Stephen M. Eller, social studies teacher and camp director, dies

City public schools social studies department chief was also a camp director and inveterate genealogist

Stephen M. Eller, an educator and social studies department head who organized city public schools' the first Holocaust curriculum, died of Parkinson's disease Nov. 17 at Milford Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pikesville.

He was 73.

"Steve was complicated," said Barbara Hoffman, his sister-in-law, who lives in Cheswolde. "He was a mentor to children and affected thousands of their lives. He was a tremendous musician. He played both guitar and banjo and had a beautiful singing voice."

"He was a Renaissance man who had a knowledge of so many things," she said. "He had both skills and brilliance."

The son of Louis Eller, a Glenn L. Martin Co. aviation mechanic, and Evelyn Eller, an Army Corps of Engineers executive secretary, Stephen Martin Eller was born in Baltimore and spent his early years residing near Patterson Park.

He later moved with his family to Boarman Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

A 1959 graduate of City College, Mr. Eller earned a bachelor's degree in 1963 from the Johns Hopkins University. He also held a master's degree in teaching from Indiana University and a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland.

Mr. Eller began his three-decade teaching career in 1964 at Edmondson High School. He also was social studies department chairman and held teaching assignments at Roland Park Junior High School and Pimlico Junior High School.

While teaching at Walbrook Senior High School, he organized the first Holocaust curriculum for city schools. At the time of his retirement in 1994, he was teaching at Harbor City High School.

Mr. Eller had a second career, serving 37 years as camp director for Beth Tfiloh Day Camp. There he worked tirelessly to create an environment where children could grow, family members said. He retired as camp director in 2007.

He also advocated for the development of camping legislation in Maryland with the Youth Camp Safety Law, which stressed the safety of children attending camp.

"He drafted that legislation," said Ms. Hoffman, who served in the state Senate from 1983 until 2002.

He was also an active member of the American Camping Association.

A lover of technology, Mr. Eller introduced computers to the camp setting and made them a key part of camp activities.

This interest was engendered at an early age. When he was 7, he became fixated with science fiction — though it wasn't until 1978 that he purchased his first microcomputer.

"I knew computers would be big ever since I was in the second grade. I had been convinced through fiction that computers were the answer," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1984 interview. "I really had been waiting my whole life."

He worked as a part-time computer salesman and was an advocate of people telecommuting to their jobs.

"Each year, there is such a change in people's attitudes toward computers. A year ago they were being bought by hobbyists. Now you have people buying them who a year ago would never have considered it," he said in the interview. "They are finding them useful, not something strange."

He was a confirmed genealogist and a camper. Mr. Eller and his wife of 41 years, the former Sheila Marks, a speech pathologist, traveled with their two sons to all 50 states, primarily in a motor home.

"He visited Salt Lake City, where he examined the Mormon genealogical records. And in the first years of our marriage, we spent weekends trooping through graveyards and making tombstone rubbings," Ms. Eller said.

"Wherever we went, he always checked out local phone books looking for possible family members," she said.

"It's hard doing Jewish genealogy, because after one generation, names are often changed," Ms. Hoffman said.

Mr. Eller was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease nearly 30 years ago. His sister-in-law noted that even as his health failed, Mr. Eller and his wife maintained their lifelong love.

"My sister was 14 when she met Steve, who was 15," Ms. Hoffman recalled. "For the last three-and-a-half years, he was in a nursing home, and Sheila would go every day to see Steve. Theirs was a love for the ages."

Mr. Eller was a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.

Funeral services were held Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Brian Eller of Baltimore and Jonathan Eller of Reisterstown; and a sister, Barbara Eller Posner of Elkridge.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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