Edwin Fesche, 98, preacher who taught at Bible school

February 11, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Edwin Fesche, an itinerant preacher who set up a microphone and speakers on Baltimore street corners, died of pneumonia Sunday at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Cape May Court House, N.J. The former Waverly and Westminster resident was 98.

A member of the Plymouth Brethren, he often preached at Loch Hill Chapel on Loch Raven Boulevard and taught at the Baltimore School of the Bible in Bolton Hill. He handed out religious tracts on the streets of Baltimore and other East Coast cities in his 70 years of public preaching.

Born Edwin Claude Alexander Fesche in London, he was raised in the city of Eastbourne, on the English Channel. Family members said its location contributed to his lifelong love of the sea. He recalled the early days of World War I, when he was 10 and saw wounded soldiers returning to England and being cared for in seaside hotels and schools used as hospitals. Family members said the war and the Depression of the 1930s shaped his outlook on life.

He left school at age 14 and joined the British merchant marine. He sailed a square-rigged schooner and traveled between Buenos Aires, Argentina; Australia; and Bordeaux, France.

"His ship had no other propulsion but the wind," said his son, Dr. Marshall Fesche, a Westminster dentist. "He made the three-month trip without any outside communication, a doctor, electricity or a refrigerator. And he loved it and always talked about the seas. When the Tall Ships visited Baltimore, he'd go down to the harbor and walk through them."

At 20, Mr. Fesche jumped ship in New York City and joined the U.S. Army - using the name Edward Fish. He served in a coast artillery unit at Fort Hancock, N.J., that guarded the entrance of New York's harbor. While in the service he joined the Pocket Testament League, a society whose members distribute Christian pamphlets. He studied three years at the Philadelphia School of Bible.

He sailed on transports to Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines and Shanghai as a federal civilian employee in the 1930s, and paid an $8 head tax to enter the United States legally. Mr. Fesche gained his U.S. citizenship in 1937, about the time he joined the Plymouth Brethren, a group founded in Plymouth, England, to spread the gospels.

He moved to Baltimore during World War II and bought a rowhouse on East 34th Street in Waverly. He preached at the Arunah Avenue Gospel Hall in West Baltimore and later at Loch Hill Chapel. He taught biblical history at the Baltimore School of the Bible in the 1700 block of Park Ave.

Every Sunday afternoon for many years, he carried a microphone and speakers to the Harford Road side of Clifton Park, where he attracted a small band of listeners. He also preached on Baltimore Street.

In one of his early preaching sessions, on a visit to Baltimore, he met his future wife, the former Garland Whitfield Topp. They had been married for 60 years when she died in 1996.

"He supported himself on goodwill offerings from the different assemblies where he preached along the East Coast," Dr. Fesche said. "He might get a used car for $200 or be given clothes. We were never wanting, but when I did my father's taxes, I could see how little he made. Somehow, he made it all work."

Family members said Mr. Fesche canned peaches, made his own applesauce and bottled root beer. He never drank alcohol and often rode a beat-up bicycle on his visits to shut-ins and the sick. He transported his groceries in saddle bags mounted to the bike.

To save money for a visit to England to see his siblings, he became a crew member on a freighter in the 1950s and 1960s.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

He is also survived by another son, Dr. P. Hudson Fesche of Hilton Head Island, S.C.; a sister, Muriel Hodges of Bath, England; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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