Moravian Greyhounds in Paris
Noel Fowler Hedges ’96 & Eric Kniskern ‘96 Celebrate
20 Years of Friendship with Trip to France
By Tommy Kopetskie, Editor
Not long after her graduation, Noel Fowler Hedges ’96 hit the jackpot.
It wasn’t the lottery or Publishers Clearing House-type money, but rather a meager slot machine payout on a Canadian ferry. Noel felt compelled to share the news with best friend, Eric Kniskern ’96, immediately. Unfortunately, this was the late 1990s, and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat were a few years away. So, in a letter to Eric, Noel scribbled a picture of the slot machine to capture the moment. “I could see for myself what the three 7s looked like,” Eric laughs. “I kept that letter. I just loved that.”
Not a moment later, Noel interrupted Eric to remind him of their pact to minimize self-incriminating stories that might embarrass one another. “The line, Eric! The line,” she laughs.
When you’ve been friends for two decades, like Noel and Eric have, there is no line that can’t be crossed. It’s the type of relationship you celebrate, so the Moravian College friends did just that, visiting Paris last November, commemorating the 20th anniversary of their friendship. For three days and two nights Paris was theirs — except that they couldn’t find a darn accordion player performing “La Vie En Rose.”
“It’s the moment you want to have in Paris,” explains Eric, recalling that just moments before boarding their shuttle home, they finally heard it. They did a little dance in the street and tipped the accordionist all the euros they had.
“It was the perfect ending,” Noel adds. “It was like the exclamation point on the first 20 years of our friendship.”
The Foundation of Friendship
Give Noel credit, she predicted her friendship with Eric.
In 1993, at the start of their sophomore year, Noel and Eric met one evening through mutual friends in a Main Hall dorm room. Eric, now director of admissions at Widener University School of Law, remembers a sense of ease with Noel immediately.
“We just hit it off,” he recalls. “Everything she said, I laughed at and vice versa. At some point in the evening, I can’t remember what I said, but Noel looked at me and replied, ‘I think we are going to become good friends.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
It was easy to identify why their friendship flourished: they let down their guard. “The beauty of our friendship stems from the fact that we could make each other laugh at ourselves,” Noel explains. “And neither of us had been able to laugh at ourselves for whatever reason.”
Following graduation, Eric and Noel — then living in Massachusetts and New Jersey, respectively — were compelled to stay in touch. Because of the expense of phone calls, they wrote letters, exchanging hundreds, including the one that prominently featured a slot machine. “It is funny some of the stuff that we thought was worthy of writing down,” Eric laughs.
Eventually, Eric moved to Harrisburg for law school, and they planned trips to Washington, D.C., every few months. Those visits were offset by weekend stays in Bethlehem — ironically the half-way mark between their residences. “It was so typical that on a Friday, if one of us had had a bad week or a bad day, we would call and meet in Bethlehem,” Eric explains.
In 1998, Noel also moved to Harrisburg, and the two lived together for the first time. It was a “make or break” moment, Eric says, but the roommates figured out how to make the arrangement work. The experience helped prepare them for the future significant others, Noel adds.
It was about this time that Noel met her husband, Andrew.
So Why Paris?
How did Eric and Noel end up in Paris? It starts with England — where Noel’s husband hails from. In 2000, Noel and Andrew were married, with Eric serving as a groomsman, of course.
With Noel and Andrew enjoying marital bliss in New Jersey, the two Moravian friends couldn’t help but think the dynamics of their relationship were about to change. “There was a fear that it would change for the worse,” says Eric. “That we would grow apart.”
To both of their surprise, the opposite occurred. Andrew simply became a part of their group, and then Noel’s daughter, Libby, just added to the fun. “We realized this wasn’t going to ruin the friendship, it just got more mature,” explains Eric, who is Libby’s godfather.
Shortly after Libby’s arrival, Eric met his partner, Kevin, and their circle of friends grew by one. The trips to Washington and elsewhere continued, even with the addition of Noel’s second child, Owen.
Their families could not have been more supportive. “They understand the need for us to have our ‘Eric and Noel time,’” Noel says. “Sometimes we need to step out of the reality and into our little world.”
ABOVE: While they became friends at Moravian, their schedules didn’t make it easy. Eric, a history major, and Noel, an accounting major, never had a class together. While they were both members of Greek organizations, their paths hardly ever crossed – until senior year. This photo was taken the night before they graduated in 1996.
ABOVE: Since Noel’s relocation to England, the Moravian friends have enjoyed several international adventures together, with stops in Hong Kong and London, among other destinations. (Photos courtesy of Hedges and Kniskern.)
In 2007 and 2008, both Moravian graduates found themselves needing each other’s supportive shoulder. First, Eric’s mother died just four months after a cancer diagnosis. The day before her death, Noel could sense how distraught Eric was. She promptly made the six-hour roundtrip to see him for just an hour-long stay. “I didn’t ask her to do it, but she knew I needed her,” Eric explains.
A year later, Noel made the exciting and difficult decision to move to the United Kingdom, a choice Eric supported even though it meant face-to-face meetings would be replaced with FaceTime calls. Eric had just one request: Noel must accompany him on a cross country trip to retrieve his late mother’s effects at her Nevada home.
“During the trip, we realized that we were at a crossroads in our lives — again,” Noel says. “But Eric didn’t question it once. He thought moving was the best thing for me, for my marriage and for my children.”
In the years since, Noel, a contracts management professional at Huntswood CTC Limited, often travels for work and Eric has happily accompanied her, visiting Hong Kong and London, among other destinations. (Noel lives about 40 minutes outside of London.)
As their 20th anniversary approached, they decided to visit Paris, a city Noel subconsciously avoided without Eric. They planned the trip to the minute and hit all of the iconic landmarks they could, including the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
They walked the stairs of Notre Dame, took a cruise on the river Seine, and dined at a little bistro near their hotel, drinking wine and sampling absinthe. “Because when you are in Paris, you have to try it,” Eric explains.
The two of them hunted for an accordionist playing Édith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” — or “Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses” — until they finally found their perfect ending.
The Story of Eric and Noel
Today, Eric and Noel’s weekend jaunts to Washington and twice daily phone calls have been replaced with scheduled FaceTime video chats and Noel’s children mugging for the camera. It’s been a transition the friends have made together because it’s worth it to them.
“These 20 years have been amazing, and we give Moravian the credit,” Eric says. “It was the place that gave us these years together.”
“Moravian has been a big part of our friendship,” Noel adds. “It has given us that common thread for all these years. Personally, I like to think of our friendship to this point as just the first couple of chapters of a great story.” One Noel is only too happy to share with her and Eric’s expanding families. It’s a fact
Noel’s 12-year-old daughter Libby, who considers herself the duo’s “third amigo,” knows well.
“If she is ever bored or wants my attention, she knows just what to say to me,” concludes Noel. “She’ll look at me and say, ‘Mom, tell me an Eric story.’”
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