Ron Noecker has a heart for service.
A former minister in Fremont and founder of Nursing Heart Inc., Noecker has worked to bring health care to people in Guatemala.
Now, he’s working with an organization that has an even broader scope in the South American country.
Noecker is living in Fremont until December, when he’ll return to his home in Guatemala.
Fremonters may remember Noecker from his work here years ago.
Noecker was as associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fremont from 1985-1988.
He then served at St. Cecelia’s Cathedral in Omaha for a year and had a year of study at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. After that, he was a pastor in Beemer for seven years and then in Fort Calhoun for four.
Then he went on a sabbatical to Guatemala.
“I had a desire to learn how to speak Spanish,” he said.
Noecker also wondered if he was being called to a ministry in the larger world. While in Guatemala, Noecker discerned that he was.
“I said, ‘Someday I want to return and help out here,’” Noecker recalled.
After a couple of years, Noecker studied nursing and later became an oncology nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
He worked there for six years.
Noecker founded Nursing Heart, Inc., in 2011.
“I really thought what I was going to set up was a place for nursing resilience,” he said.
Noecker envisioned a place where nurses would build a building and help others in a way other than through oncology.
But he believes God had other plans.
In 2012, Noecker was headed to Guatemala when he got a call from Dr. Rhonda Goodman, a nurse from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.
Goodman was looking for a group that could help her bring nursing students to Guatemala to do clinical work.
Nursing Heart, Inc., started bringing nursing and service groups — some of whom have come from Fremont — to Guatemala.
Noecker noted that Dr. Tom and Evelyn McKnight of Fremont were founding board members. Fremont’s Dr. Greg Haskins has been a supporter and the organization helped him found his ophthalmology work in Guatemala.
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Midland University nursing students have served in Guatemala as well.
Through the Nursing Heart organization, advance practice nurses conduct cervical cancer screenings in Guatemala.
Noecker said cervical cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in Guatemala due to a lack of preventative care.
It’s a concerning health problem.
“So we do our part to help screen in these pueblos that are very underserved,” Noecker said. “They can’t afford to go to the city to be screened.”
Groups of nurse practitioners come every three years to the same community to conduct the cervical cancer screenings.
Undergraduate, unlicensed nurses conduct public health projects such as installing high-efficiency wood-burning stoves to get smoke out of the homes, instead of there being smoke from open fires in enclosed areas. They also conduct wellness checks at grade schools.
Guatemalan medical staff accompany the students for any concerns they might find.
Service groups also typically conduct one to two building projects a year.
“Those are open to anyone who would like to be part of the project,” he said. “We mainly build community clinic buildings.”
Visiting nurses can use these buildings, which also can be used for town meetings.
Sixteen different groups have gone to Guatemala during the 2018-2019 year.
Noecker said the organization has a dual mission. People in Guatemala teach visitors about Central American life and culture. The visitors provide services.
Last year, the organization served 6,000 patients.
While Noecker has stepped down as executive director of Nursing Heart, Inc., he continues to work with the organization in development.
J. Parker Manderson, an Australian nurse, has become the executive director. The organization, which is based in Antigua, Guatemala, has an office in Chicago.
These days, Noecker continues to be involved in other development projects throughout the world. And while Nursing Heart, Inc., isn’t a religious organization, Noecker expresses a deep appreciation for God and faith.
“I would never be able to confront the difficulties that are present in Guatemala without faith in God’s help,” Noecker said.
He’s lived out a mission, first while working in the church, then an oncology nurse and now through organizations serving the impoverished.
“I do everything from a religious perspective,” he said, smiling. “I can’t help it.”