Neighbor celebrates 100th birthday

April 16, 2013

Rep. Roebuck presents Ms. Hills (center) with a citation. She is joined by granddaughter Bridgette Jones, and neighbors Joan Spellman and Angela Shomate (left to right). Shoemate said: “[Rosetta] told me she was here so long because God has a plan for her and she hasn’t did it yet.”

Rep. Roebuck presents Ms. Hills (center) with a citation. She is joined by granddaughter Bridgette Jones, and neighbors Joan Spellman and Angela Shomate (left to right). Shomate said: “[Rosetta] told me she was here so long because God has a plan for her and she hasn’t did it yet.”

When Rosetta Hills moved here from Georgia in 1951, Philadelphia was a flashy destination. The Eagles were coming off two straight league championships. The city hit a peak population of 2.07 million people, placing behind only New York and Chicago. A few years earlier a young man named John Coltrane made a similar journey from North Carolina to North Philly.

Ms. Hills celebrated her 100th birthday with a warmhearted party Friday afternoon at Renaissance Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center near 47th and Chester, where she has stayed since January. She was joined by her family and friends, as well as workers and residents of the center.

Ms. Hills with Bridgette and great granddaughter, Tavonna Jones.

Ms. Hills with granddaughter Bridgette and great granddaughter, Tavonna Jones.

“She’s 100 years old and feisty as ever,” said her granddaughter, Bridgette Jones, who traveled from North Carolina to celebrate. “She said the reason why she’s still here is because she speaks her mind and don’t hold nothing in.”

Ms. Hills received a citation from State Representative James R. Roebuck, recognizing “the momentous occasion of her 100th birthday” and contribution to “the enrichment and betterment of succeeding generations.” The Georgia native, who moved to Philadelphia with her husband to look for work, was visibly teary-eyed and seemed overwhelmed with joy. She was also presented with a decorative “Happy 100th Birthday” cake.

“I speak it. I can’t hold it,” echoed Ms. Hills, a long-time resident of South Philadelphia. “If I have something to say, I’m gonna say it and it comes from the heart.”

– Annamarya Scaccia

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Friday at A-Space: A personal account of human rights and AIDS in China

March 28, 2013


Dr. Wan Yanhai.

Dr. Wan Yanhai, a prominent Chinese AIDS activist, will be in West Philly this Friday to tell his story of fleeing his country in 2010 and discuss human rights in China. Dr. Wan will join West Philly AIDS activist Kate Krauss in the discussion. A portion of the film “The Central Plains” will also be screened.

Dr. Wan organized China’s first HIV/AIDS telephone hotline and was instrumental in advocating for the rights of tens of thousands of families who became infected with HIV/AIDS in Henan Province due to illegal blood selling practices. He later expanded his work to advocate for the health of injection drug users, sex workers, and other marginalized groups affected by AIDS.

Dr. Wan is also a co-founder of the Beijing LGBT Center, the first gay community center in China. He has won numerous human rights awards and is currently the director of the country’s foremost AIDS-awareness group, the Aizhixing Institute of Health Education. He has been detained by the authorities three times in the past 12 years, including a month-long detention in 2002 that made international headlines.

On May 10, 2010, Wan Yanhai together with his family fled China and moved into the home of Ms. Krauss in West Philadelphia, where they stayed for several months before continuing on to various academic appointments. Dr. Wan currently lives with his family in New Haven, Connecticut.


Katie Krauss.

Katie Krauss is Executive Director and Founder of the AIDS Policy Project and has worked on a wide range of AIDS issues, from AIDS vaccines to Medicaid and housing for people with AIDS in Philly.

The event will be held at the A-Space gallery (4722 Baltimore Ave) beginning at 7 p.m. Snacks will be available. A $5 donation is suggested. To RSVP please email:

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The ‘Peace Pilgrim,’ a West Philly fixture, passes away

March 4, 2013

Sr. Francis (photo from The Religious of the Assumption website).

Sister Francis Joseph was the “peace pilgrim.” Grace Kelly was among her students. She entered the convent at the age of 33 and traveled the world, but is known to many St. Francis de Sales students as the nun who taught peace.

Sr. Francis died last Thursday. She was 93.

Born Rachel Scarpello in Germantown, Sr. Francis served as the first lay principal of the Catholic school Ravenhill Academy in East Falls, which Kelly attended in the 1940s. Sr. Francis taught at Ravenhill for 12 years before she decided to join the order Religious of the Assumption and their convent at 1001 S. 47th St., across the street from St. Francis de Sales.


Sr. Francis on her 90th birthday in 2009.

You may have seen Sr. Francis sitting on the convent porch or you might have helped her across the street as she leaned on her cane.

“I make friends through that cane,” she told a reporter from The Catholic Standard and Times newspaper for an article marking her 90th birthday in 2009.

