Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Series 12: FARM
Oscar Kneller (1905-1975)

Oscar Kneller Staff

Summer 1934. (l. to r.) Oscar Kneller, Miss Lewis, Ben Turner, Tom Madon, Mrs. Faulkner, Miss Alice Cobb, Mr. Winfrey, Mrs. Baird, Mr. Burns. [X_100_workers_2569d_mod.jpg]

TAGS: Oscar Kneller, farmers, teachers, Glyn Morris, Albright College, dynamite, eye injuries, William Hayes, farm management, August Angel, Tom Madon, Maureen Faulkner, Alice Cobb


Dairyman, Farmer and
Teacher of Agriculture, 1931- February 1934

Oscar Kneller was a classmate of Glyn Morris at Albright College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He was hired by Morris to take over responsibilities for the farm when the previous farmer left and there was no opportunity to go through a full recruitment for the position.

OSCAR KNELLER: Path to Pine Mountain

To finance his studies at Albright College, Oscar secured a loan from the Educational Aid Society of the Evangelical Church. The loan was specifically for the training of men who were going into the active ministry. After graduation, Oscar applied to serve as a missionary for the church but no positions were available. He then accepted a position at Pine Mountain after hearing about it from Glyn Morris.

Later, in a 1935 letter to the Educational Aid Society’s Treasurer on behalf of Oscar, Morris described how well Oscar’s training fit the needs of PMSS and vice versa:

All during his student days he desired to be an agricultural missionary, so that when I took up my duties as Director of the Pine Mountain school in 1931, I sent for him at once, feeling that this was the ideal place for him to use not only his agricultural training, but his social and religious training as well. He came at once, and for a time worked on our staff as a volunteer worker. Later he became the head farmer.

Glyn Morris, 1935

OSCAR KNELLER: At Pine Mountain

Oscar was on the staff for only a few years when he met with a life-changing turn of events. On November 14, 1933, he was removing large rocks from the barnyard so the cows would have more space to roam. He was using dynamite to dislodge particularly stubborn rocks. As the work progressed, one rock had been drilled and loaded for blasting but failed to detonate. Oscar went to inspect why the dynamite had not ignited and was hit by a surprise blast.

The result was a devastating injury to his eyes which left him, for all practical purposes, blind. He spent 10 days at Harlan Hospital. On February 16, 1934, he left the School and returned to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, area to live with his sisters and recover from the injury. It was a slow and painful recovery for him.

The damage to his eyes, while devastating, began improving over time and he was able to maintain correspondence with many of the staff at the School, particularly with Glyn Morris. Oscar Kneller’s CORRESPONDENCE details his struggle to come to terms with the accident and with the resulting unemployment. Morris came to his assistance in several instances, particularly with a plea to the Educational Aid Society to postpone Oscar’s outstanding debt and in helping him find another job.

It was the loss of Oscar Kneller that brought William Hayes, a student who had just graduated from Pine Mountain, into the Farm Manager position. With the assistance of Brit Wilder, Bill stayed in that position for another twenty-six years. He also remained in contact with Oscar Kneller for many years and called on his assistance later as Kneller’s eyes cleared and he was able to do limited work.

An accounting of the accident was captured by August Angel in his autobiography, Trivia & Me, written from memory shortly before his death in 1996. Present when the dynamite accident occurred, August graphically describes the accident. He also adds notes on other escapades that the two engaged in while PMSS staff in the early 1930s. The following story by August vividly captures the person of Oscar Kneller:

Jim Faulkner, a colleague, and I shared a one-room log cabin, Pole House, on a knoll where now stands West Wind. The cabin was primitive with an outhouse and a spigot for cold water on the outside. Jim was a graduate of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and he taught auto mechanics.

….Jim and I roomed together until the Christmas weekend when he married another teacher named Barbara [Wilbur], who was a graduate of an eastern Ivy League women’s college. They then honeymooned in Pole House and set up residency there. As a result, I moved in with Oscar Kneller, the school’s farm boss.

The one-room log cabin I shared with Oscar was called “The Cabin,” and had a faucet supplying cold water and a screened-in sleeping porch with bunk beds for two. It was located midway up the path from the swimming pool to Farm House. Oscar was an amiable roommate and we had no problem sharing the close, small quarters. The Cabin was comfortable and just big enough to accommodate our meager belongings. The sleeping porch was ideal when the weather was mild. However, come fall and winter, both Oscar and I would dress with about all the heavy clothes we possessed before jumping into the ice-cold beds. After having spent the night in a fetal position to conserve body heat, we always felt warm and cozy in the morning snuggling up to the banked pot-bellied stove inside.

Oscar was a classmate of the school’s director, Glyn Morris, when both studied at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. [Actually, they were classmates at Albright College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and the two had known each other growing up.] Both were also from Pennsylvania. Oscar grew up on a family farm and in a farm community. At Pine Mountain, he assumed the challenge of farm boss in charge of boys working in and studying agriculture and dairy.

