Inspiring Okeechobee: Noel Stephen is community-minded sheriff

OKEECHOBEE — Ask yourself who is the best BBQ man in Okeechobee? If he is not at the top, he certainly makes the top-10 list – our sheriff – Noel Stephen. His skills at the grill perhaps would have made a bigger influence and rank him among the top three, had he known this article was being written. I certainly could issue a #1 ranking if I were to have a sample delivered to the house tonight. Ribs, pulled pork, bit of chicken … I’m off track now! With that said, I have known Noel a very long time! He is lucky I didn’t have my copy of the 1984 yearbook.

He avoided a picture in the 1983 yearbook, minus a “Where’s Waldo” FFA picture, with half the school it seems.

Noel Stephen

Beyond that, I don’t remember any other time that I have not known him to be a “cop.” After graduation from Okeechobee High School, Noel was a volunteer firefighter and in 1987 he joined the sheriff’s office, working in the jail as a correctional officer.

In 1989, he received his law enforcement certification and later transferred to the sheriff’s office road patrol. He has been in multiple roles serving as detective, road patrol corporal, captain and major. In 2007 Noel was promoted to undersheriff. In 2016, Noel was elected sheriff. I had the pleasure of working closely with him in the 90s when he was a detective.

Even though we saw some of the worst family issues, he was a consummate professional.

Noel would have interactions in tense situations; yet he never made anyone feel “less of a person” in the worst of those circumstances. Noel always says he’s just a boy from Ft. Drum, as if he pinches himself to think that he is now the Sheriff of Okeechobee County.

While it is inspiring that he rose through the ranks to become our sheriff, what is more telling of his character, is that Noel has been a community minded person for many years.

He has been an integral part of local boards, always one to step forward and offer a helping hand no matter the situation. Whether it is to raise money for scholarships, read to kids at schools or assist with summer camps, the children of our community have been the benefactors of his actions. Additionally, the sheriff is always willing to go himself or send staff and work crews to local nonprofit events, setting up tents, tables, chairs, moving things, or even cleaning up!

Teresa Bishop, of the B.R.A.T. Club of Okeechobee notes, “Noel is an awesome player to have on the B.R.A.T. team! Always willing to ‘pitch-in’ for our youth and serves endlessly with his radiant smile! Noel inspires me by being a good listener and taking time to make the right decisions on tasks.”

Noel has two sons: Cory and Kodi. Son Cory is married to Brandy and together they have two children, Brayleigh and Corleigh, who have proudly named Noel, pepaw. Daughter-in-law, Brandy Stephen says of her father in law, “He’s always himself, genuine. Wherever you see him, he’s always smiling ready to greet you! He’s a wonderful father, pepaw and father in law.” Son, Cory adds, “He taught us to give everyone respect whether they deserve it or not. Carry yourself with pride and integrity, but not arrogance. Family first and career second. Enjoy what you do and excel.”

Thank you for inspiring your family, the men and women of the sheriff’s office as well as our entire community. Especially, thank you Noel for all things seen and unseen that you have done to improve the lives of the children of Okeechobee. It has not gone unnoticed. Well done, sir. Well done!

Sheriff Noel Stephen is active in the community, and often combines his skill on the barbecue grill with special events. He organized the barbecue cookoff at the Okeechobee County Centennial Birthday Party at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center in May 2017.

Editor’s note: Inspiring Okeechobee is featured each Sunday in the Okeechobee News. If you know someone who inspires others by overcoming hardships, helping others or improving the community, nominate that person as a subject of a future article by emailing

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