The Rev. Edwin Austin Schell, a retired pastor who was a historian with an "encyclopedic knowledge" of his United Methodist Church, died Nov. 25 at St. Agnes Hospital after suffering a fall. He was 88 and lived in the Charlestown Retirement Community.
Born in St. Louis, he worked for the streetcar company there as a young man and developed a lifelong interest in public transit. He moved to Washington, D.C., and worked in scheduling administration for Capital Transit.
He joined Calvary United Methodist Church and was encouraged to enter the ministry. He sold his streetcar transfer collection to help finance his education at American University's theology program. He also had a graduate degree from Drew University.
Mr. Schell began his ministry in 1951. He served at churches in Waterloo, at East Baltimore on Broadway, Curtis Bay, Arundel Cove, Linden Heights, Woodberry, Stone Chapel in Pikesville and at Old Otterbein in downtown Baltimore.
"While at the Broadway church he was also the chaplain of Goodwill Industries," said the Rev. Emora T. Brannan, a retired United Methodist minister who is president of the United Methodist Historical Society of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. "Ed never lost his commitment to the physically challenged and the disadvantaged. He had a tremendous commitment to social justice. In all the churches he served, he was diligent and compassionate."
He said he was conscientious about visiting the sick and consoling others.
"There was a stream of people at his door who had personal crises in their lives," he said. "There were people he helped over and over again. He gave the food and money and his time. He worked alongside his wife, Ruth."
In 1958, Mr. Schell was elected president of the Methodist Conference Historical Society and for decades held the post of its executive secretary. He led its role in national celebrations of the bicentennials of the beginning of American Methodism.
Friends said he kept extensive card files on the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He also contributed chapters and articles to "Those Incredible Methodists," the conference history. They said that having been raised in the Depression of the 1930s, he was personally frugal and wrote church reports on the reverse side of used paper.
Mr. Schell retired in 1988 but continued working at the Lovely Lane Church Museum on St. Paul Street.
"I was quickly amazed by his encyclopedic knowledge of early Methodism," said a friend and historian, Michael Franch of Baltimore. "He was patient in explaining to me the mysteries of 19th-century Methodism — the system of traveling and local preachers. … As I got to know him, I saw he had a combination of old-fashioned morality and a commitment to peace and social justice."
He was the executive secretary emeritus of the Commission on Archives & History of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Family members said he was considered "the leading light" in preserving United Methodist history in this region for almost 60 years.
The reading room at Lovely Lane Methodist Museum is named in his honor. He was a recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from the United Methodist Church. The parsonage at Old Otterbein Church is named Schell House in honor of him and his wife.
He was an early member of both the Washington and Baltimore streetcar museums. He volunteered weekly in the Baltimore museum's library where he organized the archives of the old Baltimore Transit Co. During his time off, he visited numerous world cities and rode their transit systems. Friends said he was a methodical collector of road maps, transit schedules and other memorabilia.
He had been active in the United Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. Family members said he was a generous benefactor to many organizations that promoted racial justice and helped Native Americans. He also financially assisted retired Methodist pastors in Africa.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, 2200 St. Paul St. He donated his body to medical research and his final remains will be interred on the grounds at Old Otterbein.
Survivors include two daughters, Rita La Cotti of Belcamp and Nancy Cann of Severna Park; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife of nearly 50 years, Ruth Herman Tamanus, died in 2010.