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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

CCC veteran loved baseball, raising garden

Norman A. Schell, 93, a retired railroad worker who was an avid baseball player and a green-thumb gardener for many years, died Sunday in his home in Maumee.

The cause of death was not known, but his family said Mr. Schell, who was anemic, had been ill for about a year.

A 40-year survivor of colon cancer, he toughed it out during the Great Depression, life-changing struggles that brought strength and character to what his son Thomas said was not an easy life. "He was a strong man. He persevered in this world," his son said.

Mr. Schell, who graduated in 1933 from Oak Harbor High School, served in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program, in Yellowstone National Park during the Great Depression.

"He was there about a year. I think he made a buck a day and he sent it all back to his parents on the farm in Graytown," a rural community in Ottawa County, his son said. "He had a picture of the camp. It was rather crude. It was not easy."

Mr. Schell's lifelong perseverance started in childhood, his son said. "Dad had to take the train from Graytown to Oak Harbor. There was no bus. There was no other way to get there."

After leaving the CCC, Mr. Schell installed railroad ties, then was employed for 35 years by the New York Central railroad. He retired from Conrail in 1980. He was a brakeman and conductor on a route from Toledo to Elyria.

"I think in those days it was the dream of all people who were brakemen to be a conductor," his son said

But as the airline industry took off, the railroad conductor's job lost some of its gleam.

"Ultimately, it was not the same quality job he had aspired to," his son said. "He ended up walking trains and throwing switches."

Mr. Schell's childhood influenced his hobby of gardening. He grew up in Graytown at a time when "gardening was necessary in order to survive," his son said. "He took his gardening skills with him when he moved to Maumee in 1950."

He raised bumper crops of sweet corn, tomatoes, red beets, carrots, cabbage, and rhubarb. In the spring, Mr. Schell brought in manure from the country and tilled up his fertile soil, prepping it for tiny seeds and tender plants.

For many years after retiring, he and his wife would walk with friends inside Southwyck Shopping Center. "Mom would outwalk him," their son said. Mr. Schell was bothered in later years by circulation problems in his foot, the result of walking the railroad tracks, without proper footgear in cold and wet weather, which resulted in occasional bouts of frostbite.

For more than 50 years, Mr. Schell was an active member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee, where he assisted with the men's breakfasts, fixing food and helping out in other ways, said Forest Kosch of Maumee, a member of the church. The two men played baseball on some of the same teams.

"As I remember, he was a pretty good ballplayer," said Mr. Kosch. "He was very involved at the church for years. He was a very wonderful guy. He had a strong faith."

In recent months, Mr. Schell told his family about the day he tried out for the Toledo Mud Hens. His son recalled asking, "What did you learn from that?"

Mr. Schell responded: "I learned a lot of other ballplayers were a lot better than me."

It was at a ball game, at a countryside park, where Mr. Schell met his wife-to-be. He was playing third base, and a buddy brought Clara Banky and her cousin to watch the action.

Mr. Schell took a shine to Clara, rather than the cousin, and after a courtship, they were wed, a marriage that lasted 68 years. Mrs. Schell died two months ago.

Mr. Schell is survived by two sons, Thomas and Dennis; a daughter, Carolyn Schell; a brother, Raymond; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. tomorrow in Peinert Funeral Home, Waterville. Services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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