IF TWO youngsters were walking along a street in Southwest Philadelphia and passed Rice Croft and one of them failed to say hello to him, he would get a quick reprimand from the other.

"Did you say hello to Mr. Croft?" one boy would demand of the other. And the friend would instantly remedy the slight, inadvertent as it might have been.

That's how well Rice Croft was respected in his neighborhood. Young and old held him in the highest regard.

There was no doubt a spiritual aura about Rice that everyone recognized. He was devoted to his religion and encouraged all members of his extended family to follow his lead.

Rice Croft, a full-blooded American Indian who grew up on a farm in Emanuel County, Ga., an ordained Baptist deacon, a 35-year employee of the United Container Corp. and an Army veteran of World War II, died on Dec. 6. He was 86.

He was born in Summit, Ga., one of the 12 children of Willie and Lula Croft. His father, known as "Head Cross," was the first Indian landowner in Emanuel County. He was a member of the Cherokee Mohawk Tribe.

Rice, known as "Buddy," worked on the family farm until he enlisted in the Army.

After the service, he moved to Philadelphia, where he met and married Henrietta Harris, in 1952.

He worked as a machine operator for United Container, and in his 35 years there never missed a day of work.

While living in West Philadelphia be became a member of Loyal Baptist Church. After moving to Southwest Philadelphia, he joined Enon Chapel Baptist Church under the Rev. Roy M. Maddrey.

He was ordained a deacon there.

He later helped his brother-in-law, the late Rev. Herman Harris Sr., establish the Harris Chapel Baptist Church at 735 Fairmount Ave.

In 1995, he became a member of the Church of the Redeemer Baptist Church, 24th and Dickinson streets, under the leadership of his pastor/son Wayne E. Croft Sr.

He would return home after church and proclaim, "That boy really preached today!"

He also enjoyed hearing his daughters singing gospel songs at family gatherings.

Rice cherished his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

As soon as they were old enough, he would teach them to sing "I Will Trust In The Lord Till I Die."

He also is survived by two other sons, John and Rice Jr.; four daughters, Rose, Arlene, Doreen and Liz; a sister, Edna Lawson; 26 grandchildren; 35 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 57th and Race streets. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Fernwood Cemetery. *