San Jose mourns the loss of a true civic booster

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Few people believed in the potential of San Jose like Joe Noonan. He was a booster in the truest sense, helping to lift up community projects and events to bring people together. How committed was he? Well, he dressed up like a banana to promote the Downtown Farmers Market and like a gingerbread man to publicize Christmas in the Park.

It was his genuine, heartfelt love for his adopted city that left his friends, family and colleagues in grief when they learned he had died early Tuesday morning at age 48. While his charm and smile were with him until the end, they were just no match for neuroendocrine tumors — a rare cancer that can occur anywhere in the body, which he had been battling for more than a year.

Social media tributes multiplied as word of his death spread among current and former downtown San Jose denizens. There was sadness for sure, but also gratitude and consistent mentions of Noonan’s kindness and enthusiasm. Local Color founder Erin Salazar called him “a source of light and optimism in our community,” and Terra Wood-Taylor, a longtime downtown resident and frequent event volunteer, said, “You couldn’t go a block with him, without him running into someone he knew (who he then would introduce to you). He was the most enthusiastic and friendly ambassador of everything San Jose.”

Joe Noonan, left, rides in a pedicab with his father, Joe Noonan, Sr., during a Viva CalleSJ event in downtown San Jose in November 2021. (Photo courtesy Ron Bennett) 

Noonan — whose family moved to San Jose from Illinois when he was in middle school — cut his teeth at a string of tech companies for 17 years before finding his calling connecting people in downtown San Jose. He had stints with Broadway San Jose, San Jose Downtown Association, Christmas in the Park and the City of San Jose, where he promoted events like Viva CalleSJ, Viva Parks and the Al Fresco restaurant program. He also managed the historic Twohy apartment building downtown — where he lived until moving in with his father, Joe Noonan, Sr., in West San Jose. He had last been director of operations for the Bay Area Furniture Bank and continued to serve on its board after his illness forced him to slow down.

When the Bay Area Furniture Bank was honored at a San Jose City Council meeting in April, Noonan was surprised to discover that he also was being presented with a commendation from Mayor Sam Liccardo for his years of work promoting events in the city. “Joe has a superpower of bringing people together,” Liccardo said at the time. “Every conversation includes, ‘Hey, I’ve got to introduce you to somebody.’ ”

Many of those people he brought together will be gathering at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 18 to celebrate his life. The location is still being worked out, but you can bet it’ll be somewhere in downtown San Jose with lots of space.

Of course, Noonan would have waved away any fuss on his behalf. He always thought of himself as a Regular Joe. But for San Jose, he was an Extraordinary Joe.

MAGICAL MIXOLOGY: Magician Jay Alexander regularly performs his mind-blowing tricks in San Francisco, but he’s no stranger to the South Bay, and it’ll be great to have him on stage at Campbell’s Pruneyard Cinemas on Aug. 10. Alexander won’t be starring in a movie, but he’ll take advantage of being in a theater to demonstrate some movie magic without camera tricks. To go with his show, the Pruneyard’s Cedar Room Lounge will have a special cocktail available called “Black Magic.”

The drink is pretty powerful stuff, with vodka, gin and rum and even a bit of absinthe in the mix. A dash of black food coloring — not eye of newt — gives the cocktail an inky appearance that’s perfect for a witch’s brew. It’ll be interesting to see how many customers can make those disappear at the 7:30 p.m. show. Tickets are available for $25 to $55 at pruneyardcinemas.com.

BADGES OF HONOR: After a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19, the San Jose Police Foundation is bringing back its Major Awards Ceremony in a big way on Aug. 26 at SAP Center in downtown San Jose. The foundation’s signature event of the year honors law enforcement officers and highlights life-saving and crime-solving stories.

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