"He could tell any biblical story with an emotion and a passion that made you feel like you were right there," said Rev. Jeff Paulson, a longtime friend and colleague of Mr. Knowles, who had a doctorate in biblical storytelling from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. "What a gift."
"He actually started pastoring while he was a student at Western Maryland," said daughter Robin Knowles Wallace of Ohio. After college, Mr. Knowles returned to the Baltimore area, where he preached for several years in the late 1940s before moving to the Midwest, she said.
Mr. Knowles received a master of divinity degree at Oberlin College's Graduate School of Theology and stayed in Ohio for more than four decades, working as a pastor in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. He rotated through a handful of congregations in and around Cincinnati, Dayton, Springfield and Toledo until he retired for the first time, said daughter Beth Ann Phipps of Maine.
"We used to joke that he would be pastoring until the day after he got to heaven," said Wallace, who said she was not surprised when her father was appointed to lead Old Otterbein after he moved back to Baltimore with his wife of 58 years, E. Carolyn Peed. "There was no city for them like Baltimore."
As the head of Old Otterbein — a Georgian-style structure at Conway and Sharp streets that dates from the late 1700s and is the city's oldest surviving church — Mr. Knowles was an ex officio member of the region's United Methodist historical society and archives. He relished the position, said Rev. Emora T. Brannan, a retired United Methodist minister who is president of the United Methodist Historical Society of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Mr. Knowles was elected to the group's board of directors and managed its money for a time, said Brannan, who said Mr. Knowles had a keen intellect and excelled at fundraising and the business aspects of running a church.
During the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center in the mid-1990s, Mr. Knowles negotiated with contractors and the city to protect the church's interests. Even though Old Otterbein's front lawn had been dug out — and the construction had led to drops in attendance at Sunday services — Mr. Knowles maintained a positive outlook.
"We're going to be sitting here like a little jewel when it's all done," he told The Baltimore Sun in 1995.
Mr. Knowles also oversaw years of peanut sales at Old Otterbein before Orioles home games — except those that fell on Sundays.
In 2000, The Baltimore Sun reported that the church had sold about 40,000 bags of nuts per season — at $1 per bag — since the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and that those funds had helped pay for a refurbished church organ, two paint jobs and a renovation of the church hall.
In addition to being devoted to his parish and parishioners, Mr. Paulson said, Mr. Knowles will be remembered among the clergy as an innovator. He managed social programs, such as government-funded soup kitchens and housing for needy seniors, decades before they were common extensions of parishes, Mr. Paulson said.
Mr. Knowles was active in Kiwanis International and Boy Scouts of America. Ms. Wallace and Ms. Phipps also said their father instilled in his children a love of learning, reading and music.
"He had such a boisterous voice when he sang," Ms. Phipps said. "He had a strong singing voice up until his late years. He passed along his musical interests."
Mr. Knowles and Ms. Peed had lived in White Marsh since their return to Maryland from Ohio. Peed, who had also grown up Baltimore, died in 2008 and Mr. Knowles moved into the senior living community of Oak Crest in Parkville. In the fall of 2010, he switched from an apartment within the community to an assisted living facility there, Ms. Wallace said.
"On his tombstone, which he wrote, it says: 'Millard B. Knowles. Minister, husband and father,'" she said. "And that really was the order of his life."
A funeral service was held Saturday at Perry Hall United Methodist Church, followed by a burial at Gardens of Faith Cemetery.
In addition to Ms. Wallace and Ms. Phipps, Mr. Knowles is survived by a son, Jonathan M. Knowles of Vermont; a sister, Grace Black of Baltimore; a brother, James Knowles of York, Pa.; and four grandchildren.