Agnes C. Burke; for 100 years, a Grays Ferry presence

Agnes C. Burke
Agnes C. Burke
Posted: October 25, 2012

Agnes C. Burke, a Grays Ferry neighborhood fixture who lived all of her 100 years on 29th Street and spent her days gardening and cleaning the sidewalks, died Friday, Oct. 19, at St. Monica Manor in South Philadelphia.

According to her daughter Kathy White, Ms. Burke was celebrated by radio station KYW as one of "40 Local Legends of Philadelphia" in 2006.

Ms. Burke, a widow and mother of three, would spend 35 to 40 hours each week sweeping the sidewalks and picking up trash.

City Council issued a proclamation this year acknowledging Ms. Burke's dedication to her neighborhood. And in 2007, she was named Grays Ferry Community Council Person of the Year.

"It sounds crazy," White said. "But she worked very hard. She absolutely loved the neighborhood and wanted to make it a nicer place."

Ms. Burke was one of nine children of an immigrant Irish family. Her father, who worked at a refining company, died at age 34, when Ms. Burke was less than a month old. Her mother then went to work cleaning office buildings.

By 14, Ms. Burke was working full time at what was then known as Wyeth Drugs, making aspirin and morphine pills. After 20 years, she quit when she married Michael "Chief" Burke, a pipe fitter and Irish immigrant she had met at a church dance. He died in 1976.

Politically active in the Democratic Party, Ms. Burke campaigned for George McGovern and Bill Clinton. She was "really against war," White said, and joined demonstrations in Philadelphia protesting the Vietnam War. More recently, at 95, she traveled to Washington to protest the Iraq war.

Ms. Burke was also a tai chi enthusiast "to keep good balance and stay young."

She attended Mass each Sunday, and could be counted on to take baked goods to friends on the block.

"She just enjoyed life," White said. "She enjoyed people."

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Michael; a daughter, Mary Burke; and a granddaughter.

A viewing will be 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, at Shea Funeral Home, 1449 S. 29th St. A second viewing will be 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church, 29th and Dickinson Streets, with a Funeral Mass at 10:30. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon.

Contact Alfred Lubrano

at 215-854-4969 or

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