Joseph Russell Noel, Sr-Isabelle Gibbons

As this couple are my grandparents, most of the information on this page comes from the personal recollections of my father and myself. Although I did not know my grandfather Russell, I did know my "Nanny", as we called Isabelle, very well. I loved listening to my father talk about his family and his childhood, rough as it was; no one could tell a story like my dad!

Joseph Russell Noel, Sr. (called "Russell" by his family) was the son of Edgar Moses NOEL & Josephine BRUNELL; he was born on 11 February 1911 in Randolph, Norfolk Co., Massachusetts.
Isabelle Mary was the daughter of Francis "John" GIBBONS & Ellen RYAN; born to them on 8 August 1912 in Brockton, Plymouth Co., Massachusetts.

Joseph and Isabelle, residents of Brockton, were married on 29 October 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts.5 It is not known why they went to Boston to be married. Isabelle's mother, Nellie Ryan, was from Boston; but her parents and siblings were long dead and I'm not sure how much contact she had with the handful of nieces and nephews that she had left. My father remembers that Nellie did not like Russell--she called him "that rebel Frenchman"--so an elopement is possible.

There is a picture of Isabelle and Russell standing on some train tracks in front of the west side of the Hoosic Tunnel in North Adams; and another one of Russell at the Elk Memorial on the Mohawk Trail near Florida, Mass. I don't know when these photos were taken and often wondered if they'd taken a honeymoon back to the home of Russell's parents. For years, we didn't even know where the photos had been taken--but my cousin Carol M. was able to identify the Elk Memorial. Thank you, Carol!!
After Carol helped us establish that the photos were indeed taken in Berkshire County, I'd always wondered if Russell's father, Edgar, accompanied them on the trip, as Berkshire County was his place of birth.

While Russell's father toiled in the shoe factory all his life, Russell seemed to aspire to a far loftier goal. He entered into an apprenticeship at about age 19 or so. By the time of his marriage he had become a very talented machinist, eventually becoming employed by the Ward Machine Company.

Russell and Isabelle had the following children. Dates of birth will not be posted for those that are still living:

Mary Ellen- June 2, 1933 - Dec. 13, 2009
Joseph Russell, Jr.- Aug. 21, 1934 - Dec. 23, 2004
James Edward
John Thomas
Linda A.- Linda was given into foster care shortly after her birth, due to strained family finances. See our family mysteries page for more details on this child--maybe you can help us find her!

It is not known exactly how long this couple stayed married. From the personal recollections of their son Joseph, Russell was an alcoholic. Isabelle had low tolerance for foolishness--especially that of a drunken husband. This was the breeding ground for many arguments--some were even physical on Isabelle's part. My father recalls her slinging an entire iron skillet of baked beans (must have been Saturday night!) at Russell when he came in drunk one evening; injuring his eye and causing him to be led to the hospital by my father. Dad always said that not only did Russell never raise a hand to Isabelle, he told Dad more than once, "Any man who hits a woman is no man"--words that my father not only lived by, but passed on to his own son.

Russell and Isabelle eventually divorced; the date of this event is not known.
According to the copy of her application, Isabelle applied for a Social Security number on 28 August 1940, a couple of weeks after her 28th birthday.2 Back in those times, one usually didn't worry with a Social Security number unless one was seeking employment. Was Isabelle laying the groundwork for an eventual divorce? That is certainly possible. Another possibility, however, lies in the current events of our country at that time:
In 1940, Hitler was bombing England with impunity; indeed, a little over a week after Isabelle filled out her Social Security application, the Luftwaffe unleashed the 8-month bombing campaign known as "The Blitz" on London. The United States government began to prepare for the possibility of having to enter the war. On 29 October 1940, the United States held the first peacetime military draft; less than two months later the agreement with Great Britain known as "lend-lease" came to pass. This meant America would supply Britain with desperately needed military equipment and Britain would repay them in kind later. 7
Of course, America did not have this military equipment in stock. It would have to be built--and built quickly. This resulted in thousands of factories that once produced consumer goods being converted into factories that produced war materials--and produced them in quantities that boggled the mind. America would not only build the machines of war for Britain, it also cranked out their own arsenal of machinery and weaponry that would be needed two years later when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
If the men were being drafted into the military for soldiers, the women were going to have to take up the slack in the factories. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had long been an advocate of finding women something to do to contribute to the war effort. Did Isabelle take the sentiment to heart, seeing an opportunity to supplement the family income? I know that she was a smart woman, so I'd like to think so.7
Isabelle was an employee of Hanover Fireworks from 1941-1959. It would not be a great stretch of the imagination to assume that from 1941-1945 the plant manufactured ammunition rather than fireworks. In fact, one of Isabelle's fingers was deformed as a result of working in this factory, although I do not know when the injury occurred. She told me that she was working with some type of explosive material and that it blew up. When I asked if it hurt her face or eyes, she said that she was separated from her work by explosive-proof glass. She explained that she had to slide her hands through openings in the glass to do her job. I never thought to question her further; at age 12, the genealogist/historian in me hadn't been born yet!1
The fact that Isabelle continued to work there until 1959 shows that she was lucky enough to not be one of the thousands of women who lost their jobs as a result of the war ending.

