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UpSide Classic: South Philadelphia’s living legend helps with meals and a place to stay

She helped raise more than 80 children.

Frances Poppa of South Philadelphia, helped raise more than 80 children at some point in their lives.
Frances Poppa of South Philadelphia, helped raise more than 80 children at some point in their lives.Read

This article originally appeared in the Daily News on Oct. 6, 1982.

Frances Poppa — or “Aunt Fran,” as she is affectionately known — is something of a living legend in South Philadelphia.

Hungry and need a meal? See Aunt Fran. Out in the streets with no place to sleep? See Aunt Fran. Sick and unable to get out of the house? Aunt Fran will come to see you.

But perhaps this chronic Good Samaritan is best known for her unselfish love of children. Legend has it that Aunt Fran, 66, has helped raise over 80 children at some point in their lives. Many of them, Aunt Fran said, were left with her by their mothers, who could not raise them on their own.

Frances Poppa is one of the winners in the Daily News/Century IV Brotherly Love Contest. She and nine others will receive Century IV medallions at a special City Hall ceremony during William Penn Heritage Week (Oct. 23-31).

“For 20 years, that’s all I did ... take care of people,” Aunt Fran said. " I’d take care of old people, sick people, crazy people. ...

"It started when my husband [John, a bartender] was still alive. Whoever came by, for whatever reason, we would try to take care of them. I don’t have a job. I just take care of people. Whatever the Lord provides, I try to use it to do good.

“I have children all over the country,” Aunt Fran said proudly. " I raised about 80 of them at different times. A lot of them I raised from the time they were babies -- infants."

Two of Aunt Fran’s “adopted” sons — Peter Mennese, 32, and Dennis Aulett, 22 — still share her South Philadelphia rowhouse. The woman said she took them in when they were “less than a year old.”

Aunt Fran said the courts have never given her problems about raising so many children on her own. In fact, she noted, several of the infants have been referred to her through the courts.

“They don’t complain as long as I’m not making any money on it,” Aunt Fran said. “I do it as a personal thing. I pay for everything. I just don’t think that anybody who is needy should have to go wanting.”