Saltwater Portrait

Magic Jack Noel: I’ll never rust

Magician, runner stays busy in Lewes
October 4, 2011
"Magic Jack" Noel makes his rabbit, Trixie appear in the living room of his Lewes home. BY KARA NUZBACK

Lewes resident Jack Noel will not pull a rabbit out of a hat.  “It’s too hard on the rabbit,” he said.  “I love them too much.”  Noel is on his fifth rabbit – all named Trixie – in 55 years of performing magic.  “I treat them well,” he said.

Noel said he never minds when people recognize him as “Magic Jack,” a nickname he picked up while living in Lewes.  Recently, he said, he was in a Harrington restaurant with his wife, Joan, when a hostess and a server both recognized him from magic shows.

He said children sometimes recognize him when he is out to dinner and come up to his table to greet him.  “The parents get embarrassed, but it doesn’t bother me a bit,” Noel said.  “It’s a real honor to have kids pay attention to you.”

For adults, Noel may be most easily recognized for his accomplishments as a runner.  He participated in 12 of the 13 Seashore Striders summer races in 2011, and he placed in all of them.  He is also a softball player, clown, columnist and talent show coordinator. “I can’t believe when people tell me they don’t have anything to do,” Noel said.

Noel and Joan live in Angola by the Bay in Lewes.  The couple relocated from York, Pa., in 1991, but they have owned property in the Cape Region since 1987.  Noel said Joan had been visiting Lewes since childhood; he began joining her in 1958.

Noel said he had a career with General Telephone & Electronics Corp. – which merged with Bell Atlantic in 2000 to create Verizon Communications – but he has always managed to work some magic into his life.

Noel said he became interested in performing magic after seeing the film “Three Little Words,” in which Fred Astaire moonlights as a magician. “Just the idea of doing magic seemed fascinating,” Noel said.

He began teaching himself magic tricks and reading books on showmanship, which Noel said is a big part of the show.  “You have to know how to talk and relate to people,” he said.

He performed his first magic show at age 14, which immediately led to more jobs at senior centers, churches, banquets and private parties.  Now about to celebrate his 73rd birthday, Noel still performs regularly. “I’ve been in every church basement in the world I think,” he said.

For 16 years, Noel said he performed magic walking table-to-table on a weekly kids’ night at The Roadhouse Steak Joint in Rehoboth Beach before the restaurant changed hands about six years ago.  Though Noel never pulled Trixie from his top hat, he did wear a top hat with his tuxedo. “So they knew I wasn’t a waiter,” he said.

Noel said he also never makes his rabbit disappear.  “It’s more positive to have a rabbit appear than disappear,” he said.

Noel knows something about staying positive.  In 1978, Noel found himself laid up in a hospital in Boston, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Noel said he could do little more than sleep.  As Joan sat by his hospital bed, Noel said, she watched the Boston Marathon on television.  “I decided if I ever got out, I’d run the Boston Marathon,” he said.

Noel recovered.  And though he never ran in the Boston Marathon, he has run in countless races since.  Three days a week, Noel goes to the gym; the other four days, he said, he runs anywhere from five to 12 miles around his neighborhood.  “I’m still running; I don’t know where,” he said with a laugh.

At the Aug. 1, Run for J.J. Memorial 5K in Rehoboth Beach, Noel beats the odds again.  While turning a corner near Henlopen Hotel, going down a one-way street with hundreds of other runners, Noel said a man on a bike rode through the crowd and collided with him.  “The woman who was behind me said I did two flips sideways,” Noel said.

The man fell off his bike; Noel bounced back up and kept running.  He finished the race in second place for his age group.  “I ended up with a bruise, but that’s it,” he said.

Walking to accept his trophy, Noel said he did a cartwheel to prove to the crowd he was unscathed.  “My granddaughter thinks that’s cool,” he said.

Noel has two sons, who live with their families in Middletown and Red Lion, Pa.  Since Noel’s grandchildren have reached their teens and early 20s, they don’t visit as much as they used to, he said.  Noel also has a twin brother, a doctor, who lives in York.  “I do magic, he does miracles,” Noel said.

Noel said he has always worked with kids.  “Since I was a kid,” he said.  And he is an active member of his community in Angola by the Bay.  Noel and Joan made an Easter bunny costume for the annual neighborhood egg hunt, and every year since, Noel has played the Easter bunny.

He also dresses as a clown for the annual neighborhood Independence Day parade, but he said he prefers the magician ensemble.  “A lot of kids are afraid of clowns,” he said.  “I enjoy being me, and I think the kids like it better too.”

For the adults in his community, Noel started a yearly summer talent show on a small stage in the community clubhouse.  Noel said it takes him about three months to build a cardboard set for each performance.  He said there are generally about 17 performers, including himself.

Every Sunday afternoon, Noel plays softball for a team he started with some other members of his community.  Noel proudly said he is the oldest member of the team.  “I can run faster than most of those people can,” he said.

To help his neighbors get to know one another a little better, Noel said he writes a column for Angola by the Bay’s newsletter, “The Bayview.”  He said each column features a different member of the community.  In one of his more creative columns, Noel said, he wrote about a small community member that was left behind when its family moved.  He said it was not until the end of the column that readers found out he was writing about a cat.

For a person with seemingly endless amounts of energy, Noel is calm, even keeled and pleasant.  Though it’s hard to imagine Noel has any unused spare time, he said he and Joan enjoy going to the beach, fishing and boating.  “I’ll definitely never rust up,” he said with a smile.  “Our furniture will never wear out because of me.”