Thursday, September 26, 1996
The Nolans: family values put to the test

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

We hear a lot about ''family values'' from people who wouldn't know a family if they fell over one having Thanksgiving dinner. They should meet the Nolans.

Seven kids, they scattered in at least that many directions during the day. They always reassembled at dinnertime. It was a rule. Unbreakable.

They identify their Price Hill neighborhood, as west-siders will, by their parish. Everybody went to St. William, every morning.

St. Patrick's Day was big, bigger than Christmas. Ed Nolan would buy green bread from nearby St. Lawrence Bakery. And every kid got a new green outfit.

A close family even after Ed died in 1972, Tim, Dan and Terry subbed for their dad at father-daughter banquets and soccer. The older kids helped with the younger ones, and Ed, who had been a vice president at Heekin Can Co., left Phyllis fixed well enough to stay at home.

''When Mom was little, she hated coming home to an empty house,'' Dan says, ''so we never did. She was always in the kitchen when we got home from school.''

Dan - who is actually Brother Dan, a Franciscan friar - says right after his father died, he heard his mother say, ''Lord, I think I can handle this, but please don't take one of my kids before me.'' That, she thought she could not handle.

But she did.

Fooling the nuns

Her son Terry Nolan died last December, just two weeks shy of his 49th birthday. Bright, funny, handsome Terry Nolan. Kate Nolan, who works for the Legal Aid Society, says she probably has her brother to thank for making it through high school.

He forged her parents' signatures on demerit cards sent home by the nuns from Seton High School. OK, so he wasn't a saint. But he sure was a nice guy. ''Everyone loved Terry,'' Kate said.

They still do.

Phyllis, now 76, and her entire brood will be marching 10 kilometers this weekend in his honor. In fact, there will be about 20 family members, including nieces and nephews. The youngest is 2 and will be traveling in a wagon.

Phyllis, plagued by arthritis, will ride in a wheelchair. Kate, a little gimpy from a knee injury, is reserving her options. The Nolans think they'll collect about $1,000 for AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati.

Yes, Terry Nolan died of AIDS. And yes, he was gay, in case you were wondering.

It was never a secret in the Nolan family, and they spoke of Terry's illness openly to their friends, almost from the beginning. Terry was diagnosed in 1988, just before he moved to Miami with his partner of 24 years, Dann Schultz.

The Nolans rallied. Big surprise, right? After you spend about two minutes with any of them, you can't imagine they'd do anything else.

Relentless killer

Kate, who flew to Florida 15 times last year, has enough frequent flier miles and peanuts to open her own airline. Danny, who's now 7 and lives in Muncie, Ind., called his uncle every time he was allowed. Which was all the time.

''The little ones, I think, kept him alive,'' Dan says. ''He wanted as much time, as many memories, as he could manage.'' After one of his sisters had her baby, Dan joked, ''Quick. Somebody get pregnant. Give him something more to live for.''

But no matter how strong your resolve, how loving your family, how devout your prayers, this is one disease that eventually kills you.

Terry went down the aisle of St. William Church one last time, carried by his six brothers and sisters. Phyllis, stronger all along than anybody thought she'd be, walked behind her son's casket with Dann Schultz. Dann read a letter from Terry. Typically, Terry tried to console them: ''My 48 years of this life have been wonderful.''

The Nolans will gather again Saturday. The Terry Nolan Team will be walking their 10K wearing T-shirts in ''Caribbean blue,'' Terry's favorite color. They'll be noisy and, as usual, having a pretty good time together.

But they will never forget why they're there.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.