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Larger than life: Grinnell resident completes 23-foot long puzzle

John Nor takes a break from puzzling. Contributed by The Mayflower.

John Noer is somewhat of a local celebrity. The 85-year-old, who spent the majority of his life working as a grocer and then a pastor, now spends his time completing extremely large puzzles – like 40,000 pieces large.

Noer and his wife Dorothy are residents at the Mayflower, a local retirement community. Despite the relative isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for most, the two have managed to keep pretty busy. Besides working on his latest 40,320-piece puzzle, which depicts 10 classic scenes from Disney movies, Noer also manages to read several mystery novels a week and was able to squeeze in an interview with The S&B; after Jeopardy, of course.

Puzzles are a familiar staple in Noer’s life. As a child, he was often prone to sickness. As a result, much of his time was spent indoors, working on puzzles and reading.

Throughout his life, Noer has completed more puzzles than he can count, but his favorites are the ones that hold a special meaning. Up to this point, the biggest puzzle — in size — that Noer has completed is also one of his favorites. The puzzle depicts a jungle scene, and Noer purchased it after a trip to Africa with his daughter. The 3,000-piece puzzle is currently framed in the Noer’s kitchen.

Besides that, Noer also recently completed a 9,000-piece puzzle that caught his attention while visiting his daughter and granddaughter in Macomb, Illinois last year.

“While I was in the store,” said Noer, “I saw a puzzle on the shelf that indicated it was a very large puzzle, but my wife was with me and she pulled me away before I could think about how many pieces or how much it costs.”

Even after leaving the store though, Noer wasn’t able to stop thinking of the puzzle, which depicted a vibrant underwater landscape. He called his daughter and casually mentioned that if she were to return to the store, he would be interested in learning more details. While on the phone at the time, Dorothy leaned over his shoulder and firmly told her daughter that she was not to buy the puzzle for him.

“Well, the next thing I knew,” said Noer, “They call me from the store, and they had just bought it.”

After he completed the 9,000-piece puzzle, which now hangs in the Carmen Center at the Mayflower, Noer was ready for something bigger. Luckily, Steve Langerud, the Executive Director of the Mayflower, was so impressed by Noer’s work that he took the situation into his own hands.

Langerud found the 40,000-piece puzzle online, made by Ravensburger, the same company that made the underwater scene that had so captivated Noer in Illinois. Langerud showed it to Noer and asked if he was up to the challenge. Long story short: he was.

The puzzle, initially valued at $600, was purchased off Amazon for a discounted price, and the two men split the cost. This all happened back in February of 2019.

The now infamous puzzle arrived at the Mayflower in an enormous box, which contained 10 smaller bags for each scene portrayed. The scenes averaged about 4,000 pieces each and are supposed to be connected at the very end, resulting in a completed puzzle that is over 40,000 pieces.

Noer got right to work right away, throwing himself so deeply into his work that he even forgot to shave for the first couple of days. Then, he and Langerud got another idea. They decided that for the entire time Noer was working on the Disney puzzle, he wouldn’t shave. Besides a couple of trimmings, Noer grew his beard for over 21 months, only shaving it last week when he put the last piece of the puzzle in place.

The problem Langerud and Noer are facing now, though, is where to put the giant puzzle. Once the 10 segments are fully assembled, the puzzle will be about 23 feet long and 6 feet high, too big to go anywhere in the Mayflower.

“After thinking about it,” said Noer, “the most logical place for it to be would be at the local movie theater.”

Noer is currently in contact with the owners of The Strand movie theater in Grinnell, negotiating a place for what is essentially a mural dedicated to classic Disney movies. He is hopeful that the puzzle will welcome future patrons when they walk into the theater’s lobby.

With the puzzle that could be called Noer’s “pièce de résistance” completed, he’s about to have a lot of time on his hands. While the average person might have taken a break from all that puzzling, Noer is not an average person. He does admit, however, that he will go a little easier on himself with his next one.

“I’ve got a bunch of 1,000 and 1,500-piece puzzles in my cabinets,” he said.

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