Portraits of Peace House History: Teri Orr

Teri Orr
Teri Orr

This year marks 25 years of Peace House serving survivors of family violence and abuse in Summit and Wasatch counties through shelter, support services, education and outreach. As part of our 25th Anniversary Year, each month we are spotlighting some of the many individuals who have shaped Peace House history. Throughout the year, we will be honoring and commemorating all those who have supported the life-saving and life-changing work that Peace House has offered our community over the past 25 years.

[The following blog post features a description of a homicide]

“Nadalee’s body was still laying on the salt bags outside Albertsons. She was wearing a plaid shirt, black bra, jeans and cowboy boots. I was overcome. I went back and sat in my car. I looked down at myself and saw I was wearing a plaid shirt, cowboy boots and jeans,” Teri Orr remembers of the haunting scene of Nadalee Noble’s death. Nadalee was murdered in a parking lot by her estranged husband, Donald Noble, on the afternoon of February 27 in 1990. [1] Teri was overcome by the realization that it could have been her, at a different time, in a different place, and walked away from the scene and the story that she was primed to cover as a journalist and editor for the Park Record.

Nadalee Noble’s murder was a spark that lit a fire in the Park City community, and the tragedy became a catalyst to address domestic violence. The case was covered by the Park Record during the next 6 months, but not by Teri, until Nadalee’s own mother handed Teri her daughter’s journals. In July 1990, following the trial of Don Noble, Teri went to a secluded cabin in Bonanza Flats and read Nadalee’s journals throughout the night. Through Nadalee’s writing, Teri came to know a woman who, unlike herself, had not been able to survive her husband’s violence. On July 26, 1990, the first of Teri’s four-part series was printed in the Park Record. Nadalee’s mother’s hope was that by sharing Nadalee’s journals with Teri, she might share her daughter’s story with the world, and the story might help other women. In the award-winning article series, Teri used Nadalee’s own journal entries to memorialize her story and raise awareness around intimate partner violence. [2]

In the final installment of the four-part series, Teri revealed her own experience as a survivor of domestic violence. Teri had lived through a violent marriage back in Lake Tahoe, in the 1970s. [3] She moved to Park City in 1979 with her two children in order to escape the ongoing threats of her ex-husband, and started a new life. It was the first time Teri shared that part of her history publicly, as a trusted and well-known member of the community. Teri’s testimony rendered Nadalee’s experience relatable and the reality of domestic violence immediate. Teri Orr became the voice of a burgeoning movement committed to raising awareness and resources to support other victims of domestic violence.

Teri was part of the founding group of women who formed the Domestic Peace Task Force, later known as Peace House. The group was originally organized by Linda Hathaway and Jean Paulson in 1990, but grew to include many women, and a few men, who were committed to the cause ( Jean Paulson and Linda Hathaway Blog Post Link. ) Maria Booth, another founding member, remembers that “Teri was always at the meetings giving good, sound advice.  She brought an emotional perspective because of her experience.” Teri had an ability to communicate the heart of the mission because of her gift as a writer. She was chosen to sit on a panel in a community forum organized by the group in 1992. The forum was critical in bringing attention to and providing education on family violence and abuse as a public health issue in the community.

By 1993, Teri was offered an opportunity to write a longer piece about her experience of domestic abuse, in connection with the story of Nadalee Noble. Teri stepped down as editor of the Park Record to give her full attention to the book. Teri titled the finished account “Sisters in Silence” but ultimately made a personal decision not to publish it. Teri did read the opening of her book, however, while testifying in a Congressional hearing for Orrin Hatch in support of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was passed in 1994. Teri spoke as a victim and as someone intimately familiar with Nadalee’s story. VAWA constitutes a groundbreaking legislation that continues to protect and allocate resources to survivors of domestic abuse.

Before Peace House Shelter opened in 1995, Teri would occasionally take calls from local doctors who would receive patients in their clinics clearly impacted by domestic abuse. “It was tough. There were no local resources in Summit and Wasatch counties to refer victims of domestic violence to at that time,” recollects Dr. Winn, otherwise known as Winni, and one of the few doctors in Park City. Local doctors like Winni and Dr. Evers would reach out to Teri trusting that she could help. Teri would also sometimes meet women at bus stops and help them get safely out of town, or refer them to other resources outside the county. Once Domestic Peace Task Force became more established, Teri and others took turns carrying a pager connected to local police and a hotline, which made the team available to victims 24/7.

The Peace House Shelter opened in the spring of 1995, and finally Summit and Wasatch counties had a place where survivors could seek safe shelter. The shelter filled up immediately. The Domestic Peace Task force was running the shelter and was able to hire one staff person – the Executive Director who operated the shelter. The rest of the organization was made up of volunteers. “We didn’t totally know what to expect when we first opened,” Mary Ford, founding member, recalls honestly. “Teri and I, and other board members, would spend nights at the shelter on occasion because we realized we couldn’t let people stay there by themselves. The shelter residents needed around-the-clock support. We realized quickly we needed to hire more staff.” More staff required more fundraising. Teri became the fundraiser for the Domestic Peace Task Force, now known as Peace House, as she went before the City Council and to other community groups pursuing additional funding to support the immediate needs of survivors.

Teri played an essential part in raising awareness around domestic abuse and was an important and skillful spokesperson for the Domestic Peace Task Force. Through her testimony, Teri helped pass the Violence Against Women Act. She advocated for survivors and exuded an empathy rooted in her own experience as a survivor. Teri wielded her voice to instigate real change in the community. Even as she moved into other areas of interest, she has remained a committed supporter of Peace House and those impacted by domestic violence.

Teri introduced The Vagina Monologues to Park City’s Performing Arts Center in 2006 to generate conversation and attention on violence against women and girls. Local actors and participants performed the vignettes for nearly a decade and 90% of the proceeds were allocated in support of Peace House. Teri is also credited in bringing One Billion Rising to Park City in 2013, a dance movement highlighting gender-based violence, which raised additional funds in support of Peace House operations. In a 2014 Park Record interview she states: “There is a great deal of violence towards women in Summit County. There are a lot of quiet victims and anytime we can shine a light in dark corners, it can help people move out.” [5]

In addition to her commitment to Peace House, Teri has given voice to other organizations that she is passionate about. In the mid 1990’s, Teri was instrumental in ensuring the construction and funding of the Eccles Performing Arts Center, as well as the establishment of Park City Institute, at which she was an Executive Director for 25 years. Teri helped save and raise funds to restore the Egyptian Theater on Main Street. Teri has earned many national awards for her writing, and has now been telling the stories of Park City for 41 years, making her the longest running columnist in the state of Utah. Teri’s contributions to the vibrancy and resources of Park City are impressive and lasting.  In 2002, Peace House awarded Teri with the Many Women, Many Voices Award for her contributions to the community and her founding commitment to Peace House. [4] Teri continues to inspire many of us to engage in social change and to lend our time, talents and resources to collective improvement. Researched and written by Karen Marriott
Edited by Lisa Jackson Register for Teri Orr Live

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Links to the Park Record article by Teri Orr, based on Nadalee Noble’s diaries: