McCrobie: Remembering the Oswego legend that was Bill Noun

The late Bill Noun brought humor, a zest for life and ukulele music to Oswego, writes columnist Mike McCrobie. The longtime teacher passed away recently at age 82.

Editor's note: Mike McCrobie's 'My Oswego' column is a print-only feature of The Palladium-Times, appearing every other week. This column below, appearing in the Wednesday, June 2 edition, has been unlocked for online audiences for a limited time — please enjoy. For more of Mike McCrobie and other local voices, subscribe to The Pall-Times by calling 315-343-3800.

It was with tremendous sadness that Oswego learned of the passing of Bill Noun two weeks ago today. With his zest for life, I think we just assumed that Bill would live forever, with a song in his heart, though we knew that was impossible.

Many of the professionals I worked with in my three decades at Oswego High School were already teachers when I was a student there. Bill Noun was one of them. I first met him in what was called the Math Resource Center when I was a sophomore struggling with Geometry. Ten years later, “Mr. Noun” became “Bill” my colleague.

I use the word “colleague” because that was Bill’s trademark greeting when he’d see a co-worker in school. On an average morning, when the teachers’ lounge would be filled with bleary-eyed, coffee-sipping educators at 7:00 a.m., Bill would often pass through on his way to the copy machine, with a bounce in his step, and enthusiastically say, “Good morning colleagues.” Though his upbeat mood was often greeted with a mix of raised eyebrows, dirty looks, and few smiles, he was undeterred. That was Bill Noun.

Not many math teachers are more known for their music than their equations, but that was just one thing that made Bill so unique. His end-of-the-day serenade over the PA system signaled the start of every school vacation. With about five minutes left in the last class prior to a holiday, Bill and his ukulele would unofficially kick off a school break with a song—at Christmas time, it was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town;” at Easter, “In Your Easter Bonnet;” on St. Paddy’s Day, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling;” and in late June, “In the Good Old Summertime.” That was Bill Noun.

Bill was certainly capable of teaching every level of math from Algebra to Calculus, but he most enjoyed the remedial math students. For much of his career, Bill was the champion of the underdogs—the kids who struggled not only with math, but often with life. That interest led him to a role in the Intensive Assistance Program (IAP) in the late ‘70s, in later years at the alternative high school known as “The Academy,” and finally, in the tutoring room at OHS called the Assisted Learning Center. He was passionate in each of these assignments, though he dealt with some challenging kids.

One of those kids was now-successful local businessman Lee Walker. Lee told me that Bill changed his life. “Plain and simple, if it wasn’t for Mr. Noun, my life would’ve ended up a lot worse. He saved me,” Walker said.

That type of sentiment was shared by many over the past two weeks, and it was no doubt rooted in Bill’s basic philosophy. The prayer card, handed out at the calling hours quoted Bill in his own words: “All students have to do is find and use that speck of greatness they have in themselves and run with it the rest of their lives.” That was Bill Noun.

If students didn’t have Bill for math, they might remember him as the faculty emcee of the annual fall sports pep rally. Wearing his Buccaneer-blue blazer and white pants, he’d work the student body into a frenzy in the jam-packed gym doing the “class yell.” The freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes would compete to see which group was the loudest in yelling, “We’re from Oswego, and we couldn’t be any prouder…and if you can’t hear us, we’ll yell a little louder!” Bill would be standing in the middle of the gym with a pocket calculator in his hand that he told the 1,500 students was actually a sensitive decibel meter that measured their sound levels—all in an attempt to get them fired-up for homecoming weekend. It was clear that Mr. Noun was having as much fun (if not more) than the kids. That was Bill Noun.

Of all my Bill Noun memories, my favorite comes from my second year teaching journalism at OHS. It was 1984, and my students wanted to publish an April Fool’s Day edition of the school newspaper. The front-page headline, complete with a photo of Mr. Noun, read, “Noun to Resign Teaching Position.” With Bill’s permission, our student editor wrote the totally fictional account of how Mr. Noun had aced an audition in New York City by singing the Elvis song “Blue Hawaii,” and he had signed a movie contract to co-star in a film with ‘80s bombshell Victoria Principal. The article went on to say that Noun was sad to leave OHS, but he would have to leave immediately to begin learning to surf for his role in the Paramount Pictures film, “Moon Over Hawaii.” Remarkably, much of the school — from the students to the secretaries —  fell for the April Fool’s prank — and Bill LOVED it. He played along all day, further embellishing the story, and soaking up the attention that a movie star deserved. That was Bill Noun.

When Bill wasn’t offering extra help to students during his free period, he would often share golf advice with his colleagues, promote Greek Fest at St. Sophia’s in Syracuse, or regale us with the tale of the time he tackled star football running back Joe Bellino, who eventually won the Heisman Trophy at the Naval Academy.

Someone once told me that students don’t CARE how much their teacher KNOWS, until they KNOW how much the teacher CARES. There was never a doubt about how much Bill Noun cared.

Mike McCrobie is a retired Oswego High School English/Journalism teacher. His column appears here every-other Tuesday. His two books, “We’re from Oswego” and “Our Oswego,” are currently available at the river’s end bookstore and Amazon.

His writing has also appeared nationally in Chicken Soup for the Soul Inspiration for Teachers, Chicken Soup for the Soul My Crazy Family, and Reminisce Magazine. Reach him at ouroswego@gmail.com or at mmccrobie@palltimes.com

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