One of the first things you’ll notice about Karen Frank-Noll — beyond her ever-present smile — is her stride. Her walk is forceful and full of purpose. While she freely concedes, “I am no good at sitting still,” it’s ironic that she also considers herself an introvert. The butterfly on her Queen for FANTASY FEST logo is as much about her own vibrant metamorphosis.
Frank-Noll, 64, has never really, despite insisting so, been less than brave. Her personal journey from Wisconsin to Key West, like that of so many, was complicated. There were obstacles to overcome, including a suffocating marriage that gave her two wonderful daughters (plus seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren) and a diminished sense of self. Wisconsin winters are long. Karen’s even longer.
“I’ve had to work very hard to break out of that cycle,” she explains, “and it was only down here that I have found my voice again.”
Working for a banking consulting firm, “helping banks make money,” had proven frustrating. During a February 2006, business seminar in Key West, she met her partner of 13 years, Jerry Hughes, at Two Friends Patio Restaurant on Front Street.
“He was singing at karaoke and he asked me to dance. I, in turn, invited him to a work party.”
By late summer that same year, 2006, she moved permanently to Key West. Her father, 87, has worked over 50 years in the not-for-profit arena, so it was a natural segue that she sought employment at AH Monroe (then AIDS Help) as an executive assistant. She became the agency’s accountant, oversaw human resources and functioned as the office manager.
“I tend to ‘grow’ every job I’m given,” she laughs.
Embracing the late Robert Walker’s vision for the agency, she “began to see life in a different way. It was truly life-changing.” Following that, she worked with Kim Wilkerson at Island Home Care and when the business sold to a larger concern, she opted not to return to the corporate world.
“I want to be a giver and not just deliver to the consumer.”
Part of the giving has included riding with the Key West Mile Markers biking team for the past 12 years in their annual trek from Miami to Key West to raise money for The SMART Ride. She’ll do the ride again in November 2019, while juggling her queen campaign activities.
“When I joined The SMART Ride, the most daunting part was asking for money from friends and family. Now it’s the easiest. When you ask people, with passion, to open their checkbook, they embrace it.”
It was a similar ride in Wisconsin that introduced her to fundraising for HIV/AIDS. AH made it personal.
“People asked why I haven’t run for queen before. Employment at the Agency precluded participating in the campaign as a candidate.Now I can make a contribution back to AH and rally community support.”
Her goals for the Campaign include doing things in parts of the community that typically aren’t part of the royal campaign, including Jell-O Wrestling at Rick’s Bar on Duval and a Midsummer Night’s Dream event at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden (on Stock Island, just over the Cow Key bridge), where she’s general manager — another reason the butterfly of her branding is so relevant.
Permanently shedding the chrysalis was,” now or never.” She’s even, in placing her logo on a pink shirt, defied her redhead mother’s caution about mixing red and pink.
“She also told me never to sing in public and…well…I stepped outside myself when I sang at kickoff.”