For ETSU’s first family, the constant flow of visitors, speaking engagements and appearances at university events keeps the Nolands active with a full calendar. Each day, the Nolands experience something new and exciting.
For the past four years, they have been in the public eye, they have learned how to cope with less privacy and they have balanced university functions as well as their personal lives.
“There’s not a typical day, I wish I could say that there was but there’s not,” first lady Donna Noland said.
Mrs. Noland grew up in Greeneville, Tennessee, a small family oriented town.
“My family owned a funeral home so it was a family-run business,” she said. “And so you’re well-known there too for owning your own business but not as much as now.”
Mrs. Noland was very involved at Greeneville High School as a class officer, member of the anchor club, junior exchange club, cheerleader, band, drum major, etc.
“I tell students every time when they walk into this door, especially high school students that we are encouraging to look at ETSU, college is what you make of it. How you get involved and what you do is up to you but your experience with college is going to be completely different if you’re involved,” she said.
As she transitioned to University of Tennessee at Martin, she became really involved with the alumni association and her sorority Alpha Delta Pi.
Mrs. Noland studied human ecology, science and nutrition.
She then transferred her sophomore year to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she met her husband Mr. Brian Noland in her senior year.
Mr. Noland graduated from the University of West Virginia and moved to Knoxville to pursue his coursework for his Ph.D.
After they finished their studies in Knoxville, the Nolands decided to look into Nashville for Mrs. Noland’s master’s degree at Vanderbilt.
While in Nashville, Mrs. Noland was busy with school and an internship and Mr. Noland was looking for a job in the field of education.
“That’s when the Tennessee Higher Education commission position came up,” she said.
“I will never forget this, we were sitting in the parking lot and he said, ‘Do you think I should go? I just found this posting online, do you think I should go in there and ask them?’ I said, ‘Yes! You need a job, I’m getting ready to go to school’,” she said smiling.
Mr. Noland put on his tie in the middle of the parking lot, which was right across the street from the courthouse and the jail.
“He went up, I sat in the car and waited, he was in there for hours, he came out and said, ‘I got a job’,” she said.
After getting married, the Nolands made the official move to Nashville.
“We thought we were going to be in Nashville for a short time but we ended up loving it and finding his spot, finding his place at TNHEC, he worked his way up and then he had the opportunity to become chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education system,” she said.
At the same time, Mrs. Noland worked as a nurse practitioner as well as help raise funds for programs at Vanderbilt.
The Nolands then moved to Charleston, West Virginia with their son Jackson in 2006 and lived there until Mr. Noland received his position as ETSU president in 2012.
Mrs. Noland and Jackson moved into the Shelbridge estate in 2012. Currently, 11-year-old Jackson studies at the University School.
“We were just waiting for that natural transition to move our son over,” she said. “And then it was interesting because there’s lots of people around all of the time so it took some getting used to from moving to a less private to a more public.”
The duties of a first lady vary daily from preparing room arrangements for social gatherings to hosting guests to speaking engagements to even helping develop ETSU as a brand, there is always something a first lady must oversee.
Mrs. Noland serves on a variety of local community boards such as the Johnson City Development Authority Board, she works with Bucky’s Food Pantry and the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.
She also hosts events at the Shelbridge, approves menus, helps design the layout of the estate for the evening and oversees the upkeep of the estate.
“When we host student groups here, the ability for us to talk to students get to know what they want to see on campus and how they want their university to be viewed now and also in the future, that’s part of it getting student feedback,” she said.
And she has several speaking engagements throughout the year such as Women on Wednesday’s lectures and beginning a group called ‘partners of excellence’ for assistant associates and senior management of campus.
With everything going on, Mrs. Noland said she always makes her family her number one priority.
“There’s a lot of events that my husband will go to and I’ll say I have to stay home because …Jackson has a project due [or is] not feeling well,” she said.
On top of an already full schedule, Mrs. Noland has worked steadily to help develop the university’s brand.
“One of the things that was frustrating to me, we were so excited and wanted to purchase ETSU apparel, it was kind of late, bookstores weren’t open, there was nothing so that was part of my mission at the very beginning, I met with Target, SMA-licensing company at time, Walgreens, Dicks, name recognition out there,” she said.
The Tartan is a combination of a marketing team, branding and licensing individuals that helped with the creation of a new logo, developed rules on how ETSU could use certain colors and themes and brought revenue back to ETSU.
Prior to the Nolands, there was not a licensing system in place and funds were not coming back to ETSU.
A portion of the Tartan even goes back to support student scholarships and additional funding.
With everything constantly changing and moving forward, Mrs. Noland has found a balance between family, friends and ETSU responsibilities.
“Sometimes it’s hard, I have to say no to things sometimes that I really don’t want to say no to and family needs to come first,” she said.