Noel Oscar Teague, 85, of Clovis passed away due to complications of COVID-19 Thursday, Jan. 7, bringing a peaceful close to a principled life shaped by deep devotion to faith, family and nation.
Noel — who called the San Joaquin Valley home for more than seven decades – had a calm confidence, an unmistakable belly chuckle, and a low, steady voice tinged with a southern drawl. Noel wore an exuberant grin stretched across a face tanned from days of roaming beneath the sunny skies of Arizona, where he gratefully spent much of his retirement. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Reserve veteran often sported a ballcap signaling his service in South Korea, went to church three times per week and baptized countless believers into the Christian faith.
Noel experienced his world with childlike joy and wonder, especially as he crept into his life’s twilight.
He was a lifelong explorer who readily hitchhiked from Missouri to Selma at age 25, donning his uniform and spit-shined shoes for the occasion, after completing nearly nine years of service in the military. He rode an ATV into the Arizona desert well into his senior years, undeterred by a broken ankle sustained at age 82. Noel was the kind of family man who would crop himself out of his own Facebook profile photo to ensure his three grandchildren fit. He was a patient and affectionate father, and a doting husband.
Noel’s great adventure began Nov. 27, 1935 in Bakersfield, where he was born the youngest of seven children to Frank and Jewel Teague of Oildale. From a young age, he drove a tractor, and tended to the rows of almond orchard and raisin vineyard that striped their Selma farm. Ever dedicated to being a provider, Noel left high school at age 17 to help his family pay the bills.
He served as a Reserve Marine for five years, where he earned his GED diploma before serving in the Army for more than four years, finishing as a sergeant after working as a combat engineer and cook. Toward the end of his time in the military, he served at the North Korea-South Korea demilitarization zone on the heels of the Korean War. The military offered Noel the opportunity to see the world far beyond his sliver of the Golden State as a young man, venturing to places that once seemed faraway, such as Japan, Guam and Alaska.
When it came time for Noel to return home February 1961, he was eager to reunite with his fiancee, Maryellen Teague, nee Thompson. They dated just three weeks before he returned to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he mailed her an engagement ring. Noel and Maryellen married June 1961 in Clovis. In their early years together, they moved back and forth between the Fresno area and San Francisco Bay Area, following work opportunities.
In 1963 they welcomed a daughter, Philicia Martin, nee Teague. A son followed in 1967, Noel’s namesake, Daryn Noel Teague. As a father, Noel was a gentle protector who parented more like a counselor than an instructor.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he often told his son, who learned much later that most of life is small stuff.
He’d tell his daughter that she was prettier than the girls she admired on TV, and as a teenager, he took her car each Saturday to fill it up with gas, give it a wash, and slip a little cash in the ashtray.
Noel adored his children, but he had put Jesus Christ first since his baptism at age 21. He was a deacon with a compassionate heart for serving those who needed his help most, fixing plumbing issues for widows in his neighborhood at no charge. He lived a wholesome life and coached many newer Christians, recording two-minute bible lessons for a local Arizona radio station in the final years of his life.
His faith was the cornerstone of his family.
At times Noel found himself torn between two of his foremost values: providing for his family and being present. He worked as a truck driver, plumber and welder over the years, and opportunities could be scarce. Noel’s work ethic pushed him to take jobs that would require him to travel hours away to the Bay Area or Los Angeles, leaving Sundays and returning Fridays. Other days, he’d leave before dawn and return after dusk.
He found respite with his hands in the dirt, and Noel cherished his years spent in rural Clovis after the family’s 1973 move to share land with relatives. Working in the earth keeps a man centered, Noel’s father frequently told him. Noel loved open spaces, and relished in rearing his own livestock and growing his own produce.
The Teagues purchased a home in Clovis in 1980, where they stayed for years after their kids were grown and grandson Bradon Martin arrived in 1989.
Noel became slower at work as he aged, and noticed the men around him seemed to live shorter lives as they worked longer. With dreams of golden years buoyed by family memories, Noel forfeited a more lucrative pension to retire as soon as he was able, shortly before turning 60 years old. Soon after, another namesake was born when granddaughter Courtney Noelle Teague arrived in 1995.
He and Maryellen sold their home in 1997 and bought a fifth wheel trailer that would be carted on adventures across the country in their retirement. In 2001, they moved into the mobile home park where they’d spend the rest of their marriage together and welcomed another granddaughter, Callie Teague.
As a grandfather, Noel was a willing and goofy playmate, never one to turn down a request for an ice cream cone or anything else, for that matter. Noel and his grandson loved spending days studying history, shooting firearms or visiting Fresno’s annual civil war reenactment together. He and Maryellen traveled hours to attend elementary school “Grandparents Day” events for their granddaughters. It was Noel’s stable hands that gripped the seats of his grandkids’ bicycles as they pedaled for the first time, protecting them from toppling over to a fate of skidded knees, bruised elbows and tears. He took them on pontoon boat fishing trips and graciously let them reel in his own catches.
Noel’s retirement with Maryellen was filled with innumerable trips in the fifth wheel to some of their favorite destinations, such as Shaver Lake, Morro Bay and Quartzsite, Arizona, where the couple stayed on-and-off for 27 years. They traveled to Europe, Israel, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, Hawaii and beyond. As the years ticked on, Noel refused to slow down.
Noel’s last breaths, though labored at times, were spent true to character. While hospitalized he fielded calls from anxious family members for as long as he was able, comforting them with reminders of his boundless love and pride. Noel maintained that hearing the voices of his loved ones was a more powerful medicine than any drug that a doctor could prescribe. He even placed a video call to Maryellen moments after he was wheeled into the intensive care unit, to the chagrin of his nurse.
Noel’s final words to his wife of some 60 years came over the phone, as medical staff prepared to attach him to a ventilator, alleviating him of any discomfort he had recently endured as he struggled to reclaim his breath.
He hoped to make it, he said. But if not, he was ready to go home.
He left this earth at ease two weeks later, facing a window, his beloved Arizona desert outstretched before him.