In the book, “The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time,” Bob George and Joan Holliday recognized several programs, agencies and community figures, who contributed to the youth’s well-being in Kennett Square. In this spirit, the following tribute is being offered.
The day after Thanksgivings, an event occurred in town that calls for recognition---Mrs Ophelia Bass moved on to her heavenly life at 84 years old in the home where she lived for over forty years on East Linden Street, Kennett Square. With her daughter, Theresa Bass by her side, caring for her lovingly, as Theresa had done for several years, a community matriarch passed on.
“Miss Ophelia” (as we respectfully addressed her) has left a legacy that may not be known to many, but truly significant to the East Linden Street residents and in turn to the greater community of Kennett Square. Her personal presence and contributions made the difference between a street being segregated and over-taken by the drug trade, to one that became an orderly and an inclusive neighborhood through the establishment of Carter CDC.
Miss Ophelia was a community matriarch, no two ways about it! She lived life as a dignified woman, who was clear about right from wrong and stood for this in our family and in the neighborhood in which she lived. She believed in “letting hardships go” and sharing a smile with anyone who crossed her path. She was a church-going woman, who believed in the scripture of, “Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself.” Her life wasn’t easy as a black woman raised in the South, but this didn’t define her. She carried on, raising a family of seven and found a greater freedom as she moved to Kennett Square in the 1970’s. (Although from stories told, she also lived under the cloud of discrimination even in the Kennett community.)
Miss Ophelia worked in housekeeping at West Chester University and also had other housekeeping jobs in Kennett local businesses. She demonstrated the importance of work in maintaining one’s dignity and providing for one’s family. When it came to a church event or Martin Luther King breakfast, Miss Ophelia showed up in all her finery! Red was her favorite color, so her wardrobe was filled with red dresses and suits. Needless to say, her appearance reflected her vitality for life.
In the early 2000’s, Miss Ophelia took on a neighborhood role providing meals for Study Buddies after-school tutoring program and then managing the summer lunch program provided through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She demonstrated that the program was not just about feeding children who were food insecure, but understood that a loving response from a grandmotherly-type provided a world of emotional and spiritual nourishment. She taught respect, order and discipline and caring all in one breath. The youth loved her and received her bright light with each encounter, making a difference in the direction these youth were taking in their lives.
When a person is rich in life-giving qualities, it isn’t always easy to capture them all in words. However, one example that certainly summarizes what Miss Ophelia taught others through her life, came from her daughter, Theresa Bass, when I visited her home recently. When I expressed my admiration to Theresa for being her mother’s primary caretaker the last years of her life, Theresa quickly responded, “Well, Joan, she would have done the same for me.”
May Mrs Ophelia Bass rest in peace!