JACQUELINE DeSANCTIS worked at the Bridesburg Recreation Center for 45 years, retired in 2005, immediately returned as a volunteer and has continued to be its full-time heart and soul ever since.
"I don't think anyone ever told her to leave her office," said Joseph Slabinski III, owner of Slabinski Funeral Home of Bridesburg, who was master of ceremonies recently when city officials renamed a block of Richmond Street in front of the rec center, "Miss Jackie's Way."
"Who is going to kick her out?" Slabinski asked, laughing. "The rec-center director is not going to tell her to move because he's not crazy. She's solid gold."
She's also tough as steel when she has to be. "She's very short in stature," Slabinski said, "but looking up at the bigger, ornery teenagers, she stares them down, eyeballs them until they all cower and slink off into the sunset when she lays down the law.
"My joke at the street renaming ceremony was, 'It was always Jackie's Way or the highway.' "
Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis, who oversees the city's Department of Parks & Recreation, said, "I think it's about Bridesburg and her deep emotional commitment to what the rec center stands for in the neighborhood.
"When you go to Bridesburg, there's one way in and one way out," DiBerardinis said. "The first time I went there, I said, 'Man, I'm in a different place.'
"It is so sealed up - you have I-95 and the Delaware River; you have the old arsenal and [the former] Allied Chemical plant. The way Bridesburg's tucked in there with those barriers, the rec center feels like a hub for the neighborhood."
DiBerardinis knows why DeSanctis was dubbed "Queen of Bridesburg" by neighbors who campaigned for two years to get the block renamed "Miss Jackie's Way" in her honor.
"There's this buzz, this sense of excitement in Bridesburg rec," DiBerardinis said. "There's a spirit she brings that connects to the spirit in the neighborhood. It's that caring, that love for the neighborhood that binds her to the place and binds the place to her. She makes the place sing."
Much as she loves her lifelong job, DiBerardinis said, the 75-year-old DeSanctis didn't love her 15 minutes of fame.
"She's shy," DiBerardinis said. "When she's in that building, she's in her domain and, boy, she's the boss. But get her out of that rec center and put her in the limelight, she gets a bit jumpy."
DiBerardinis said that DeSanctis' thank-you speech was short and sweet. "She said something like, 'I can't believe you're doing this. Let's go have coffee.' "
Sal DeSanctis, Miss Jackie's husband of 48 years, said his wife told her neighbors, "If you folks think you need me, you're mistaken. I need you more than you need me."
Sal, who retired after 30 years in the Parks & Recreation Department, said his wife has an extraordinary bond with Bridesburg residents because they are "hard working, blue-collar Philadelphians who fit into her no-nonsense, self-reliant philosophy of 'Put on your big-boy pants and get to work instead of crying in your beer.'
"This is a stable community where the idea of keeping your children under control and giving them the right set of values fits her own idea of integrity."
Sal correctly predicted that his publicity-shy wife would not respond to a Daily News interview request.
"After church," he said yesterday, "she'll go over to the rec center to catch up on paperwork. Said she likes the quiet. She's a funny girl."