Rev. Russell Dean Scheel, 91, went peacefully home to the Lord on October 22, 2019.

An enduring theme throughout Russell’s life was helping his fellow man.

Born on June 10, 1928 in Racine, Wisc. to Oscar & Julitta (Peterson) Scheel, Russell and his family — brother Warren and sisters Shirley, Yvonne and Alice — were members of Emmaus Lutheran Church, the oldest Danish-American church in America. From a young age, Russell’s life was shaped by the church, as his father taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and served on the church council. After graduating from Washington Park High School, Russell served in the Army Air Force Medical Corps from 1946-49 and then attended the University of Cincinnati, where he met and married his wife, Betty, a student at Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing, in 1951. Later they moved to the University of Wisconsin, and after he graduated in 1953, Russell worked as a bacteriologist and biochemist and was considering a career in medicine.

A call to serve Christ came in 1963. Scheel, along with the support of his wife, moved their growing family to Columbus, Ohio, where he began his theological studies at the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary (now known as Trinity Seminary). Russell was awarded the Karl F. Trost Award by the faculty for Outstanding Potential for the Ministry, an award bestowed upon the year’s most promising seminarian. On June 12, 1966, Scheel was ordained into the ministry and immediately accepted a call to become the Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Penn Yan. During his time at St. Paul, the congregation built a new church, grew the Sunday School program, supported a church on the Rosebud reservation of South Dakota, and sponsored the resettlement of two families to the U.S. from refugee camps in Thailand and Laos.

After serving at St. Paul for 15 years, Rev. Scheel took a call in 1981 to serve at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie, Pa. (near Pittsburgh). During his pastorate at St. John, the congregation grew exponentially, and also made benevolent causes a major part of its ministry to the community and the world.

Russell and Betty retired back in Penn Yan in 1993, and he continued to guest preach at various Lutheran and Episcopalian churches for another 15 years.

Beyond preaching the word of God for over 50 years, Pastor Scheel devoted himself to service through his work with prison ministries, the PennYan Council of Churches (he was given the unofficial moniker of the ‘Pope of Penn Yan’ for being one of the longest-serving ministers in town), the Rushville Clinic, which he helped establish and regularly volunteered his laboratory services, and Penn Yan Elementary School, where he read with and tutored students. Scheel also helped organize volunteers to help with flood cleanup and relocation of families following the devastating flood of 1972 in Corning. Along with his wife Betty, he was also active in the anti-nuclear movement and supported many social and environmental causes that were core to his Christian faith.

In his free time, Russell loved camping and hiking with his family, woodcarving, refurbishing antiques, art, cross country skiing, reading and travel.

Rev. Scheel leaves behind his loving wife of the past eight years, Judith A. (Gibbs) Scheel. He was predeceased by his wife of 48 years, Betty (Heinzelman) Scheel, in 1999, with whom he had five children: Mark (Annie) Scheel of Branchport; Elizabeth Scheel of Brooklyn; Phillip (Toni) Scheel of Boynton Beach, Fla.; Thaddaeus Scheel of Los Angeles, Calif.; and Julia (John) Ginocchio of West Orange, N.J. He is also survived by three stepchildren: Douglas Gibbs of Kaufman,Texas; Stacy (Brian) Whitney of Pittsford; and Rachel T. Carter of Los Angeles, Calif.; as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Russell was also predeceased by his former wife, Stella (Silvernail) Scheel, with whom he was married from 2002-2008 before her sudden passing.

Russell’s family wishes to thank the staff of Keuka Comfort Care Home for the love and care shown to their husband and father during his illness.

Though we mourn his death, we also celebrate his entry into the kingdom of heaven. 

Calling hours will take place on Thursday, Oct. 24 from 4:30-6:30 pm at Townsend-Wood Funeral Chapel (201 East Elm Street, Penn Yan) and from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at St. Paul Lutheran Church (135 Hamilton St., Penn Yan) followed by the Funeral service at 11 a.m. and burial at Branchport Cemetery.

Those wishing to designate a memorial gift in his honor may do so to St. Paul Lutheran Church or Keuka Comfort Care Home.