Meet Niagara’s New Alumni Association President: Patrick Noonan, BA’03
May 31, 2018 by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09
Patrick Noonan, '03, is a proud Niagara alumnus and knows how the power of the Niagara connection can benefit one personally and professionally. And now, as he takes leadership of the Niagara University Alumni Association, he hopes to encourage others to reengage with their local chapters and their alma mater.
The Albany, N.Y., native grew up in the restaurant business—his parents owned The Orchard Tavern, an Albany landmark—but Patrick was interested in broadcasting. Niagara’s communications program attracted him, as did the fact that the university fostered the same values as the high school he attended, and he felt comfortable on the campus.
Halfway through his sophomore year, Patrick took a class in public relations and shifted his focus from being in front of the camera to being behind the scenes. His first job in the field was in Ireland, working for a private communications company. He hadn’t planned to work overseas, but while visiting two of his classmates who were doing internships there, and at the urging of Dr. Brian Murphy, then the chair and associate professor in the communication studies department, he submitted his resume and got the job.
He was there about a year, crossing paths with several other NU alumni who were working or traveling in that country, before coming back to the States and taking a job as director of small market business with D&D Consulting, Ltd. Public relations jobs with the New York State Thruway Authority and the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer followed, and then, when his parents were ready to retire, Patrick returned home to take over the management of the Orchard.
“It was something that never really left me,” he says of the restaurant business. “I grew up knowing what it did for me, for my values, the hard work, the folks we were surrounded with. I wanted to take it on and make my own impact on it, so that’s what I did.”
In 2012, Patrick bought El Loco Mexican Cafe. Although he sold the Orchard earlier this year, he is involved with a Ben & Jerry’s next door to his restaurant and hopes to open a sandwich shop across the street this summer. The father of two young girls juggles the day-to-day management of the restaurant with promotional responsibilities, an area where his Niagara degree serves him well. In that aspect of the job, Patrick is very involved in his community, which he says is his favorite part.
“It’s not just about putting food on a plate and giving it to people, it’s about creating experience, creating a reputation … I think that is what fascinates me the most,” he says.
“I am busy,” he continues, “but it’s all good. I have a great staff and great people surrounding me, it’s been one of those things when you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. I’ve been lucky all the way around to have grown up in the business and learned a lot from my parents and everyone at the Orchard, and to be able to evolve that into my own way of doing things and still be in business means a lot to me.”
Now, Patrick, who served as the leader of NUAA’s Albany chapter for eight years, has taken on another role, that of NUAA president. The benefits he reaped as chapter leader, and the recommendation of previous NUAA presidents, were his motivation for doing so.
“I was more than happy to be the alumni chapter leader, because it helped drive business and it helped improve our presence in the community,” he says.
The opportunity and responsibility of alumni to support their alma mater is going to be a focus of Patrick’s presidency.
“The goal is to have everyone who’s graduated remember how fondly they loved Niagara while they were there, and how important it is to give back,” he says.
But rather than concentrating on large donations, Patrick’s message, like past president Frank Fiannaca’s before him, will be one of participation. “We’re not in the age when schools, Niagara in particular, can assume that people can hand over a big check. The age of technology has allowed us to give $25 or $50 here or there. Multiply that by tens of thousands of alumni, and that’s a pretty big number.”
And while fundraising is a priority, promoting the Power of Niagara is not far behind for Patrick. Noting how the university is at the top of numerous national rankings, he hopes to leverage these accolades, as well as stories of student accomplishments, to shine a spotlight on the fact that Niagara can compete against some of the top schools in the world. He says this will instill pride among the alumni of the legacy they helped to build.
Patrick recognizes that he has a big job ahead, and has been working with Fiannaca to make it a smooth transition and a successful term. “Frank gave me a lot of pointers,” he says, “so if I can do half the job he did, we’ll be in good shape.”