Spring Hill mother's dedication pays off for her charges, herself

Michele Noury, mother of Springstead three-sport star Ben Noury, talks to her family in their Spring Hill home Friday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Michele Noury, mother of Springstead three-sport star Ben Noury, talks to her family in their Spring Hill home Friday.

SPRING HILL — Outwardly, the mother and her biological son barely resemble each other.

The son is lean and muscular, the mom stout and brash. The son speaks with nary a trace of a Northern dialect, yet a New England accent — thick as Vermont syrup — oozes from mom's mouth. The son's dimpled smile has been known to melt female hearts. The mom's glare can buckle knees.

But peer inwardly, to their distinctive inner drive and independence, and Ben and Michele Noury are very much alike.

Ben, a senior at Springstead High School, has used those traits to excel in myriad sports, earn a 4.23 weighted grade-point average, and win a scholarship to Brown University.

Michele, 51, has used them to raise two biological kids, rear several foster children and provide long-term care to a pair of mentally challenged brothers.

All on her own.

"She's — man, I can't even put my mom into words," Ben said.

Today, mothers everywhere will be lavished with gifts, from breakfast in bed to exquisite brunches to store-bought cards with saccharine messages. Some siblings may even conspire to give their mom the day off.

The latter gift is not a practical option for Michele — not with adoptive younger son Armando and 40-something brothers Pete and Paul Poirier occupying her suburban five-bedroom Spring Hill house along with Ben. Then again, she'd have it no other way.

Michele chose long ago to make parenting her profession, to make her home her office. And like many offices these days, she has downsized. At her busiest time as a foster mother and home-care provider, nine people resided under her roof. She has taken in abused kids, bed wetters, brothers and, of course, her own boys.

Through it all, Michele has been the sole common denominator. She has never married, and her two sons — Ben and 26-year-old sibling Bryan — never had relationships with their biological dads.

"I have seen some of the sickest things," said Michele, a New Hampshire native with a slick Audi TT Roadster and a passion for the music of the Pretenders. "You just can't believe the stuff that happens in this world, but it does, every day. … So I think I've done my contributing to society."

The Ivy Leaguer in the family suggests his mom possesses a doctorate in compassion.

"She never really does anything for herself that I can think of," said Ben, who will play football at Brown after a prolific senior season (914 total yards, 63 tackles, eight touchdowns) at Springstead. "She's very unselfish. Everything's for everyone else. She's just happy to help everyone else."

•••

What in the name of that old woman who lived in a shoe would provoke someone to tackle such a daunting maternal task? For Michele, it was the chance to be a stabilizing, stay-at-home mom, and earn a living at it.

The youngest of five kids, Michele was raised in Manchester, N.H. Her parents, reared during the Great Depression, taught her the value of independence early on. At age 13, she landed her first job at a local burger joint after badgering the owner for employment.

Her dad, Leonard, owned an old-fashioned corner grocery store, often slipping an extra can of Spaghetti-Os or a package of ground beef into the bags of down-on-their-luck patrons. His benevolence, however, was exceeded by his work ethic.

Leonard, now 85 and sole occupant of a 10-room Manchester house he maintains by himself, was never home. As a result, Michele's mom, Doris, often was forced to pick up the parental slack. Still, Doris missed most of Michele's athletic events, which ranged from softball to basketball to tennis.

"My mentality is, my parents worked all the time when I was a kid, and I didn't want the same thing for my kids, you know what I mean?" said Michele, sipping on a fountain drink at one of Ben's recent track meets.

"My mother was basically home. I played all the sports; they never went to anything. And my kids, I wanted to be there for everything they did."

Foster parenting would allow her to fulfill that desire. Single parenting was a less intentional fate.

She had been seeing the same guy for six years when she became pregnant with Bryan, but according to Michele, the boyfriend "decided he was too immature to be a father" and bolted. She met Ben's dad, a French-Canadian, at a New England ski lodge where she was working. When he left for Canada, he never returned; Michele said she later was told he had been killed in an auto accident.

