Zelma Bynum Frisby, 92, of East Mount Airy, a retired welfare case manager and hotel proprietor, died Sunday, June 2, of dementia at the Terrace in Chestnut Hill.
Mrs. Frisby worked as a benefits clerk for the Veterans Administration in Philadelphia and then became a case manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare before retiring in the 1980s.
Along with her husband, Charles, she also participated in several real estate and business ventures, including as proprietor of the Attucks Hotel in South Philadelphia for 27 years ending in 2001.
The hotel at 15th and Catharine Streets was popular in the 1940s and 1950s with black entertainers and athletes who weren’t welcome at other Philadelphia hotels. Notable Attucks guests included singers Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and baseball slugger Hank Aaron.
By the time the Frisbys became involved in the mid-1950s, the hotel provided accommodations for African Americans of all professions who couldn’t get lodging in Center City.
The couple’s daughter, Jarma Jaye Frisby, recalled spending time in the hotel as a child in the late 1950s while her mother did the bookkeeping and staffed the front desk.
When the property changed hands in 1975, the Frisbys stopped working there. It is now home to the Universal Institute Charter School.
Born in Lexington, S.C., Mrs. Frisby was the daughter of Willie and Bertha Summers Bynum. The youngest of 10, she was known as “Baby Bynum.” The family moved to North Philadelphia when Mrs. Frisby was 6. She graduated from Germantown High School in 1945.
In 1956, she married Charles Frisby. They were together for 48 years until his death in 2004. The couple had two daughters. Raising them, Mrs. Frisby liked to say, was “the best job on Earth.”
Mrs. Frisby sewed much of her own clothing and that of her daughters. In addition, she was a skilled cook and baker. “Her sour cream pound cake is legendary and almost impossible to duplicate,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Frisby’s passions were family, friendship, and faith. She was happiest at family cookouts and holiday meals.
She and her husband traveled across the country by train, and to Hong Kong, South Korea, and Hawaii. They took an annual jazz cruise and excursions to Atlantic City.
In the 1960s, Mrs. Frisby joined Christ Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Germantown. She was a member of the altar guild and led the women’s fellowship group.
Mrs. Frisby spent her last six years at the Terrace, an assisted-living community in Chestnut Hill. She made many friends there.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by daughter Dawn Frisby Byers; a sister; two brothers; and many nieces and nephews.
A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Monday, June 10, will be followed an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at Christ Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 61 W. Tulpehocken St. Burial is private.