: Climbing the outside of Chapel steeple and hanging his class banner on the lightening rod. No one has accomplished the feat since then.

During World War I, Noyes served in a cavalry unit in France and Germany. This past May, the French government recognized his service by naming him "Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor," France's highest national award.

After World War I, Noyes took a number of jobs in business, living briefly in California and Oregon before moving to Columbus, Ohio, in 1927. In 1938, he founded Frank Noyes Pies, Inc. and remained president until he sold the business in 1952.

In World War II, Noyes was appointed Commanding Office of the U.S. School of Cooks and Bakers at Fort Knox, Kentucky, before being transferred to Fort Hayes in Columbus. He was in charge of improving the quality the food for servicemen.

For his service in World War II, he was awarded an Army Commendation Ribbon, American Defense Medal, American Theater Medal and a World War II Medal.

He finally left the service as a colonel in 1946.

While Noyes was honing his military skills, his spiritual life was heading in a less conventional direction. In the 1920s, he developed an interest in Theosophy, a mystical interpretation of God and religion. He also believed in astrology and was a member of the American Federation of Scientific Astrologers from 1945 to 1950.

The Theosophical movement produced Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher and teacher who would become a major influence in Noyes’ life. Ojai, California, became Krishnamurti’s home in the United States.

Noyes and his friend, Alan Hooker, the manager of Noyes Pies, were both active in Theosophy and traveled as lecturers for the Theosophical Society. When Krishnamurti broke away from Theosophy, they began listening to his talks, and traveled to Ojai to hear him speak. In 1949, calling themselves "The ’49ers," Noyes, Hooker and several other friends moved to Ojai for good.

Noyes and a partner bought the 73-acre Live Oaks Ranch, where they became known for their success growing oranges and avocados.

In 1949, at the age of 53, Noyes married Bennie Bare, a friend from Ohio who had moved to Ojai with him and his friends.

In his mid-50s, Noyes embarked on a remarkable artistic career. He went to Seattle in 1950 to hear Krishnamurti speak, and visited the local art museum. He was taken with Chinese pottery exhibited there, and was fascinated to learn that the glazing techniques had been lost for centuries until a professor at Ohio State University rediscovered them.

Noyes, who still owned Noyes Pies and spent a good part of the year in Ohio, enrolled at Ohio State to study under this professor. He excelled at the work and ended up improving on the professor’s technique; his experiments with glazes were published in technical journals.

When Noyes sold his bakery in 1952 and settled permanently in Ojai, he spent more than two years developing glazes with Beatrice Wood, a nationally renowned potter.

Noyes remained a prolific and respected potter until he was about 100 years old.

While his work in ceramics and agriculture earned a name for Noyes, he was achieving his most notable accomplishments quietly and without fanfare. He helped Alan Hooker and his wife, Helen, found the now-famous Ranch House Restaurant in Ojai. He adopted two children and took in a third to create a family for people who desperately needed one. He donated money and resources wherever they were needed, loaning money to people to buy a house or go to college; setting up ceramics schools in India and teaching ceramics in local schools and colleges.

Noyes took his longevity seriously, and it clearly paid off. He became a vegetarian when it was anything but mainstream, and maintained a strict regimen of exercise. He hiked the hilly terrain near his house each day before breakfast. When he was 89, he slipped and hit his head on a rock. He didn’t find out until he’d driven himself to the hospital that he’d broken his neck.

The following year, he took a trip to China.

Noyes remained active until the end. In October, just four days before he suffered a stroke, he attended the dedication of an Ojai land preserve containing 100 eucalyptus trees that he’d planted years ago. The preserve now bears his name.

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