Lenora Nagel of Lawton, North Dakota, was born on 6 September 1930 to German parents. Her father was a carpenter and had a convenience store during the Depression. After graduating from high school, Nagel attended the Mayville State Teachers College in Mayville, North Dakota, where she received a two-year teaching certificate. She taught school for three years in North Dakota before joining the Women in the Air Force (WAF) on 15 June 1953.
After completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in late 1953, Nagel attended radio school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. In the spring of 1954 she received orders to Selfridge Air Force Base in Mount Clemens, Michigan, where she worked primarily as a flight operator for two years. She was discharged from the air force on 15 December 1956.
Nagel used the GI Bill to take education classes, eventually receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education at Mayville State Teachers College. In 1961 she began teaching overseas as a civilian with the U.S. Department of Defense. For the next twenty-nine years she taught American children in France, Germany, Japan, Iceland, Bermuda, and Cuba. Nagel retired in August 1990 and moved to Tampa, Florida.