Steven J. Kameika, 49, of Germantown, a mortgage banker who became a teacher and then returned to the world of business, died of anaplastic thyroid cancer Dec. 13 at home.
Mr. Kameika, the father of two girls adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, learned in August that he had the rare and aggressive cancer.
A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Kameika grew up in Cranford, N.J., and in 1981 earned a bachelor's degree in finance and economics from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J.
Soon after, he embarked on a financial career in New York, where he met his future wife, Liz Meyers, at a Patti Smith concert in Manhattan.
Shortly after they married in 2000, with his wife's support he quit his job as a mortgage banker with Madison Home Equity on Long Island, N.Y., to join a New York City program that offered professionals a tuition-free master's degree in education if they agreed to teach in underperforming public schools.
Teaching sounded like just the change he needed, Mr. Kameika told a reporter for SmartMoney magazine in 2001. Not only did it feed what he called his "Peter Pan syndrome" - "I didn't want to grow up," he said - but it also allowed him to work for a worthwhile cause.
For three years, he taught elementary grades in Mohegan School in the Bronx while earning his master's from City University of New York.
Teaching was more of a challenge than he anticipated, he told the reporter. He thought if he did not demand that his students behaved, he would gain their respect. The strategy failed, and the class was so unruly he could hardly get through a lesson. Eventually he gained control of the classroom and began to reward students with candy, homework-free days, and trips to the vegetable garden he had converted from a garbage-strewn lot next to the school.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kameika and his wife were moved to adopt from Sierra Leone after learning of the plight of thousands of children orphaned by a long civil war.
In 2003, a year after Mr. Kameika and his wife began their efforts to adopt, they moved to Philadelphia because they believed it would be a better place to raise a family.
They bought an Italianate single home in the Tulpehocken section of Germantown, and Mr. Kameika returned to his financial career, taking a job in 2003 with Arlington Capital. He later worked for Tribeca Lending Corp. before opening a Philadelphia office for Madison Home Equity this year.
The couple - who had been trying for years to adopt, sometimes coming close - were featured in a February 2005 Inquirer article about their and other families' efforts to adopt Sierra Leone's orphans.
In March 2005, they flew to Sierra Leone, hired lawyers, and spent more than a month setting up an adoption. Five months later, Meyers returned to Africa and came back home with sisters Effy, then 3, and Fudia, then 6.
Mr. Kameika doted on his new family. "Being a dad was his favorite job," his wife said.
He enjoyed popular music, golf, and hikes in the Wissahickon with his dog.
"We lived in Philadelphia for five short years, but he touched so many people," his wife said.
Friends plan to install a bench and a plaque in Fairmount Park in his honor, and another plaque is planned for the front garden of Concord School House Museum in Germantown.
In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Kameika is survived by his mother, Estelle, and a brother.
Burial was private. A life celebration will be scheduled for January.