Gwendolyn Faison is used to marking milestones. Camden's first female mayor marked another one over the weekend: Her 90th birthday was Saturday.
On Sunday, she celebrated at Camden's Tenth Street Baptist Church, where she has been a member for more than 60 years.
Church members, family, and local politicians honored her. But she told the roughly 80 people assembled Sunday she did not need speeches or honors for her birthday.
"All you have to do is serve," she said.
Those who know her say Faison is a good example of what it means to serve her community.
She served as Camden mayor from December 2000 until January 2010.
She served on Camden City Council for several years in the 1980s and '90s and became its first black female president.
She was the first black city resident to serve on the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders, according to her biography.
On Sunday, the New Jersey General Assembly gave her a citation, and Mayor Dana L. Redd's office wrote her a proclamation.
Her church's dining hall downstairs is named after her - the Hon. Gwendolyn A. Faison Fellowship Hall. Plaques on the walls outside the hall mark some of her accomplishments.
"Especially during a particularly hard time in the city, she was able to restore a level of credibility and hope," said state Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D., Camden).
Faison, dressed in gold from head to toe Sunday, walked down the center aisle of the church as people in the pews sang the hymn "Oh Happy Day."
She remembers trying to hold on to her sliver of sidewalk when a group of white people would walk toward her, and she recalls walking to the back of a bus in her hometown of Clinton, N.C.
Last summer, she walked into town as a new addition to the Sampson County (N.C.) History Museum.
"I felt like the American Idol coming back to North Carolina," she said.
She called Camden "a great little city."
"The leadership must recognize these are good people," she said. "If you show compassion, show them the way, they will make it."
Suzzette Ortiz called Faison her second mother. A music director at the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, Ortiz led five high school choir students in singing several songs for Faison, including one about Nelson Mandela.
"Know that you're our Nelson Mandela," Ortiz said.
Faison helped raise money for the students to go abroad for competitions, including to Prague a few years ago.
Edwin Smith of Pennsauken, who ran security for Faison for five years, recalled a time when she was speaking about the city on the pitcher's mound at Campbell's Field and got so excited she jumped off the mound.
Smith said Faison had never acted her age, especially when showing her enthusiasm for Camden.
"A lot of things she did that were good, some people didn't like it," Smith said. "So we made sure she was safe."
Faison is still in the New Jersey Conference of Mayors as a mayor emeritus, as her business cards say. She lives in a condominium in Cherry Hill and still works with the youth through her church and with community leaders.
"People still say, 'I know you're not the mayor, but –' " she said.
Pastor Tony Evans of Tenth Street Baptist Church said Faison helped bring about "a new day in Camden."
"And guess what? God isn't done with her yet," he said. "90 years young."