What you probably didn’t know is that after graduating from Chestnut Hill College she worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That was before she became a nun. During her long career with the Assumption Sisters, Sr. Francis worked in Paris, Osaka and Manilla, where she was instrumental in building housing for the poor. She was one of the first women to attend Gregorian University in Rome.

In recent years at the St. Francis de Sales School she became known as the “peace pilgrim,” stopping by classes and teaching students about peace through stories. Sr. Francis also had a long relationship with Saint Joseph’s University, where an outreach lecture series she started 30 years ago was named after her in 2011.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, March 5 at 10 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales (47th and Springfield).

Mike Lyons


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Stinking Lizaveta drummer needs metal plates after bike accident; but she can still play

June 15, 2012

Bill Hangley, Jr. sends word that his wife, Cheshire Agusta, a prominent West Philly rock musician and the drummer for the veteran trio Stinking Lizaveta is recovering after surgery following a serious hit-and-run bike/car accident. Agusta was on the bike and her injuries required metal plates and cadaver bone chips.

Cheshire Agusta and her beloved but now mangled bike. (Photo by Bill Hangley Jr.)

Agusta was struck on Friday, June 1, at 60th and Chestnut Streets while riding to her gym for a morning workout. After waiting at a traffic light, Agusta had just started pedaling north on 60th Street when a car on her left took a right turn across her path – a maneuver known among cyclists as the “right hook.” Agusta and her bike ended up trapped beneath the car. As Agusta recalls, the driver stopped briefly, backed up, paused again briefly and then drove off with the bike still underneath his car, leaving Agusta sitting in shock on the pavement.

Thanks to helpful bystanders who got the car’s license plate number, police soon located the driver, an 18-year-old man who told police that Agusta was in his “blind spot” and that he did not know anything was wrong. In part because of his clean driving and criminal record, police declined to charge him. Both Agusta and the driver were insured.

The accident partially crushed the top of Agusta’s left shinbone, which had to be reconstructed with cadaver bone chips and titanium plates. She faces a total of six months of rehab. Possible long-term complications include chronic stiffness and early-onset arthritis in the joint. Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) say Agusta now faces a painful rehab but should be ready to tour in September in support of Stinking Lizaveta’s latest record, “Seventh Direction,” to be released in the U.S. and in Europe.

“My summer plans have changed dramatically, but my fall plans are still the same,” said Agusta. “We’re really proud of this record. There’s eighteen years of work behind it.”

“The worst thing that could have happened is that I could have died,” Agusta said, “but the next worst thing would be if I couldn’t get out and play this music.”

The band has scheduled a five-week European tour starting in September to support “Seventh Direction,” recorded at Chicago’s Engine Music Studios. The record features original compositions from all three band members (Cheshire Agusta and brothers Alexi and Yanni Papadopoulos).

Agusta is the second member of Stinking Lizaveta to be seriously injured in a West Philadelphia traffic accident. Alexi Papadopoulos, a co-owner of the popular Satellite Café on Baltimore Avenue, was struck by a car on his motor scooter two years ago, suffering multiple fractures and internal injuries. “The consensus among friends is that I’m next,” said his brother Yanni but the guitarist had no comment on any steps he might take to avoid his bandmates’ fate.

We are wishing a speedy recovery to Cheshire Agusta and hope that this was the last in the series of unfortunate happenings involving Stinking Lizaveta members.

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Helping Christopher

April 9, 2012

West Philly resident Mike Howard has a 12-year-old brother, Christopher, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a very rare chromosomal abnormality called Kleefstra syndrome. Christopher is only one of 50 to 60 people in the world diagnosed with this condition.

As you can imagine, life has been quite hard for Christopher and his family. The boy has been in and out of the hospital for years now and it’s getting harder and harder for his family to cover all the medical expenses as Christopher’s insurance company is becoming less and less helpful.

To help his brother and his family, Mike has set up a fundraising page on Mike’s family are unaware of his fundraising efforts as he wants to surprise them and Christopher on his birthday.

To read more about Christopher and to donate, click here.


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The Fuzz back online with a new name

April 5, 2012

Detective Joe Murray’s tweet yesterday afternoon telling followers he was back in business.

Detective Joe Murray, aka “The Fuzz,” is back on Twitter, only this time with a much less catchy handle.

As of about 4 p.m. yesterday Murray is now @ppdjoemurray, a much more official name that reflects the Philadelphia Police Department’s endorsement of his social media stardom. In fact, Murray will be helping out others in the department to use Twitter more effectively.

Murray received dozens of tweets welcoming him back within the first few hours that he was online. Those who followed him before will automatically be switched over to the new account.

An online petition started by West Philly resident Amara Rockar earlier this month drew attention around the city and likely factored into getting Murray back online.

The only question that remains is … Can we still call him “The Fuzz?”


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