Nick Schloeder shown in 1997 as history teacher and coach at Gilman.
Nick Schloeder shown in 1997 as history teacher and coach at Gilman. (Jed Kirschbaum/The Baltimore Sun)

Nicholas M. Schloeder, 39-year teacher and coach at the Gilman School whom students described as a "tough-minded coach who wouldn't let you fail," died Tuesday from complications of dementia. He was 84 and a resident of the Arden Courts Nursing Home in Towson.

Born of modest means in North Bergen, N.J., to Nicholas and Anne Schloeder, he earned a basketball scholarship to attend the private Peddie School that his daughter Kerry Boyle said changed his life. It allowed him to go to Bucknell University, she said, where he earned a degree in history and a master's degree in psychology. He would spend most of his career affording similar opportunities to other students.

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He was drafted into the U.S. Army and quickly loaded onto a plane headed to Korea when, in mid-flight, his plane was called back to Arkansas. "That was the only time in his life when he had an inclination to vote Republican because Eisenhower was president," said his son, Nicholas C. Schloeder. All other times, he was an "unreconstructed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrat."

Mr. Schloeder spent the rest of his two years in the Army completing psychological testing of soldiers and was honorably discharged in 1954 as a corporal.

Gilman headmaster Henry Callard hired Schloeder away from his teaching and coaching job at Calvert Hall College to help diversify Gilman, which was then known for its "Gilman/Princeton/Roland Park/Republican/Alex. Brown iconography," according to former Schloeder student Pat Smithwick, who spoke to The Baltimore Sun in a profile article when Mr. Schloeder retired in 1997. Mr. Schloeder would serve as teacher, coach and mentor at Gilman for 39 years.

Redmond C.S. "Reddy" Finney, retired Gilman headmaster, said Mr. Schloeder exposed his students to life beyond what they were used to. "He used Baltimore City in all its aspects as a laboratory for learning," Mr. Finney told The Sun in 1997. "He had these kids do research papers where you'd have to go downtown and interview people on the street."

"He put people at ease," said Stuart O. Simms, former state's attorney for Baltimore, who was a student of Schloeder's and is now a lawyer in Baltimore. Mr. Schloeder taught Mr. Simms history, coached him in basketball and then worked for him as a political consultant.

"He was focused on the game and not the stuff surrounding the game," Mr. Simms said. "If someone had an agenda because of a student's pedigree, he would call it out."

Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. credits Mr. Schloeder with changing his life. Mr. Schloeder recruited him to Gilman from Arbutus Junior High School with a football scholarship.

"He was legendary," Mr. Ehrlich said of his former teacher and mentor. "He was a tough guy who had very high standards for his students and athletes." Mr. Ehrlich said. "It killed him that I was Republican. He would have fun with me in class." But Mr. Schloeder remained close with Mr. Ehrlich and worked for him as he became Maryland's governor.

His closest political relationship was with former U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, whom Mr. Schloeder advised for almost 40 years. "When he got into anything it was full speed ahead," Mr. Sarbanes said. "It was hard to know him and not stay close as he was a tremendously warm and outgoing person."

Mr. Schloeder's daughter, Mrs. Boyle of West Hartford, Conn., said scores of students and political activists would frequent the house and would remain friends with her father for years. Four hundred to 500 people attended his retirement party in 1997.

Mrs. Boyle said politics and community service permeated their household and that since she was about 6 years old, she and her brother would hand out political literature during elections.

"When I was 10, a friend came over from the mostly Republican area of Roland Park and our play date was handing out fliers for Senator Sarbanes," she said. "My friend was really excited about it, but her father later told my father he would rather not support Senator Sarbanes."

Mrs. Boyle said going to the local grocery store "seemed to take hours" because her father ran into so many people he knew. "As my brother and I got older, we started to appreciate how much he meant to people."

Both she and her brother have followed in his footsteps, becoming teachers and coaches. "He was a larger-than-life role model for us."

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A private service was held for the family. A celebration of life is planned for this fall at the Gilman School. His son said the family was starting the Nicholas M. Schloeder foundation, which will be geared toward helping youths "get a leg up" the way his father did at Peddie and Bucknell. Donations to the foundation may be sent in the care of David Clinnin (301 Pennsylvania Ave. Suite 300, Towson, Md., 21204).

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his former wife, Wanda Sullivan Schloeder; his longtime companion, Constance Caplan of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.

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