by J.O. Parker
Life might be a puzzle to some, but for Grinnell’s John Noer, 85, solving them has been a lifelong passion.
Noer, who resides with his wife, Dorothy, at the Mayflower Community, has being putting puzzles together since he was a kid.
A few years ago, Noer stepped up his game and put together a 3,000 piece puzzle of an African jungle scene. The framed puzzle hangs on his kitchen wall.
That led him to tackle a 9,000 piece puzzle. He saw the puzzle of a colorful underwater scene at a game store in Macomb, Ill., while visiting family.
“I didn’t buy it that day, but later called and asked my granddaughter to find out what it cost,” Noer said. “I told her not to buy it. She did.”
The finished puzzle is framed and hangs in the Mayflower Health Center – Carman Center.
Noer’s latest challenge is a 40,320-piece puzzle comprised of 10 Disney movie scenes.
The puzzle was created by Ravensburger, a German puzzle and game company, and Noer has been working on the masterpiece since Feb. 1, 2019 in the Mayflower Community Craft Room.
His work space consists of two 6-foot tables taped together and covered with butcher paper.
Each puzzle section has 4,320 pieces and Noer is putting the puzzle together one section at a time. He is currently working on the tenth and final section of the puzzle and expects to be done sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Once finished, the mammoth puzzle will depict 10 Disney movie scenes and will measure 23-feet by 6.5-feet. Jim Beckman with Beckman Gallery in Grinnell will frame the puzzle for display.
Where the puzzle will hang has yet to be determined.
The Disney movies in the puzzle include: Cinderella, Snow White, Lion King, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, Bambi, Jungle Book, Fantasia, Ariel – The Little Mermaid and the final section is Peter Pan.
When finished with a puzzle section, Noer splits the section into two pieces and stores them on foam core board in the craft room.
Steve Langerud, Chief Executive Officer of Mayflower Homes, encouraged Noer to tackle the puzzle. In fact, Mayflower Homes is covering the cost of having the puzzle framed.
When asked what he enjoys the most about working on the puzzle, Noer said with a chuckle, “It keeps me off the streets and out of trouble.”
Noer explained that when he opens a bag of puzzle pieces, he divides them into 10 – 12 piles. One pile is for the edge pieces and another for the film strip. The film strip wraps around the edge of the entire puzzle and features scenes from the 10 different Disney movies.
He then branches out to the inside of the film strip. Another pile includes all the non-straight edge pieces. This is followed by various colors such as green, light blue, purple and facial and skin colors.
“I handled all 4,320 pieces on the first day,” Noer said of the puzzle.
Each section of the puzzle comes with a color picture showing the finished product. He uses a kitchen spatula to move small sections of the puzzle around.
When putting the Beauty and the Beast section together, Noer said he discovered a missing puzzle piece in the Beast’s face.
“I called the company and told them about the missing piece,” Noer said. “They told me that they could send out the entire section.”
Not wanting to do that, Noer said he counted the puzzle pieces from the top and side to find where the missing piece was and told the company.
“They sent me the missing piece,” he said.
About that time, Dorothy was vacuuming the carpet and moved a chair and the missing puzzle piece fell to the floor.
“I had taken a tray of puzzle pieces upstairs to sort them and I dropped a piece,” recalled Noer.
He now carries the extra missing piece in his billfold.
Noer has spent a total of 627 days and countless hours working on the puzzle. Fantasia, the eighth section, took Noer the most days with 143. He finished Beauty and the Beast section the fastest in 32 days.
“Some days I get three pieces in one-half an hour and other days I get 20 pieces in five minutes,” Noer said of completing the puzzle.
Noer grew up on the south side of Chicago. He spent more than 20 years in the grocery store business, including time while in school. He then switched career paths and became a minister with the Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) and moved to Iowa. He ministered at churches in Pomeroy, Marengo and Onawa during a 20-plus year span before retiring. He learned about the Mayflower Community while attending the United Church of Christ annual meeting at Grinnell College.
He and Dorothy have been married for 56 years. The couple has three children, one of which is adopted, and four grandchildren. The couple also took in an Ethiopian refugee who was supposed to stay three months and ended up staying three years. He became part of the Noer family.
“He has given us three (more) grandchildren,” said Noer.
The couple has lived at the Mayflower for eight years.
In his spare time, Noer enjoys reading and watching Jeopardy.
“I read two to three books a week,” he said.
Once he is done with the Disney puzzle, Noer plans to downsize a bit.
“I have a number of 1,500 piece puzzles in my closet waiting to be put together,” he said.