He loved an audience. He loved the music. And he loved his people. A resident of Washington Island, Wisconsin, Thomas Matthew Noonan was born on March 10, 1936 and died on March 29, 2022 at the age of 86.
Tom grew up on the South Side of Chicago. His parents, Eleanor Watson Noonan and John Noonan later moved the family to the newly emerging suburb of Tinley Park, Illinois. He was the youngest brother to Daniel, Eleanor, and John. He played stickball on Garfield Boulevard, dodged mass whenever he could, and once tried to run away with the Rag Man.
A self-taught musician, he played the drums and the piano. He graduated from Leo High School in 1956 and got a degree in music from DePaul University in 1960. He played the jazz circuit in Chicago in the ‘50s at the London House and Rush Street with other famous jazz musicians, including Tommy Dorsey, Oscar Peterson, and Carmen McRae. He later formed his own band, “The Tommy Noonan Trio” and played at weddings and hotels and private parties in the Chicagoland area for decades. He was a schoolteacher for many years in the Chicagoland area, taught private music lessons, and became a real estate broker and mortgage loan officer.
Tom married Sonja Ruth Flesvig in 1960. Despite deep cultural differences (she was, after all, a Cubs fan and he rooted for the White Sox), they built a life with their three daughters Linda, Karen, and Diane filled with music, art, and love. His grandchildren Brendan Joanou, Sonja Noonan-Ngwane, Noah Pothast, Kyle Joanou, and Sarah Noonan-Ngwane illuminated his life. He introduced them to fishing and golf, with every family gathering accompanied by singing and dancing.
Tom and Sonja built their island home in 1994 and retired permanently to the island from northwest Indiana in 2006. Tom played at the restaurants and bars, island festivals and functions. He conducted the Washington Island Community Band, was a substitute teacher at the Washington Island School, coached the school’s golf team, and taught music to young people. He enjoyed golfing, bowling, playing pool, and fishing, and cross-country skiing. He performed in the Island Players, his favorite role being that of Fagin in “Oliver!”
Tom could be impulsive, sarcastic, and hot-headed. He was also gifted, social, and affectionate. He fiercely loved the island kids, took his friendships seriously, marveled at the sunsets off the western bluff every night, and loved nothing more than making music with others.
In front of the entire community of Washington Island, playing the closing song for the Christmas Concert in 2011, Tom had a massive heart attack as he sang the final refrain, “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.” He flew off the piano bench – a move some thought was a failed backflip. (He was nothing if not dramatic.) After a subsequent stroke, he lost the use of his right hand, but ol’ “Lefty” went on to play music with the band every Friday night. “What a Wonderful World” became his signature song. He could do more with one hand than most people could ever do with two.
Tom died as he had lived, surrounded by love and listening to his granddaughter singing a song they would often perform together - “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
A Celebration of Tom Noonan’s Life and Music will be held on Saturday afternoon, May 21, 2022 at Nelsen’s Hall on Washington Island. The community is invited.
Casperson Funeral Home & Cremation Services of Sister Bay is assisting the family. Expressions of sympathy, memories, and photos of Tom may be shared with his family through his tribute page at www.caspersonfuneralhome.com.
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