There was nothing overly spectacular about Sabina Rose O'Donnell.

She wasn't a whiz kid bound for the Ivy League. Nor was she a techie genius creating must-have apps. And you wouldn't necessarily peg her as a change-the-world visionary just by looking at her.

No, Sabina was just Sabina, a wisp of a woman with legs to die for, someone who lived to dance and bike, who loved plants and animals, and who got simple enjoyment out of waiting tables at PYT, the popular eatery at the Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties.

Sure, Sabina had dynamite serving skills, said Tommy Updegrove, her boss there.

But yet, everybody knew there was something more about Sabina.

In simple daily encounters, she enriched the lives of the people she came across just by living her own life.

I know that sounds trite, but in an era where connection is defined by how many tweets you send, not by how many friends you actually spend time with, Sabina was blessed with an invaluable gift. She lived all of her 20 years as an exuberant example of how to enjoy life.

Which was why, when some sicko raped, beat, and strangled her last week, it devastated the entire neighborhood.

But it is a credit to Sabina that just as quickly, in their grief, the community joined together - even those who didn't know her - to raise money for her burial expenses and a permanent memorial, and for the celebration of her life Thursday at the park she loved.

A perfect day

The vibe was alive at Liberty Lands Park at Third and Poplar - more picnic than memorial. Just how it was supposed to be. The sun paired with a reassuring breeze on a perfect day. Speakers pumped out dance music while lots of twentysomethings ate, hugged, and actually talked to each other minus smart phones. Some made a protective circle around Sabina's family members, who seemed to appreciate the comfort of friends. Animals were part of the social scene, getting plenty of love from the crowd.

And many brought plants, mostly mini-rose bushes, to honor Sabina Rose.

The Franklin Learning Center grad had lived just blocks away. She'd worried about the neighborhood's becoming too gentrified, her friends said.

"There was such a surge of new neighbors who didn't know what this neighborhood was like," said Toshiro Kamihira, 19, a coworker. "As more houses came up and people moved in, people seemed to become more secluded."

But if there was one person who could bring folks out of their shells, it was Sabina.

"Very, very chatty," said Marci Prester, PYT's manager, remembering Sabina with a smile.

And because she had done modeling for some boutiques in the area, it was hard not to know who she was.

There's Sabina, joyful in a full-toothed grin. Sabina close-up, her eyes locked in a pensive gaze. Sabina face posed in a pout, wearing short-shorts and a coonskin cap, the vision of a true urban pioneer.

"She was young, but at the same time she was an old soul," said her friend Monica Montalvo. "She was always there for people."

Vibrant spirit

I didn't know Sabina. But like everyone else, I felt as though there was something familiar about her.

"We were just saying that," said Vanessa Hall, who went to PYT to meet a girlfriend for lunch, but decided to come to the park for Sabina's memorial instead. "I didn't know her personally, but we were just saying she looked so vibrant and alive in her pictures."

And it wasn't because of youth. Spirit knows no age. Sabina, dancer that she was, reminds me of a woman I met at a wedding reception for my girlfriend's daughter last weekend.

Sporting a clingy red dress, cut low in the back and front, 80-year-old Micky outdanced everybody, with such a spirit of joy, I couldn't stop thinking about her.

It struck me then that a life that connects through simple joys is really the best legacy you can leave, no matter what you do for a living - or how much time you have.

Sabina knew that.

"I don't know that she concentrated on one aspiration," Montalvo said. "I just know that she wanted to live each day like it was her last."

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com. Read her work: http://go.philly.com/annette