Between births, she became a certified foster parent and home-care provider in New Hampshire. Taking in mostly older male kids, she discovered early on she had a knack for it. Her first foster child, a 9-year-old named Derek, hailed from an abusive background and initially had little control of his bodily functions, much less his temper.

But Michele, who still gets choked up when thinking of him, and Ben say he "fit right in" with the Nourys before being sent to live with his mother in Florida.

The foster kids "see me and they're like, 'She can probably kick my (butt),' " Michele explains. "I think every kid really had that in their mind. And I do run a tight ship. I could take five foster kids in a grocery store with me, and they'd ask for stuff, and I'm like, 'No, we're not getting anything today,' and I'd never hear another word about it."

The compensation was substantial. In a typical year, Michele estimates her annual tax-free income was about $60,000. And her generosity often was reciprocated.

Rich relatives — Michele says her mom's side is very wealthy — have bought her cars and helped finance houses, one adjacent to a New Hampshire ski resort. Friends who have learned of her familial arrangement have sprung for ski trips out West or loaned the family condos near Disney World.

"We've always had somebody in the background who's helped us out," Michele said. "There just have always been really good people. There's a lot of bad people, but there's a lot of good people."

•••

Regardless of her fluctuating family size, Michele never seemed to miss a sporting event involving Ben, whose athleticism would really blossom during his middle-school years in Chittenden, Vt.

"She's one of the most dedicated parents I've ever seen," said George Bennett, a Springstead football and basketball assistant who has often served as a surrogate dad to Ben. "She has done absolutely everything she possibly can to help Ben be successful."

That includes hitching a storage trailer to her truck and moving her family south, shortly before Ben's freshman year of high school.

By then, Ben was brimming with potential in baseball and football. Problem was, he was getting little in the way of quality competition or recognition up north. As an eighth-grader, while playing for a recreation-league football team in Chittenden, he scored all 38 of his team's touchdowns. That's when an opposing coach approached Michele.

"He said, 'Would you like some male advice?' I said, 'I'd love it,' " Michele recalled. "He said, 'Get that kid down south somewhere. He's never, ever going to get the recognition he deserves.' "

Michele, free to move from New England, obliged. The Poiriers, after all, were no longer wards of the state, and she had adopted Armando, the foster child two years younger than Ben. Fearful her kids would get swallowed up in a large metro area, the family settled in Hernando County.

Ben has flourished. As a senior, he was a first-team pick on the Times' all-North Suncoast football team, a backup on the Springstead basketball squad that reached the Class 4A state championship game, and a member of the 4 x 400-meter relay team that finished second at the Class 3A, District 7 track meet.

This past winter, Ben, who says he can't remember the last time his mom missed one of his sporting events, signed his paperwork with Brown, where he will play football. Ivy League schools don't offer football scholarships, but Ben, who played several positions for the Eagles, received a substantial financial-assistance package. He hopes to become a physical therapist or an athletic trainer.

In a few weeks, he will graduate fifth in his class of nearly 400. Eagles football coach Bill Vonada says it's no accident how Ben has developed as a student and athlete.

"I suppose there's probably some people out (foster parenting) just for the money, and maybe some kids don't get quite the care that you would hope they would. But that is certainly not the case with Miss Noury," Vonada said. "She is, I would have to say, a great example of what great parenting is about."

Michele, who recently earned a paralegal degree at Pasco-Hernando Community College, is not licensed to be a foster parent in Florida. As an adoptive parent of Armando, she still gets paid by the state of Vermont until he's 18.

Combine that with the Social Security check one of the Poirier brothers receives, the part-time job supermarket job the other has, and the benevolence of relatives, and the family gets by. Now that all her boys are older, she wants to put the paralegal degree to work, but said she might consider foster parenting again it if the right kid came along.

It would have to be a strapping male — an athletic, teenage type who likes football.

Seems the bigger they are, the harder Michele Noury falls for them.

"That's my mom," Ben said. "She's just happy to help everyone else."

Spring Hill mother's dedication pays off for her charges, herself 05/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 1:29pm]

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