Longtime community leader was ‘a mother’ to many

Estelle Wilson died at the age of 75 in November.

Left: Estelle Wilson smiles for a photograph. | KENNY TURNER / COURTESY Right: Estelle Wilson poses for a photo with her niece, Darlette Hughes, at Hughes’ wedding. | KENNY TURNER / COURTESY

Estelle Wilson would often be outside greeting students as they moved into their off-campus apartments at the beginning of each semester. Wilson would also get their parents’ phone numbers so she could call them if their kids were not respecting the neighborhood, said Andrea Swan, Temple’s director of community and neighborhood affairs.

That’s just the type of person Wilson was, Swan said. She was strong-willed, and she never made people guess what was on her mind.

“Miss Estelle meant what she said and she said what she meant,” Swan said. “If she chose to share her thoughts with you, you were never confused.”

Wilson, a community matriarch and vice president of the North Central Special Services District, passed away on Nov. 5 due to respiratory issues. She was 75.

Wilson, who lived on 15th Street near Norris for more than seven decades, was someone who was always there to help her fellow neighbors, Swan said. Wilson served as her block’s captain for nearly 50 years.

“Miss Estelle was everyone’s aunt, or grandmom, or, sister, and she just put everyone at ease,” Swan said. “You knew that you could trust Miss Estelle. You knew that Miss Estelle could be a mentor, and she would be a friend.”

Wilson took in students who struggled with housing insecurity throughout her life, helping those who were struggling financially and could not find places to stay, said Kenny Turner, Wilson’s son-in-law.

“She wasn’t out to make extra money,” said Turner, who is also a board member of the special services district. “She wouldn’t charge $600 for a room. She’d just step in and help when she knew people needed it.”

“A couple of them are in their 40s now, but they still kept in contact with her and they call her grandma because she was like a mother to them,” said Tanya Turner, Wilson’s 59-year-old daughter.

Even while in the hospital, Wilson was still in touch with her community and knew what was going on in the neighborhood, Kenny Turner said.

“She couldn’t really talk, but she worked out ‘Page Street … house … eggs,’ and turns out, she knew that someone’s house was egged a few blocks away,” Tanya Turner said.

“She’s always been involved with the concern of the neighborhood, she was a leader,” said Greg Bonaparte, a 63-year-old former neighbor of Wilson who now lives on Venango Street near 16th.

Under Wilson’s leadership, members of the community have organized a yearly block party on Labor Day to improve the neighborhood’s relationship with students since the early 2000s, said Bill Bergman, Temple’s vice president for public affairs.

“She got the campus police to help sponsor it for the students who lived in the area, and for the neighbors,” Bergman said. “She thought it was a way for people to meet and understand people.”

“She showed that neighbors and Temple students could exist, and they could get together and it could work out well,” he added.

To this day, current students on Wilson’s block love her, Tayna Turner said.

“She was a mother to them, and they respected her,” she said. “She’s going to be missed. It’s a big loss for the community.”

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