In his leisure hours, Noah Lor likes to play soccer and the electric guitar. The trouble is Lor isn't likely to have much time to spare between his two jobs, large family and his latest undertaking -- joining the Merced City Council.
The 43-year-old Lor, who has lived in Merced 24 years, joins challenger John Carlisle and incumbent council member Michele Gabriault-Acosta on the council next month. He is the community's first Southeast Asian councilman.
Lor isn't afraid of hard work. From picking cucumbers in the summer as a teenager to earning high school, associate, bachelor's and master's degrees, working for the Merced Police Department and then becoming a county mental health clinician and part-time Merced College counselor, his life has been marked by plenty of extra-hours effort.
"I will keep my ears open and listen to all citizens, in whatever areas they have concern. It (council service) is going to be challenging but I appreciate the opportunity of working for the community," Lor said.
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Working hard is Lor's trademark. Attorney Paul Lo has known Lor for 15 years and said he's an incredibly hard worker.
Lor hopes within the next four years he will be able to achieve something with one of his main goals, bringing quality jobs to Merced. He wants to find out what's keeping companies from locating in Merced and discover what other cities are doing to attract new businesses.
He also is looking out for Merced's youth and their safety and wants this area's senior citizens to feel more secure in their neighborhoods. Already knowing council members Bill Spriggs, Jim Sanders, Joe Cortez, Gabriault-Acosta and working with Carlisle help ease the council transition, he believes.
Lor said about 2,000 Southeast Asian residents voted for him in the Nov. 6 council election and he's hopeful more Southeast Asians will be engaged in the local democratic process in the months ahead. The "work" word comes up again as he vows to do all he can to learn more about services for the whole community.
Cortez, a retired Merced police commander, has known Lor for years. Lor and another man replaced Augustine Provencio as police-community relations aides and was there when the department opened its South Station near McNamara Park. Cortez was commander of the police department's South Merced area at the time.
Lor went through the police academy and was trained as a hostage negotiator but ultimately decided counseling suited him better than law enforcement.
"He (Lor) will do well," Cortez said. "He's an energetic little guy and really involved with the community. He's small in stature but has got a big heart. He has persevered and has done well for himself."
Born in the Xiengkhovang province of Laos, Lor's family moved from place to place in his early years and spent four years in the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the United States in October 1979 and settling in Missoula, Mont. He compressed 12 years of public schooling into four, graduating in 1983 from Centennial High School.
Lor's mother had been a farmer all her life and the family had a relative in Merced. The local climate was similar to Laos so the move to Merced was a natural.
He graduated in 1987 from Merced College with an associate of science degree in drafting, followed by a bachelor's degree in social science in 1993 from Chapman College and a master's of social work degree in 1999 from California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock. He plans to pursue a degree as a licensed clinical social worker.
Lor's full-time job is as a clinician with the Merced County Mental Health Department. He works another 10 hours a week as a counselor and guidance class instructor at Merced College. He speaks Hmong, Lao and sheepishly says a "little bit of English."
Merced has changed considerably since Lor moved here. Sunday mornings used to be "pretty quiet" but not anymore as the town has grown so big, with considerable traffic and new development, Lor said.
Lor savors his role as a college counselor.
"I like to share my experience with young people, what difficulties I went through and how I overcame them and show that everyone can succeed if they can give that extra effort," Lor said.
Lor would like to see the police department's school resource officers assigned to the elementary school level. Relationships between police and youngsters need to be built at third, and fifth, grade levels, and middle school age may be a little too late, he adds.
If there is enough manpower, Lor said he would like to see the police department's bicycle and foot patrols reinstituted in downtown Merced.
Lor and his wife, Kia, have six children, ages 22, 20, 18, 17, 14 and 6; Lor has four brothers and four sisters, all but one living in the Sacramento area.
Along with soccer, his favorite sport, and guitar, Lor said he also enjoys socializing with people. His election to the council shows Mercedians are receptive and accepting to a new individual and willing to embrace a newcomer, he said.
Lo, the attorney, former Merced City School District Board of Education member and part of Lor's campaign committee, is confident the new councilman will be able to balance all the demands placed on him.
"He is very generous with his time. If anybody can handle it, he can," Lo said. "The gentleman has common sense and is a practical guy. He will work hard for Merced."
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.