Russell died on 29 January 1949, at his sister Viola's home on Belmont Street in Brockton. His cause of death was heart disease and tuberculosis. His marital condition on his death certificate was listed as divorced. Paul "Sonny" Pelaquin, son of Viola, one told me that he thought Russell "died of a broken heart" because of his divorce and that Russell never stopped loving Isabelle. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Brockton.3

Isabelle would live 39 more years after the death of Russell. She would see 4 of her 5 her children grow up, marry, and have children of their own; she would live to see some of those children make her a great-grandmother. (Sadly, Linda has not been heard from, to my knowledge, for over 40 years.) Isabelle would never remarry, although she "kept company" with Sam Hebshie (now deceased) for as long as I could remember. When she was asked why she wouldn't marry Sammy (he asked her many times), she would say, "Because when he pisses me off, I can say, 'Sam, it's time for you to go home'--and he goes!!" But he always came back and he was very good to Isabelle, her children and grandchildren. I know that I was always glad to see Sammy when he came to visit; he was a short, round, jolly man of Syrian descent who was always smiling and laughing.

Isabelle died on January 18, 1988 of stomach cancer. She was also buried in Calvary Cemetery.1

My grandfather, Russell, passed away before I was born, so I have no personal recollection of him. I have a few pictures of him--he seemed to be of about medium height and wiry build, with dark hair and thick dark eyebrows--and his eyes must have been brown like my father's; Isabelle had green eyes.

I remember Isabelle, or "Nanny", as a no nonsense yet humorous grandma (if that makes sense!). This temperament was shared by not only my father, but myself as well. She and I wrote letters back and forth when I was a child, and she visited us every February; those letter have long been lost, which saddens me a great deal. She would take me out of school, by myself, for an afternoon for lunch and then out for ice cream. She would do the same on another day for my brother, so she could have individual time with us. Lunch, in Nanny's mind, was never complete without ice cream; even as an adult, she would take me to lunch and then to Friendly's ice cream parlor. Nanny's remedy for sickness was hot tea and raisin bread toast. To this day, that's what I want when I'm sick. Nanny loved purple; and as you can tell from most of these pages, so do I. Pictures of her in her younger days show a handsome woman with lots of thick red hair--yet another thing she passed on to my father and I. She kept herself and her house spotless, and she never went out without being neatly and carefully dressed. I remember her as a lady who laughed a lot and always smelled like White Shoulders. I miss her.

1. The information from this page came almost exclusively from the recollections of the webmaster and her father, Joseph Russell Noel, Jr.
Other sources include:
2. Isabelle Gibbons Noel's application for a Social Secuirty number
3. Russell Noel's birth and death records
4. Isabelle's death record
5. Isabelle and Russell's marriage record
6. Obituaries from the Brockton Enterprise.
7. "No Ordinary Time-Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt & the Home Front in World War II" by Doris Kearns Goodwin one of my favorite authors

I am grateful to Larry Noonan for gathering much of this information for me.

This page was updated March 2012.

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Noel Family of Brockton, MA by Jolynn Noel Winland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
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