Noel Dean Gravelle

Noel Dean GravelleNoel Dean Gravelle, passed away peacefully on October 27, 2021, at the home of his son Warren and daughter-in-law Julie, 20 days after the passing of his beloved wife Ellene Louise Gravelle. Noel was 87 years old.

Noel was born in Willows, California on January 21, 1934 to his mother Etta Mildred Gravelle and his father Mesac Albert Gravelle.

Noel’s parents made their living as farm workers, so Noel acquired an early education in farm operations. He spent his high school and college days living with and working for his cousin Richard Des Jardins, operator of a large San Joaquin valley rice and cotton farm. Noel’s main task was to help maintain the various farm equipment. This work enabled Noel to gain experience in mechanical and machinery operation and how to work with metal with acetylene torch and arc welders. He also learned how to use the various tractors, thrashers, trucks, and other equipment.

Noel graduated from Dos Palos High School in June 1952. Noel’s farming experience led Noel to shun the farmers life and to study electrical engineering at what was then San Jose State College where he received a BS in Electrical Engineering in June 1957. Noel was a member of the Air Force ROTC program and so received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force reserves at the same time.

While attending college, Noel met the love of his life, Ellene Louise Bakenhus, at a sorority-fraternity social function. After they graduated in June 1957, they were married and moved to Stockton, California, where they lived for a year while Noel worked as a junior engineer for Pacific Gas and Electric company while anticipating being called to active duty by the Air Force.

Noel was assigned to active duty at Forbes AFB near Topeka, Kansas where he reported in July of 1958. During this time period, Noel’s first son, Brian, was born. Noel also received promotion to First Lieutenant. After release from active duty in April 1960, Noel continued as a member of the inactive reserves, receiving promotion to Captain and later an honorable discharge in February 1969.

After serving active duty, Noel began working for the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Corona, (NOLC). While at NOLC Noel worked on a variety of proximity fuze systems, but mostly on the fuze for the TALOS surface-to-air guided missile used in some of the Navy’s guided missile ships. Noel was co-author on two classified patents for proximity fuze system designs. During this time period, Noel and Ellene welcomed two more children, Warren and Shelley.

In 1970-71, Noel and his family moved to China Lake then Ridgecrest when most of the work at NOLC was transferred to Naval Weapons Center at China Lake. Noel was promoted from Project Engineer to Branch Head, responsible for supervising the development of proximity fuze components for several air launched missiles including the Sidewinder, the Shrike, the Standard Arm and the HARM. Later he led the Branch that was developing a new fuze system for both the air and sea launched versions of the Sparrow Missile. Noel went on to serve as Associate Division Head for two divisions, and head of the Standard Missile Ordnance Components project office. He retired from government service in 1994 and continued work as a consultant for about another 2 years.

Through his career and years of retirement, Noel was active in various interests, including supporting his children participating in Boy Scouts and youth baseball, and enjoying hobbies including HAM radio and later tinkering on his home computer. With wife Ellene, he enjoyed trips with the Gear Grinders four-wheel drive club, camping and motor home trips, traveling, and bird-watching.

Noel is survived by his sons Brian (Carol) and Warren (Julie), his daughter Shelley (Steve) (Piazza) and his 8 grandchildren: Kristen, Corey, Evan, Rory, Kayla, Tessa, Dante, and Vince. Sadly, husband Noel passed away 20 days after Ellene.

A celebration of life for Noel and Ellene will be held at the Maturango Museum on Saturday, January 29, 2022, at 1:30 pm. COVID protocols of that time will be observed. If you are interested in attending, if possible please email Brian Gravelle at to inform his planning for the celebration. In lieu of flowers, those interested in making a donation in Noel’s memory can be made to the Maturango Museum, 100 E. Las Flores Ave, Ridgecrest, CA 93555, or to an organization of your choosing.

Story First Published: 2021-12-03