For many years, children in Bridesburg knew that it was either Miss Jackie’s way or the highway.
Now, the two choices could be one and the same as “Miss Jackie’s Way” could soon be a real stretch of highway, if organizers of a new petition get their wish.
And already, there are 540 signatures (and counting) on an online petition to acknowledge the 4600 block of Richmond Street as “Miss Jackie’s Way” in honor of longtime fixture of the Bridesburg Recreation Center, Jacqueline DeSanctis.
“It’s embarrassing, in a lot of ways,” said a humble DeSanctis during an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
In 2008, DeSanctis celebrated her 50th year of service to the Bridesburg Recreation Center — a full three years after she retired.
In fact, she still works five days a week at the center, usually from nine in the morning to nine at night, and draws no salary at all.
“My job is my hobby, and it’s been good to me,” she said.
In some ways, DeSanctis, whom seemingly everyone in the neighborhood knows as “Miss Jackie,” has helped raise much of the Bridesburg community. Since 1959, DeSanctis has been working at the Bridesburg Rec, leading children’s programs, organizing events for area youth, and making sure local kids had something to do instead of getting into trouble.
“When young people marry, they tend to stay here. I have grandkids of some of my original kids,” said DeSanctis.
That long legacy of service is why Lisa Dickson, a Quakertown resident organizing the petition effort, said DeSanctis attended her mother’s memorial after she died.
Dickson was shocked that DeSanctis remembered her mother.
“It shows that each of her ‘kids’ holds a place in her heart and this ‘kid’ probably hadn’t seen her since the late sixties, but still she was there paying her respects,” said Dickson in an email.
In DeSanctis’ office at the recreation center, her memories are on display as the room is filled with hundreds of photos, awards and mementos of her years of service. Children smile in photos next to crayon drawings that read “We Love Miss Jackie” and in the middle of the collage, DeSanctis sits at her desk, always prepared to answer the phone.
When she started the job, she had planned on being there for only a few years, but she came to love the community, even though she resides in Torresdale.
Her husband and son live even further away — her husband is in Maine and her son recently moved to Hawaii for a new job — but that’s another story.
And, she said, the arrangement works. She’s happy and she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
In fact, she heard that 25 years ago, the city wanted to transfer her to a new neighborhood. But residents are said to have fought the plan.
“The neighborhood wouldn’t let them,” she said with a grin. “True or not, I heard it through the gossip line … I love what I do.”
And it seems the neighborhood loves her back.
“We love Miss Jackie,” said Joseph Gracki, 56, who was a child in DeSanctis’ programs as a youth. “You can’t come to this park without thinking of Miss Jackie.”
As Gracki spoke (he was at the center as a favor to a friend) DeSanctis interrupted to ask, “How’s the baby?”
She’s still that close with local families that she remembers the names of their grandchildren.
“She’s always been so good to the kids,” said Gracki.
As she walked outside the center, the ever humble DeSanctis brushed aside questions asking how she would feel when showing up to work and parking her car — which has a license plate that reads “CEO of Bridesburg” — on a street that’s been commemorated for her.
“I don’t do this because I want flowers or gifts,” said DeSanctis. “I like to stay busy and this is how I stay busy. I do it because I love the kids and I love the community.”
Dickson planned to send her petition to City Council on Sept. 6. The proposal would not rename the street, instead, it would see a plaque installed along the roadway dedicating the 4600 block of Richmond Street as “Miss Jackie’s Way.”
“I know it’s not much, but there’s something very ‘Bridesburg’ about this,” wrote Dickson. “Our roots have taught us, it isn’t about money, it’s about love, and this is our way of showing her — we appreciate her.”
For more information or to sign the online petition, visit http://www.petitiononline.com/MsJackie/petition.html
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org