Noble Ernest Dean was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma on September 8, 1935. He grew up in Kildare, Oklahoma, the seventh of nine children born to Frances and Willis “Bill” Dean. He loved being a part of a big family and enjoyed sharing all their nicknames in fast order: “Dort-Bud-Bob-Sug-Mick-Charlie-Noble-Dan-Karen: Sold to American!” Noble headed north to Montana after attending Northern Oklahoma Junior College, but always maintained a close relationship with his extensive family and savored the many Dean Family Reunions that were held over the years.
Noble’s summer job with the US Forest Service turned into a lifelong love of Montana, the mountains and forests, and his wife Jane. He graduated from Montana State University, then located in Missoula, Montana, with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and a Master’s Degree in Forest Conservation. He would later receive a second Master’s Degree from the newly renamed Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. In his job with the Forest Service, Noble worked with a senior Forestry Engineer named George Gable. Through George and his wife Mae, Noble met the lovely Jane Gable. They were married the summer of 1965 after Noble asked Jane to return to Montana from a year of teaching school in Japan.
The next year, President Johnson asked Noble and 16 other US Extension Agents and four nurses to travel to Vietnam on an agricultural peacekeeping mission to introduce a strain of “miracle rice” to feed people who were starving in Vietnam because of the war. Noble and Jane went together to Washington DC, Taiwan, and the Philippines to train for the mission to Vietnam. They then parted ways and Noble spent the next two years living in Vietnam while Jane taught school in Bangkok, Thailand. Noble was able to visit Jane when he was on leave, but didn’t quite make it back in time to witness the birth of their daughter, Lisa. He jumped on a transport plane immediately upon receiving a telegram that announced, “Your package has arrived. It is pink.” Noble barely escaped Vietnam alive during the Tet offensive when his offices were bombed, but he was able to join Jane and their three month old daughter and return to the United States. After a short stay on the East coast, they returned to Montana, where Noble took a position as an extension agent on the Blackfoot Reservation outside Cutbank, Montana.
In 1970, Noble was in a terrible car accident when a drunk driver in a Buick hit his VW Bug head on. He spent three months recovering in a hospital in Great Falls, Montana. During his hospital stay, his son Roger was born. Noble’s best days of recovery were with his baby boy in his arms. Lisa told everyone who would listen, “Daddy Dobo broke. Doctor fix.”
After his recovery, Noble and Jane moved their family to Columbia Falls, Montana, where Noble volunteered as a search and rescue diver, flew small airplanes for fun, and served as Vice President of the Bank of Columbia Falls. In 1979 Noble resigned from the bank because he held higher ethical standards than the rest of the bank’s leadership and did not agree with decisions they made. He spent the next three months skiing the slopes of Big Mountain. When a friend from Vietnam days called with a business proposal, he jumped at the chance. The Deans moved to Bluffton, Indiana to work with Mix Mill Feed Systems: “fresh food for farm animals daily.” Though the economics at the time made farm equipment sales difficult, Noble turned the year into a grand adventure with trips around the Eastern states and visits to every park, monument, mountain and tourist trap he could find (including Wall Drug and the Great American Corn Palace!) The next year the Deans moved to Caldwell, Idaho with the same company. A year later, Noble returned to his interest in financial management when he accepted a position as an insurance agent and financial advisor with Aid Association for Lutherans. He continued to work with AAL until his retirement in 2002.
Noble and Jane spent their retirement years well. They visited all 50 states, rounding them out with a recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. They traveled to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. They drove an Aston Martin through France and Germany to visit the exchange students they had welcomed into their home, snorkeled with family in Hawaii, sampled whiskey in Ireland, toured Hungary and the Moravian homeland of Noble’s grandparents in the Czech Republic, helped build a dormitory for teachers at a school in Tanzania, hiked amongst the birds and monkeys of Costa Rica, sailed through the Panama Canal, took numerous trips to Mexico and returned to Vietnam for a 17 day hiking trip through the country to put to rest the ghosts of the past. Noble and Jane made several amazing trips to Alaska with Roger and his family to fish for salmon and halibut. Last summer they spent a magical week in New York City with Lisa and her family and were able to see Noble’s favorite story, Oklahoma! on Broadway. They spent most of the winter months in Arizona and Hawaii, visiting family and friends from the past, and Noble continued to ski the mountains he loved until two years ago. In June, Jane and Noble celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. Noble remained a vital and active man right up to the day he contracted Covid-19. Noble passed away at home, surrounded by his family, on July 23, 2020.
Noble was always up for adventure, fast with a his gap-toothed smile, ready with a joke to fit any occasion, willing to do anything for anyone in need, faithful to his family, friends and church, and welcoming to all. The most important thing in Noble’s life was his family. He loved us fiercely! He took us fishing, hiking, golfing and snorkeling. He taught his children and grandchildren how to ski, and always reminded us to “keep your tips up!” Any time we fell down he instructed us, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning.” And whenever a slope was too steep or someone got scared going down the mountain, he advised, “just plant your poles.” His adages will carry us all through life. He loved to play cards and was a member of a regular poker game called the “Ecumenical Lutheran Men’s Choir.” He was an integral part of his church family, but always told us that he felt the closest to God when he was on top of a mountain. He enjoyed a good swap meet and couldn’t pass up an Asian buffet. He could swim the length of a swimming pool back and forth underwater on one breath. He could come down a ski slope turning 360 degree circles all the way down, or sweep the slopes in his beautiful vadeling style like no one else. He could do a perfect Donald Duck imitation and enjoyed using his duck voice for every child or dog he came in contact with. Noble had an absolute zest for life. Every meal was the best, every sunset the most beautiful, every trip awe-inspiring. He was the most positive person we ever knew. Always helping, joking, loving. We had the best.
Noble is survived by his wife Jane; daughter and son-in-law Lisa and Todd Dean-Erlander, with their three boys Peter, Benjamin and Noah; son and daughter-in-law Roger Dean and Amber Lords and their children Sarah and Josh Dean and Madison and Sage Lords; his sister Karen Douglas and a huge family of Dean descendants whom he loved dearly.
In memory of Noble Dean, his family scattered his ashes in the mountains that he loved. When the virus is under control we will have a memorial and Dean family reunion to celebrate his life. In the meantime, we have established a memorial fund at Faith Lutheran Church in Caldwell, Idaho, which will be used to purchase and care for trees on the church property. If you would like to contribute to this fund in Noble’s memory, please send checks to the Noble Dean Tree Care Fund, Faith Lutheran Church, 2915 S Montana Ave, Caldwell, ID 83605.