‘Doc’ remains a cut above the rest in Patton area
PATTON — A half century of lowering ears hasn’t done much to lower one Patton barber’s commitment to his craft and community.
In fact, William “Doc” Noel sat in his Fifth Avenue shop about noon last week, remembering decades spent cutting hair and the relationships he’s formed with those who’ve sat in his chair.
Noel, 69, hasn’t always cut hair in the same location, but regardless of where he wielded his shears, he’s always drawn a crowd, his wife, Kathy, said.
“He’s been a fixture in the community,” she said. “Everyone knows Doc Noel.”
The Doc moniker isn’t related to Noel’s profession. It’s a childhood nickname that’s stuck for years.
As a child, Noel was interested in athletics, but his involvement was sidelined when he contracted rheumatic fever, which limited his capacity for physical activity.
“I wasn’t allowed to play any more sports,” Noel said.
Still, he wanted to feel like part of the team, so he accepted a position as manager of his high school — Cambria Heights — football team.
One day, a classmate came to him with a swollen thumb, and Noel wrapped it in tape, hoping it would alleviate the issue.
When the athlete later returned, his finger had swollen even more, Noel said.
“Holy smokes it was big,” he said.
When a coach saw the thumb and asked who applied the tape, Noel was quickly identified.
“He said, ‘Oh, the good doctor,'” Noel said, explaining he’s been called Doc since.
Noel’s previous illness also led him to take up his clippers and combs. With manual labor out of the picture, Noel was presented with a number of prospective careers. Among them, barbering stood out.
So Noel enrolled in a nine-month barber school program in Johnstown, where he worked his way from simple crew cuts to more complicated styles.
“It was pretty natural to me,” he said.
A photo from Noel’s graduation hangs on a wall in his shop, showing rows of new barbers wearing white, doctor-like smocks. In 1967, Noel began professionally cutting hair, working alongside an established Patton barber.
“Patton was a booming town then,” Noel said, remembering the once thriving coal town.
Now, without coal jobs, Patton’s population has dwindled, Noel said.
A waning customer base isn’t the only change Noel has had to contend with. He talked about changes in hair-style fads, especially the popularity of long hair among men during his early years.
“Whenever I started, the Beatles were just getting started,” he said. “Long hair was popular.”
In 1971, Noel began cutting hair in the lobby of Patton’s Fifth Avenue Hotel. The former hotel is only a few feet from his current shop.
That gig lasted until 1982, when Noel was hired at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, where he served as a barber to its residents.
“That was a good job,” he said of the position he held for 25 years before retiring. “That was fun.”
All the time, he continued cutting hair in Patton, moving to his current location — Doc’s Barber Shop — in the early 2000s, when the Fifth Avenue Hotel was closed.
In addition to barbering, Noel’s marriage has remained a constant in his life. He’s been married to Kathy for 47 years.
“We met at a dance about 50 years ago,” Kathy said, explaining the weekend events were common then.
The couple eventually had four children and now have eight grandchildren.
Still, Doc Noel said he has no plans to put down his scissors anytime soon.
“I like it, and as long as my health keeps up, I’ll keep doing it,” he said, revealing he most enjoys meeting and interacting with the customers who sit in his chair. “I enjoy people.”
That sentiment likely is reciprocated, with generations — grandfather, fathers and sons — regularly visiting the shop, Kathy said.
Those connections may have played a role in his election to multiple terms on the Patton Borough Council, as well as the Cambria Heights School Board.
“It probably did help me some, and it probably did hurt me, too,” Doc Noel said, joking about his work.
He also served as president of Admiral Peary Area Vocational-Technical School and Patton Volunteer Fire Company, where he still holds the role.
Patton Mayor Gary Ceschini said Doc Noel’s community contributions and commitments are something to emulate.
“I’ve known him all my life. Your first impression of him — you are going to like him,” Ceschini said. “The thing is we need more people like Doc. He is a community leader.”