PRIDE! Kent co-founder, gay rights activist dies

Dolores Noll

Dolores Noll

Maria McGinnis

Dolores Noll is remembered by those who knew her as a brave and welcoming woman who made a lasting impact on her students and fellow faculty members.

Noll, a former Kent State faculty member and activist, died Jan. 8.

In 1972, Noll became the first professor to teach a gay and lesbian issues course at Kent State. Her activism launched the array of LGBTQ and gender studies courses offered by Kent State today.

Noll was the co-founder and advisor of the Kent Gay Liberation Front which is now known as PRIDE! Kent.

Today, PRIDE! Kent is one of the oldest gay rights student organizations in the country.

Dolores and Pat Hatfield, her partner of 37 years, were residents at an assisted living center in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where Noll suffered from dementia.

In Noll’s obituary, Hatfield spoke of her partner’s memory, describing her as “a compassionate, kind and funny woman with a habit of always needing to be in charge.”

Ken Ditlevson, the director of the LGBTQ Student Center, never had the pleasure of meeting Noll but has met several people that knew her, saying they told “story after story” about her impact on their lives.

“In the 1970s she was such a leader and really pulled people together to get active and stand up for equality,” Ditlevson said. “The success of PRIDE! Kent is all because of Dolores. I can say that our group wouldn’t be as strong and as large as it is if she hadn’t stood up when she did.”

Suzanne Holt, a professor of women’s studies and longtime friend to Dolores, described her as being a “literal trailblazer who opened portals” as a professor, encouraging her students and those around her to challenge their present definitions of gender and sexuality.

“I first knew Dolores as her student in the English department back in 1979,” Holt said. “She had a very profound presence in the classroom, yet she had this casual way about her, but spoke with real wisdom and authority. She was also very personal and would take us under her wing.”

Noll would host get-togethers at her home with her students. Her efforts made her unique and set her apart from other professors at the time.

“She was very welcoming,” Holt said. “Maybe because she saw herself as a bridge to get us out of our isolation and into more comradery with others. At first, I didn’t see her as a particular champion, she was just someone who cared.”

During her time as a professor at Kent State, Noll presented herself as the “gold standard” for a professor just by being herself. She taught by example and encouraged her students to have their own voice and be passionate about their education.

In 2010, Noll became the first recipient of Kent State’s Diversity Trailblazer award for her groundbreaking work in the LGBTQ community.

“She was such a brave person to put herself out there,” Ditlevson said. “It’s still a risk now when people ‘come out’ but it was a different world in the 1970s. We’re in a more accepting place now.”

The LGBTQ Student Center is hosting a memorial service Feb. 11 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. that will be located in room 24 of the Student Center. The service is open to all students, staff and community members that wish to come and remember Dolores Noll.

Maria McGinnis is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].