His name was not a household word and he wasn't among the usual suspects in cultural/social scene photo ops. This basically shy, gifted man labored joyfully behind the scenes doing the hands-on work and late-night planning and worrying to save and sustain a city's heritage for people he would never know or would never know him.
A former president of the Center City Residents' Association, Sperr was on the board of the Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and a member of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. He was on the board of the Philadelphia Dance Alliance. He did work for the First Unitarian Church.
A decade ago he co-authored a book, ``Historic Rittenhouse,'' and gave walking tours of the district. On those tours he would pass under large trees he had planted himself 20 years before. He was an active supporter of the Please Touch Museum, which was founded by his wife, Portia Hamilton Sperr.
``He was imbued with a sense of public service. There was always this sense of the public. They never talked about it, but both my parents felt this thing about the city. They were ardent urbanites,'' said Oona O. Sperr, his daughter.
She thought perhaps it was a family trait. His great-grandfather was a judge on the high court in Germany and before that his forebears were managers of the forests.
Born in Brooklyn, Sperr graduated from Columbia University and then served two years in the Navy as an officer. At various ports of call he would take the others on tours, having read up on the area before docking. After his discharge he received an architectural degree and a master's degree in planning from Yale University.
Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Sperr and his wife decided to get rid of their car and see whether they could survive without an automobile. They never got another one.
After working for several firms he opened his own business in his home near Rittenhouse Square in the mid-1970s. He also taught at Drexel University.
Sperr was an unabashed workaholic and most of his inner circle consisted of people who shared his professional interests. He studied the violin growing up. While he didn't play as an adult, he was bound to classical music and would amaze his daughter by identifying classical pieces after hearing only a few notes.
Oona Sperr, an interior designer who also trained as an architect, said, ``He believed in design excellence and in helping people through good design. And he believed in kindness. Unlike most architects, he never spoke against other architects. He was very successful and got to work for wonderful people.''
His wife, Portia, said, ``We always laughed and said it takes somebody from away to appreciate Philadelphia, like our mayor, who is from New York. We like to say we are Philadelphians by conviction. We appreciate this wonderful city, the many amenities, culture, history.''
There were no other immediate survivors.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Contributions may be made to the Otto Sperr Award Fund in Architecture, c/o Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104.
RENA FELDER BROWN Rena Felder Brown, an active member of her church, died Friday. She was 88 and lived in South Philadelphia.
Brown, a retired domestic, was a member of Phillip Temple Christian Methodist Church, where she served on the Missionary Board, the Senior Choir and Tucker's Chorus.
``We all just loved her. She loved to bake, especially sweet potato pies,'' said Dorothy Thorpe, a close friend.
Alberta, one of her daughters, said, ``I'm gonna miss those five o'clock phone calls every morning.''
Another daughter, Lois, said, ``She was the best part of my life. She had a lot of heart. She kept track of family and friends and called them on the phone.''
``We loved her, but God loved her best,'' said her daughter, Martina. ``She was very well liked by everyone.''
Born in Orangeburg, S.C., Brown was a member of the Senior Citizen Center at Broad and Lombard streets.
Survivors also include four sons, James, Norman, Samuel and Louis, 41 grandchildren, 118 great-grandchildren, 70 great-great-grandchildren; four sisters, Rosalee, Georgia, Jessiebell and Magalou, and four brothers, Henry, Marion, Paul and Sammy. Her husband, Arthur Felder, died in the 1970s.
Her second husband, Samuel Brown, died about five years ago.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Phillip Temple Christian Methodist Church, 754 S. 3rd St., where friends may call two hours earlier.
Burial will be in Merion Memorial Park in Bala Cynwyd.
ROBERT H. TARR III A memorial gathering will be held Sunday to honor and celebrate the life of Robert H. ``Rob'' Tarr III, the Fairless Hills high school student who slipped into a river and disappeared while on a family trip to the Grand Canyon.
Tarr, 16, who would have been a junior this year at Pen Ryn School, slipped from a rock and fell over a waterfall on Aug. 12, 1998. His body was never recovered.
``Rob was a reserved, very intelligent and polite young man.
``Rob had a sense of humor and was always quick to tease and to make his friends and family laugh,'' said a family member.
The gathering will be at 3:30 p.m. in the sanctuary of Somerton United Methodist Church, 13073 Bustleton Ave.
Contributions may be made to ``The Rob Tarr Fund,'' Box 63353, Philadelphia, Pa. 19154.