SISTER CAROL KECK, a humble, self-effacing nun who came to Philadelphia in 1970 as a parochial-school teacher and principal and turned into a legendary community leader and anti-drug campaigner, died May 15 of renal failure. She was 66 and was living in Memphis.
Sister Carol became executive director of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, an environmental center on Norris Square Park, a predominantly Latino neighborhood, in 1987.
Under her leadership, the project expanded to include a garden program that established dozens of gardens across the city, gardens that provided not only beauty in otherwise shattered urban landscapes, but also education, cross-cultural sharing and low-priced food.
Fresh produce from those urban gardens was often the first fresh food that neighborhood people were able to buy.
Other projects included a school program in which local children could participate in hands-on lessons about the environment and their Latino - largely Puerto Rican - culture. There were also after-school and summer activities to keep local children away from negative influences.
Sister Carol sat next to former President George H.W. Bush in the gym of St. Boniface Church at 2nd and Norris streets in May 1992, and told him what her neighborhood needed.
Bush had arrived in Philadelphia after visiting devastated areas of Los Angeles in the wake of riots there.
She told the president that there were conditions in Philadelphia similar to what led to the riots in LA.
"The reason we didn't have them [riots] is because of community cooperation with the police and what the numerous community groups have been doing to build up our community," she told the president.
At about that time, Sister Carol was instrumental in getting federal "Weed and Seed" funds in an area of North Philadelphia between Berks and Westmorland streets, and Front and 5th streets.
The federal aid was aimed at weeding out drug dealers and other criminals and seeding social- service and self-help programs.
Sister Carol wasn't averse to getting out into the streets herself to battle the drug dealers.
In the early '90s, she took down the license numbers of suburban drug users who drove into the city to score their drugs. She then found their addresses, obviously through police sources, although she wouldn't say, and sent them sharp letters urging them not to come to Philadelphia to buy drugs.
Besides the president, Sister Carol often met with mayors, governors and other public officials to urge support of her organization's efforts.
Sister Carol received a number of honors for her work, including the governor's "Communities That Care" award, the city's "Leadership Award," and Cabrini College's "Cabrini Day Award" in 1995.
Sister Carol was born in Knoxville, Tenn. She attended Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga. She entered the novitiate of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and studied at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
She taught at parochial schools in Charleston, S.C., and Tampa, Fla., before moving to Philadelphia and teaching at St. Boniface school on Diamond Street near Hancock. She later became the principal.
While at St. Boniface, she served as a volunteer for the Norris Square Neighborhood Project. In 1983, she left St. Boniface and undertook a number of educational positions elsewhere in the country. But she returned to Philadelphia at the urging of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project's Board of Directors to take over as executive director.
"In the midst of the sea of all the recognition and attention she received during her more than 17 years as executive director of NSNP, Sister Carol remained humble," her order said in a statement. "One would never know upon meeting her that she frequently met mayors and governors or had shared the spotlight with presidents.
"Sister Carol was more interested in attending to others, especially children and her fellow School Sisters of Notre Dame."
In her final years, she returned home to Tennessee, where she was surrounded by family and close friends.
She is survived by two sisters, Diane Bridges and Linda Keck, and two brothers, Ralph and Joseph Keck.
Services: Were today in Baltimore.
Contributions may be made to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, 6401 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21212, or the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, 2141 N. Howard St., Philadelphia 19122. *