Sentimental lady: Jo Noble reflects on life in Ocheyedan
OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- It's easy to warm up to JoAnn Noble, a 72-year resident of Ocheyedan. She's as durable as her Dutch ancestry, as sweet as the pies she's renowned for baking and as quick-witted as her pinochle-playing prowess implies. No wonder...
OCHEYEDAN, Iowa - It’s easy to warm up to JoAnn Noble, a 72-year resident of Ocheyedan.
She’s as durable as her Dutch ancestry, as sweet as the pies she’s renowned for baking and as quick-witted as her pinochle-playing prowess implies.
No wonder, then, that Noble, known to all as simply “Jo,” was selected the queen of Ocheyedan’s quasquicentennial festivities last August.
“I rode in a couple of parades,” Noble modestly mentioned. “People could vote for anyone in town, and at our Christmas dinner at the town hall, they had already picked out five or six candidates, and I was on the list.
“It was an honor.”
The spirited 92-year-old is a proud representative of her community, a town that tallied 490 residents in the 2010 U.S. census.
“Ocheyedan is THE place,” emphasized Noble, who continues to be an active and contributing citizen. “It’s a great community.”
Noble began calling the northwest Iowa hamlet her home after marrying Don Noble, her beloved husband who passed away several years ago.
“I grew up in O’Brien and Osceola counties,” said Noble. “My maiden name was Hofmeyer - Dutch all the way - and I met Don at the roller rink in Bigelow when I was 18.”
The two married in December 1944, and Noble, who had been working at Ed Hoeck’s grocery store in Sibley, Iowa, made the transition back to farming.
“Don and I hired out as hired help, and we lived in a tenant house for four years before we started farming ourselves,” said Noble.
Noble’s youth was firmly rooted in the years of this nation’s Great Depression. Family circumstances didn’t allow her to continue her formal education into high school.
“I was 14 when I graduated from eighth grade, and my older brother had already gone out working so I stayed home and helped my dad farm,” recalled Noble.
On their own farm in rural Ocheyedan, the Nobles raised three children, along with crops and animals, and were later rewarded with three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, although one grandchild tragically died at age 12.
But Don Noble had aspirations beyond farming, and when the opportunity came, he made good on them.
“We ran Don & Jo’s Café and Gas Station from 1979 to 1991 in Ocheyedan,” said Noble. “It was just something that Don had always wanted to do.
“My brother and his wife had a café in Hartley, Iowa, and Don thought that was wonderful.”
So on the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary - Dec. 1, 1979 - the Nobles opened their own café and started a new phase of their life together.
“We were open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week,” said Noble. “Yes, it took a lot of time, and I don’t know how we did it, but we didn’t think anything of it then.”
Noble was the café’s primary cook and cleaner, aided throughout their café tenure by friend and co-worker Della Baumgarn.
“We had short orders and daily specials, and of course our old-fashioned fried chicken dinners,” said Noble. “The beef roast dinners were the best, and we made pies every day - cherry, apple, banana cream - and sour cream raisin was the favorite of everyone.”
Don and Jo’s Café became known for something else: an extra-special potato salad that Noble and Baumgarn served in generous scoops alongside hamburgers, meatloaf or with other short orders.
“It was just a regular, straight potato salad, with eggs, potatoes and onions, but Della and I concocted a dressing recipe that we kept secret,” whispered Noble. “We said we would never share it.”
Noble continues to mix up her distinctively delicious potato salad for friends and family upon request.
“I still make a lot of potato salad,” she laughed.
French silk is Noble’s personal pie preference, and even though she no longer bakes pies on a daily basis, she still turns them out frequently.
“I enjoyed running the café,” Noble affirmed. “Don liked it, too, just as much as he thought he would - and I miss the people so much.”
Saturday afternoon pinochle tournaments were part of their café’s traditions, as well.
“People really came in for that,” said Noble.
After retiring from the café, Don Noble worked as a town maintenance assistant for 11 years, while Noble provided childcare for a few families. She became very close with one set of siblings, in particular.
“There were two little girls I cared for from infancy until they were in junior high,” shared Noble. “They called me ‘Grandma,’ and they became like one of the family.”
Noble hasn’t really slowed down that much in recent years; she lives a full life dotted with multiple friends, ongoing personal hobbies and family.
“I love to bake, and people always drop in for coffee,” said Noble. “On Saturdays, there’s a group that meets here for coffee.”
Noble swears by Folger’s (“Gotta have Folger’s,” she confirmed) and her dependable Bunn drip coffeemaker.
Still an avid pinochle player, Noble is part of a “Spirited Singles” group that meets at the Lake Park Senior Center weekly. If she’s not playing cards or baking, Noble enjoys crocheting.
“I like to make baby shawls,” she said, “And I’ve made a lot of afghans.”
When Don was alive, “I loved to dance,” Noble said. “We loved the old-time dances - polkas, waltzes, that kind of thing - until his health started failing.”
A longtime member of the choir at Ocheyedan’s United Methodist Church, Noble says she’s “lost her soprano voice” but she still sits down to play tunes at the organ in her home.
“I enjoy music - and hymns, I like ‘em all,” she professed.
Appropriately enough, the popular tune “Sentimental Journey,” which first shot to fame in the 1940s but holds a secure place as a musical legend, is a long-time favorite of hers.
“I had it as the postlude at Don’s funeral,” she noted. “And just last Sunday, the young man from Sibley who comes to play at our church - Ben Jacobsma - played it on the organ for the offertory, because I’d asked him if he would play it sometime.
“I loved that, I really did.”
Noble’s idea of a bad day is one when she’s snowed in and thus prevented from either getting out to see friends or having them drop in for coffee and conversation. But in her beloved town of Ocheyedan, Noble knows it won’t be too long before everything - including her - is back in action.
“Health wise, I have my problems, but just think of all I can do,” exuded the optimistic Noble. “I can drive to see my kids, I can get around town and to the Methodist church, I can enjoy my home and friends.
“I’m so blessed.”