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James R. Schreier, longtime City College teacher, chess coach and former union organizer, dies

James R. Schreier, a teacher who inspired generations of students with his creative style and a chess coach who led them to championships, is remembered by friends as kind and intellectually stimulating.
James R. Schreier, a teacher who inspired generations of students with his creative style and a chess coach who led them to championships, is remembered by friends as kind and intellectually stimulating.

James R. Schreier, a former longtime Baltimore City College English teacher who led the school’s chess club to two state championships in the 1990s, died Oct. 6 from congestive heart failure at his Winthrop House residence in Guilford. He was 73.

“He was just, Jim,” said Tom Andrione, who taught with Mr. Schreier at Southern High School, and was a Winthrop House neighbor. “He was very intelligent and a very probing person. He wrote poetry and we read a lot of stuff together and discussed literature, movies, education and politics, and they were always very lively discussions.”

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Rob McGowan had been a friend of Mr. Schreier’s since 1969, and also had been a city public schools teacher.

“Jim was a hungry intellectual, intellectually enlightening and always full of ideas," said Mr. McGowan, who lives in Towson.

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James Robert Schreier, son of Ernest A. Schreier, a Madison Gas and Electric Co. worker, and his wife, Bernadette Radermacher Schreier, a homemaker and champion ten-pin bowler, was born and raised in Middleton, Wisconsin.

A 1965 graduate of Middleton High School, Mr. Schreier earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and came to Baltimore to pursue graduate studies at Morgan State University.

“Jim came to Baltimore in 1969 and with my brother-in-law joined Project Mission, which was a training program for teachers who did not have a master’s degree in education,” recalled Mr. Andrione, who retired in 2010 from Polytechnic Institute, where he had taught English for many years.

“We were both in Project Mission where we taught for half a day and went to college half a day,” said Mr. McGowan who retired from the Career Academy in 2010. “He was known for having creative lessons where he took popular songs of the day and had the kids find similes and metaphors in them.”

After earning a master’s in education in 1970 from Morgan, Mr. Schreier began teaching in city elementary schools and at Francis Scott Key junior High School before joining the faculty at Southern High School, where he taught English from 1984 to 1989, when he moved over to City College.

While at Southern, Mr. Schreier had coached the junior varsity baseball team to a citywide championship game.

Mr. Schreiver also earned a second master’s degree in poetry writing from the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied in its storied writing seminar.

News of Mr. Schreier’s death brought an outpouring of gratitude from former students on Facebook: “He was a great man who took many of us under his wing and got us on the right path.” “He changed the trajectory of my life. He challenged my thinking and made such an impact." "He was an inspiration to us all. " “Simply the BEST in the business.” “A phenomenal teacher [and] a great influence on me.”

“If I could pinpoint one thing that I learned in high school that has made an impact on my professional life, it would be learning from Mr. Schreier how to write and structure a paper,” said Afeefa Abdu-Rahman, a former student.

“Jim was a legendary teacher and could really relate to the kids,” Mr. McGowan said. “He demanded the best from them and they gave him their best.”

At City, Mr. Schreier coached the chess club team to two U.S. Chess Federation Maryland State Championships, in 1991 and again in 1995. In 1994, the club scored a second place finish.

“They’re pretty normal kids,” Mr. Schreier told The Baltimore Sun in a 1995 interview. “Black kids, white kids. Male and female. Middle class, working class. They’re not one-dimensional kids, the eccentric. Bobby Fischer types who are obsessive. They’re regular kids who just happen to be excellent chess players.”

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Mr. Schreier was successful in lobbying City alumni to raise the necessary funds to send the team in 1995 to the national chess finals in Chicago.

“I’ve been associated with baseball, football and basketball,” he explained in the interview. “This is the most intense athletic competition I’ve ever experienced. Nothing else is even close. And these kids relish it.”

Because he was committed to workers' rights, he had taken some time off earlier in his teaching career to organize workers at the Armco Steel Co. plant in Baltimore.

“We were both organizers from 1973 to 1976, when we went back to teaching because we had been laid off so many times and steel plants were closing,” Mr. McGowan said.

In 1975, Mr. Schreier married the former Jean Turner, who was also an educator, who later became dean of arts and science at Anne Arundel County Community College, and settled on Rexmere Road in Ednor Gardens, where they were neighbors with Mr. Andrione and Mr. McGowan.

Both Mr. Schreier and his wife, Dr. Schreier, were believers and supporters of public education. “It’s real important that people do not give up on the public schools,” he told The Sun in a 1981 interview.

When their 5-year-old son began school at Waverly Elementary, the couple became involved at the school.

“Quite frankly, the public schools need us,” Mr. Schreier said., “Get involved, go to the school and be critical, watch, observe and ask questions. You can’t have strong public schools without parental involvement.”

He retired from City in 2007.

Mr. Schreier liked spending summers with his family in Colorado, where he enjoyed hiking and fishing,and indulging his passion for nature and the outdoors. He also liked attending his children’s athletic events, beginning with rec council programs and going right through their college years.

Another pastime was writing poetry.

“We went on a trip together with our wives to Russia and Jim wrote poems for all of us,” Mr. Andrione said.

A recovering alcoholic who had celebrated 32 years of sobriety at his death, he was an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous where he chaired meetings and spoke with other members. In his retirement years, he volunteered at Mann House and in Mercy Medical Center’s detox ward.

“Dad found great delight in hearing the stories of others and understanding the paths that brought them to where they were,” said his son, Jesse Schreier of Needham, Massachusetts. “He often quoted Henry James, ‘Three things in human life are important; the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’”

His wife of 42 years died in 2017.

Services are private.

In addition to his son, Mr. Schreier is survived by his daughter, Cory Mian of Somerville, Massachusetts; a brother, TJ Schreier; a sister, Susan Schreier both are of Middleton, Wisconsin; and four grandchildren.

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