Noel Palm, father of 5, grandfather of 10, great-grandfather of 10, and husband of 71 years, passes away

by Mark McDermott 

[Editors note: the first part of this story originally ran on the occasion of Noel and Sally Palm’s 70th wedding anniversary in August, 2019]

Santa Ana, 1946. “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Big Sleep” are in the theaters, which are plentiful in this military town, still bustling in the aftermath of WWII. A tall, handsome dark-haired boy named Noel Palm is driving his old Ford Model A, which he bought himself with the money he earned working at the Yost Theater as an usher, but which he can’t drive without his mother’s permission. 

Sally Simpson hears his car before she sees it; she knows the specific racket it makes because she used to go steady with Noel. Sally is in another car with her date, a boy named Timmy, when Noel pulls up alongside them. 

“We were sitting out in front of the house and all of a sudden I hear this rattle, bang-bang,” Sally recalled. “It’s Noel. He pulled up, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, he’s going to get mad I’m dating someone else.’” 

But when he spoke, he didn’t seem mad at all. In fact, in a kindly voice, he had a request. “I just wanted to ask you,” he says, “I have to go home now. Can you smell alcohol on my breath?’” 

Timmy leans over across the car. “I don’t think so,” he says. 

“Oh, good,” Noel says, shifting back into gear.   

“So he rattles off into the night,” Sally said. “He didn’t care one whit about me or what I was doing.” 

Noel Palm, closest to the camera, in his days has a high school track star, when he first met Sally. Photo courtesy the Palm family.

Sally had first noticed Noel in geometry class at Santa Ana High, where they sat across from one another. She worked for the school newspaper, so she’d seen his name and read about his exploits as an athlete. He was a track and field star who’d won the low hurdles at some big meets. What struck her in class, however, was how good he was at math. It was not, to her, a particularly endearing trait. 

“I was very poor at math,” she said. “Art and music and stuff like that was what I liked. I hated math. I thought Noel was a brain because he liked it. And I hated it, so I didn’t pay too much attention to him. I thought we’d never get along.” 

“She was the brain,” Noel said. “She was a really nice lady.” 

Sally was a slender beauty, with an unruly mop of brown hair and an easy, lithe gracefulness. She was smart and sassy and liked to laugh. And the more time she spent around Noel, the more he perked her interest. 

“She had her eye on me, I think,” he said. 

“I was the plotter,” she said, laughing. “He was a young innocent guy who just went along.” 

Pretty soon Noel and Sally were an item. She worked at another theater, and he’d pick her up after they both finished their shifts and they’d go out on dates. He gave her a little key chain, a little golden track shoe he’d been awarded, that she wore on a necklace. Then, for no apparent reason, he just stopped calling. 

They graduated high school and coincidentally both enrolled the following fall at Santa Ana College. One day one of Sally’s friends at school asked her about her necklace. 

“You are still wearing Noel’s little key chain around your neck,” the girl remarked. “Why? You don’t date anymore.” 

“Well, that’s true,” Sally said. “I shouldn’t.” 

So the next time she saw Noel at the college, she marched up to him and handed him the key chain. “I don’t want it back,” he said. “Well, we don’t date anymore, and I don’t want it,” she replied, then turned and walked away.

“After that, he started calling again, and we started dating again,” Sally said. “I guess he just needed a good nudge.” 

His mother had also been nudging him. She thought Sally made Noel better. “My mother wasn’t too happy with me,” he said. 

They have rarely been apart since. A few months after graduating, on August 7, 1949, Noel and Sally were married. They honeymooned on Catalina Island and embarked upon what would become the greatest adventure of their lives, their marriage. 

The Palms celebrated their 70th-anniversary last month at their Manhattan Beach home, a little house on 9th Street they bought in 1960, where they’d raise five kids. All five kids were at the party, as well as most of their 10 grandkids and nine great-grandkids. In making it to 70 years, the Palms did something beyond extraordinary. According to the U.S. Census, one-tenth of one percent of marriages make it to a 70th anniversary. 

“That is really something,” Noel said. “I mean, you have to look at that and know that you were, and are, truly blessed. It’s just great.” 

“I’m pretty amazed by it, too,” Sally said. “We didn’t kill each other off. We have a dynasty.”

 

“Do something for others” 

Noel Palm died on February 7 after a months-long illness at home. His family expressed gratitude that his passing came surrounded by his family, and particularly his bride of 71 years, Sally (aka Charlie, according to the family). In the midst of this pandemic, this final time of togetherness for the Palms was no small thing. 

“He had a very good long life,” said his daughter, Marsha Palm Lubetkin. “He and my mom had many adventures and a very active life.  We will always miss him, but his passing was a blessing… Dad got to die at home with Mom and some of kids with him, exactly where he wanted to be.” 

Palm’s priority was his large and boisterous family which always included a variety of pets. He strongly believed in contributing to his community and spent much of his life doing so. He served on the South Bay Union High School District Board for 16 years and was a founding member of the local medical Free Clinic in 1969. An active member of the MB Community Church, he sang in the choir for many years, served as Church Moderator, and fulfilled other instrumental roles during his 35-year membership.

Both Noel and Sally turned 90 the year of their 70th anniversary, and as they looked back on their life together, and what lessons it may impart for those seeking both longevity of life and marriage, both agreed it was something simple. 

“Try to help,” Noel said. “Do something for others.” 

He said that through helping others, you often help make yourself a better person. “As a human being, if there are things that need to be corrected, you can do it,” he said. 

Regarding marriage, Noel suggested that developing a ready sense of understanding was key. 

“Be very aware of where the one you are with is coming from,” he said. “And then figure out how to handle that.” 

 Palm was always physically active. He was a high school track star, avid surfer and always loved hiking and camping. He and Sally enjoyed overseas travel in their retirement and lived for an adventurous year in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He loved his family, a good beer, and good company. 

He is survived by his beloved wife Sally (aka Charlie) of 71 years; five children: Marsha (Barney Lubetkin), Vicky (Dave Joswiak), Karen, Brett, and Tod (Cindy Palm); sister Marilyn Steele; ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be scheduled at Manhattan Beach Community Church in the near future. ER 

 

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Written by: Mark McDermott

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