John Browning Odell Jr., a man devoted to his family, his faith in God, and his community, passed away Monday morning, July 17, 2023, following a valiant battle with pneumonia. His wife and children were with him. He was 62.
Born July 9, 1961 in Sacramento, California, he was the son of the late John Browning Odell and Shirley Hartmann Odell Kirby.
When he was a toddler, the family moved back to Newport News in Tidewater Virginia, where generations of Odells lived. He attended Davidson College in North Carolina, where he earned his degree in history. (He recently attended his 40th reunion and was a proud Wildcat.)
His love of history led him to the National Park Service where he was a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, and then to the Curator’s Office at the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. He met Margaret “Peg” Schmid at the Senate. They married in 1992 and lived in Arlington, Virginia. While working at the Senate full-time he earned his Master’s in Museum Studies at George Washington University. After 14 years at the Senate, he read a job listing that merged his museum vocation with his lifelong passion for baseball.
As a result, John has served as Curator of History and Research for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for 24 years, working with great people and telling wonderful stories through print and exhibits. He was frequently told he had the best job, and he agreed.
John served his community in many ways. A faithful and dedicated member of Christ Church in Cooperstown, he was currently serving as Senior Warden. He participated in and then led a weekly 6 a.m. Men’s Bible Study for almost two decades. He had been a coach and board member for Cooperstown Youth Baseball. While he was an Orioles fan, he loved seeing any baseball game, at any level, especially when it was live and in person.
He had served on the Parks Board for Cooperstown, and on the board of Friends of the Parks for many years. He stepped back from volunteering in March 2020 when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he fought bravely with the guidance of Bassett Healthcare and the caring people there. He was delighted to “ring the bell” marking the end of his chemotherapy in August 2022, and he and Peg celebrated with a trip to Portugal.
John loved the outdoors and instilled a love for it in his children. The family enjoyed hiking locally and on vacation. He was an excellent trivia player, crossword puzzle completer, and he grilled up excellent salmon.
John is survived by his wife, Peg Schmid Odell, of Cooperstown and their three children, Rebecca Louise Odell of Albany, John Floyd “Jack” Odell of Cooperstown, and Emrys Carleton Odell of Cooperstown. His family love him very much and will miss having such a thoughtful, funny, caring, and supportive husband and dad. He is further survived by a sister, Beth Odell Dunn of Newport News, Virginia, and a brother, Scott Odell and his partner Marci Kisling of Quinton, Virginia, as well as his wife’s mother, Ruth A. Schmid of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and Peg’s siblings, Barbara Schmid Heifetz and husband, Hal, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and William O. Schmid and wife, Lori, of Allendale, New Jersey and their families, his aunt Nancy Hartmann Welker, and a stepfather, Douglas Kirby. He enjoyed spending time with family, including much loved cousins, at the holidays, in creeks, at the beach, and at Taff Family reunions.
Friends are welcome to pay their respects to the Odell family from 4-7 p.m. on Monday, July 24, 2023 at the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home in Cooperstown. A service will be offered at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 at Christ Church, 46 River Street in Cooperstown, with Father Nathan Ritter, Rector, officiating. Immediately following the funeral there will be a reception in the Parish Hall.
Interment will be private in Lakewood Cemetery, Cooperstown, where John will be laid to rest near Fairy Spring, where he and his family enjoyed picnics, cooling off in the lake, and kayaking.
In lieu of flowers, John’s family respectfully requests that memorial donations be directed to Friends of the Parks, PO Box 1008, Cooperstown, NY 13326.
John would encourage each of us to take that trip, to enjoy a hike, to call a friend, to spend time with family, and to go see a ballgame.