George C. Knoll, 92, fossil collector, Maryland Science Center volunteer

April 24, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

George C. Knoll, an amiable volunteer at the Maryland Science Center who collected fossils and built television sets in the basement of his home, died in his sleep Tuesday at Glen Meadows Retirement Community, where he had lived since 1999. He was 92.

Mr. Knoll was born and raised in Philadelphia, moved to Baltimore in the 1930s and held many jobs, but his lifelong passion was science.

He built TV sets and oscilloscopes in the basement workshop of his Hamilton Avenue home, where he lived for 50 years. He also enjoyed fossil hunting at Calvert Cliffs in Calvert County and donated his extensive collection of Maryland fossils to the science center.

"He had a vast knowledge of fossils and would frequent Calvert Cliffs often to dig up specimens. He enjoyed sharing his fossils with schoolchildren, and would take them around to area classrooms so they could hold and learn about fossils that were millions of years old," said Debbie Bruno, a granddaughter.

Mr. Knoll moved to Baltimore in 1934 and went to work at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s open hearth furnace. From 1948 to 1950, he assembled airplanes at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River.

In 1951, he joined Sears Roebuck and Co. as a salesman at its North Avenue store. For the next 26 years, he sold cameras and appliances until retiring in 1977.

"He was always happy and smiling. He loved telling stories, and his knowledge of science was incredible," Ms. Bruno said.

Mr. Knoll was also an accomplished photographer who liked taking family members and grandchildren on photo field trips around the state.

When the Maryland Science Center opened in the Inner Harbor in 1977, Mr. Knoll was one of its first volunteers. For years, he donned one of the center's yellow jackets every Thursday and would explain and demonstrate various scientific principles.

"To know George was to know an angel. He had a contagious laugh and always came in with a humongous smile on his face," said Joyce A. Trageser, supervisor of school programs in the science center's education department.

Mr. Knoll's duties as a volunteer included many tasks. He might make a child's hair stand on end by touching a Van de Graaff generator, create optical illusions, or show a school group what happens when liquid nitrogen chills to minus 320 degrees.

He was particularly good at discussing science with all sorts of people, Ms. Trageser said.

"He had a way of engaging them and was able to talk on their level. He also liked doing sound demonstrations or how to build a microphone. Every time you went looking for George, you looked for a crowd because that's where he was," Ms. Trageser said.

Mr. Knoll was undeterred during a 1990s snowstorm and made it to the center despite snow-covered streets because he knew busloads of children were scheduled to visit that day.

"I don't know how he did it. He swung from bus to bus even though the snow was so deep. He had energy galore and was always into something," Ms. Trageser said.

In 1994, Mr. Knoll was honored by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer with the Maryland Volunteer of the Year Award for Arts and Museums. Mr. Knoll volunteered until 1996.

Mr. Knoll also enjoyed listening to classical music and was a member of the old Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Maryland Presbyterian Church, 1105 Providence Road, Towson.

Besides his granddaughter, Mr. Knoll is survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Ruth S. Kline; three sons, Lawrence C. Knoll of Middle River, Wayne Knoll of Delta, Pa., and G. Stephen Knoll of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; 10 other grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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