IRENE BOND-WATKINS loved children. How do we know? She had 51 foster kids over a 30-year span.
And one thing can be certain, they were not only loved and well-cared-for, they were fed. Because Irene was a fabulous cook, in the Southern tradition, and there was always fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and delicious cakes and pies on the table.
After she died last Friday, her family wrote: "No longer will the kitchen that fed so many friends and family be opened. No longer will her prayers and advice be given to so many."
Irene, retired head chef at the Philadelphia Marriott, where she was employed for 25 years, an ordained evangelist, former missionary, public-school aide and active community leader, was 68 and lived in West Philadelphia.
Irene was born in Lumber City, Ga., to Robert and Lizzie Pearl Chieves. She received her early education there and came to Philadelphia in the '60s. She started at the Marriott shortly after her arrival.
In the early '80s, she married Samuel Watkins. He died in 2001.
After her retirement from the Marriott, she went to work as a reading and lunchroom aide at the William B. Hanna School, 58th and Media streets.
In 1980, she was ordained an evangelist at the Jameson School of Ministry in Philadelphia, where she studied the gospel under Dr. Howard O. Jameson.
She served as a missionary for two summers in Puerto Rico.
She was associate minister for seven years under the Rev. Dr. Maggie R.L. Mallory at the Third Christian Church, and for eight years she served as associate minister of the United In Christ Christian Church.
In later years, she was active with the Riverview Presbyterian Church, under the Rev. Foster C. Dryden Jr., in Drexel Hill.
"She was a great prayer warrior and a prayer partner to many," her family said.
Irene was also a member and held a number of offices in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Household of Ruth. She also worked with an organization that served the families of incarcerated people.
She was active on the 1200 block of N. 60th Street, where she was always available to help her neighbors.
"She was there for people who needed a place to stay or something to eat or anything else," said her niece Renee Minton. "She was very loving and unselfish."
Irene is survived by three sons, William and James Bond and Anthony Smith; a stepdaughter, Marlene Fisher; a stepson, Audie Watkins; three brothers, Luscious, Arthur and Lonnie Chieves; and eight grandchildren.