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Elsie Wise, civic leader, founder of West Powelton Steppers & Drum Squad, dies at 92

Mrs. Wise, a community leader whose civic organization advocated for housing, founded the West Powelton Steppers & Drum Squad. She died Dec. 2, 2020.

Elsie Mauldin Wise
Elsie Mauldin WiseRead moreCourtesy of the Wise Family

Elsie Mauldin Wise had recently retired from her state job when two teenagers came to her with a problem. There was too much fighting among high school girls in their Powelton neighborhood.

Not long after, Mrs. Wise heard two boys next door rehearsing on a keyboard and drum for their church choir. “She asked them to come outside and play a few beats for the girls,” said her grandson, Antoine Mapp.

Thus, the West Powelton Steppers & Drum Squad was formed nearly 30 years ago on June 25, 1991. Since then, her drum squad has become the official drum line of the Philadelphia 76ers and the entire drill team has performed in Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach, and at Disney’s Universal Studios in Florida.

Elsie Lena Mauldin Wise, a longtime West Philadelphia community leader who worked for the state of Pennsylvania for 30 years, first as a caseworker for the Department of Human Services, and later as administrative secretary for the Auditor General’s Office, died Wednesday, Dec. 2, of congestive heart failure at her Philadelphia home.

She was considered “everybody’s grandmother,” Mapp said, and the drum squad she led drew countless young men off the streets, where some had been tempted to deal drugs.

“She kept me out of the graveyard and kept me out the jail cell,” Mapp said. Now 40, he leads the drill group, where he began playing drums at 11.

Long before the drill team, Mrs. Wise, a lifelong West Powelton resident, was dedicated to serving the neighborhood.

She was an executive director of the West Powelton Concerned Community Council and a former board member of the People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corp. She was also a Democratic Committee person for 60 years.

“Her energy and passion for the West Powelton area was not surpassed by anyone,” said Bernadine Hawes, chair of the community development group.

In 2015, People’s Emergency Center’s CDC named Bigham Leatherberry Wise Place, its new affordable housing apartment building at 4226-32 Powelton Ave., for Mrs. Wise and two other community organizers, Helen Bigham and John Leatherberry.

“She was one of those unsung heroes,” Hawes said. “She seemed to have had a vision of the changes that were coming.” She was interested in securing the community by acquiring affordable housing, before the neighborhood began to change.

Mapp said the West Powelton drill team used to have 100 members, including adult coaches. Now there are only 33 members: 16 drummers, 14 steppers, and three staffers.

A lot of the former members “got forced out because their families could no longer afford their homes,” Mapp said. “Now the whole neighborhood is gentrified and it’s not the same.”

Mrs. Wise was known for taking holiday meals to the firefighters at Engine 5, Ladder 6, at 43rd and Market Streets, and she teamed up with Penn Presbyterian Medical Center to host Christmas parties for children.

She also enjoyed having her family over for holiday meals.

“All of our holiday dinners were there because she loved to celebrate all the occasions,” whether Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter, said her granddaughter Tijuana Singleton.

“She loved all the decorations and going to Reading Terminal to buy everything we needed to prepare dinners.”

Mrs. Wise was born in 1928 in Philadelphia to Edwin and Flossie Mauldin, the second of three children.

She was raised in Powelton — in the same house where she lived until her death — and met her future husband when she attended Sulzberger Junior High. After graduating from West Philadelphia High, she married Louis Allen Wise in 1946.

Mrs. Wise worked at Wanamaker Department Store before her employment with the state. She retired from the Auditor General’s Office in 1991.

She and Mr. Wise, a former Campbell Soup Co. employee, were married for 68 years, until his death in 2014. She was a member of Greater Faith Baptist Church, in Powelton.

In addition to her grandson and granddaughter, Mrs. Wise is survived by a daughter, Patricia Wise Knox; a son, Aaron Wise; a godson whom she raised, Kenneth Thorpe; three other grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a host of other relatives and friends.

A viewing is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at National Temple Worship Center, 4100 W. Girard Ave. There will be an additional viewing from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, immediately followed by funeral services. Burial is at Rolling Green Memorial Park in West Chester.