…One moonless and extremely dark night, Oscar and I were returning to The Cabin from a workers’ social hour. On the path alongside the branch from Laurel House to the swimming pool, I exclaimed that I couldn’t see the way. Oscar reassured me by saying, “Put your hand on my shoulder. I see okay.” The branch was running full because of recent rains. You can guess the rest of this story – as I followed Oscar in the pitch dark, he led us over the edge and we both plunged into the cold, waist-deep waters of the branch. So went life on an unlit path, pre-dating electricity at the school.

One day, Oscar drilled a hole in a very large rock in which to set a stick of dynamite. The plan was to blast and shatter the rock so that it could be removed, providing more space for the dairy cows in the barn lot. After the hole was drilled, the charge was set with a five-foot length fuse, and the hold was capped with mud, Oscar lit the fuse. It sparkled and crackled until it reached the mud packing -– and then became silent. He waited impatiently for what he believed was long enough and returned to the rock to re-fuse or recharge. The instant Oscar disturbed the mud, the smoldering fuse re-ignited and set off the blasting cap and dynamite. The full force of the blast hit Oscar as he was crouched over the charge. Luckily, he was not killed, but he received severe injury to his chest, entire face, and scalp. His skin in all those areas was peppered and embedded with small pieces of rock, and mostly rock sand.

I spent many hours during the months following his accident opening up irritated, scabbed-over sore spots, and digging out particles of sand and rock from under his skin. The greatest injury was to his eyeballs that healed only after surgery and prolonged intensive care – but he was declared legally blind. In time, he regained enough sight to be able to read with a hand-held magnifying glass. At the end of the school year, Oscar left the campus and returned to his home in Pennsylvania, where he became employed by the county as a highway employee, a job he held for many years until he died.

Oscar was stuck on one of the girls at school, Nellie Hugh. He was serious enough about her to think about marriage. But the dynamite accident, resulting loss of sight, and his departure from the school put to an end to all thoughts of marriage. In fact, he never married.

Angel, August D. Trivia & Me: An Octogenarian Mirrors His Twentieth Century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Pages 74-76. Print. [Reproduced with permission.]


Oscar L. Kneller was born in 1905 to John Wesley Kneller, a farmer, and Martha Ann (Gibbs) Kneller. He was the second oldest of his four siblings: Robert A., Cora M., John H., and Elanor L. All the family members were born in Pennsylvania and living in Cherry, Sullivan County, as of the 1920 U.S. Census and Rummerfield, Bradford County, as of the 1940 U.S. Census.

Oscar died on August 11, 1975, in Bradford County. He was buried at Standing Stone Cemetery, Standing Stone (Bradford County), Pennsylvania.


See Also:
THOMAS J. MADON Student – Biography

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Oscar Kneller

Alt. Title

Oscar L. Kneller




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;


Oscar Kneller ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Oscar L. Kneller ; farmers ; teachers ; agriculture ; dairies ; Glyn Morris ; Albright College ; dynamite ; eye injuries ; William Hayes ; farm management ; August Angel ; Jim Faulkner ; Antioch College ; Barbara Wilbur Faulkner ; Pole House ; the Cabin ; sleeping porches ; Nellie Hugh ; Trivia & Me ; John Wesley Kneller ; Martha Ann (Gibbs) Kneller ; Educational Aid Society of the Evangelical Church ;


Kneller, Oscar, — 1905 – 1975.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Agriculture — Kentucky.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.


2015-09-18 aae


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing


Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff ; Series 12: FARM ;




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09:
BIOGRAPHY ; Series 12: FARM ;


1905 – 2007


Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Wilkes-Barre, PA ; Yellow Springs, OH ; Bradford County, PA


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement
School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Oscar Kneller ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Oscar Kneller ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain
Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

 Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

 2015-09-18 hhw ; 2015-09-21 aae ; 2016-02-07 hhw ; 2022-06-30 aae ; 



“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV2C-LR2T : accessed 22 September 2015), Oscar L Kneller, 1972; Burial, Standing Stone, Bradford, Pennsylvania, United States of America, Standing Stone Cemetery; citing record ID 64847838, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.

“Oscar Kneller.” Guide to PMSS Workers 1913-1930 ; Workers at PMSS 1913-1980 – II ; Box 25 Personnel D-K. Series 09: Staff/Personnel ; Series 12: Farm. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

Angel, August D. Trivia & Me: An Octogenarian Mirrors His Twentieth Century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Pages 74-76. Print. [Reproduced with permission.]

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KQ8C-L23 : accessed 22 September 2015), Oscar Kneller in household of John Kneller, Rummerfield, Standing Stone Township, Bradford, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 8-46, sheet 4B, family 79, NARA digital publication T627 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012), roll 3443. Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MF1R-NCG : accessed 22 September 2015), Oscar L Kneller in household of John W Kneller, Cherry, Sullivan, Pennsylvania, United States; citing sheet 8B, family 182, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,821,653. Internet resource.