DARLENE SMITH and her husband, William, watched with a mixture of pride and concern at what was going on in their South Philadelphia neighborhood.
Abandoned properties were being bought and fixed up, and condos were springing up where empty lots once stood.
The problem, as the Smiths saw it, was that open space was being gobbled up rapidly. Pretty soon there would be nothing but concrete and brick.
Darlene, a longtime educator, and her husband had lived in that neighborhood for more than 30 years, and they felt that something needed to be done to save some space.
They hit upon the idea of creating a park, where neighbors could get together, relax and watch their children and trees and flowers grow.
Thus was born the Julian Abele Community Park at 22nd and Carpenter streets, named for the prominent Philadelphia-born African-American architect. The Smiths were instrumental in getting the park created.
Darlene I. Branch Smith, who served as president of the Friends of the Julian Abele Park for three years, a retired 35-year teacher and administrator of the Camden school system, devoted community leader and churchwoman, died Nov. 19 of cancer at age 65.
The Smiths' efforts to create the park were featured on the WHYY radio program "Coming of Age" in February 2010.
Darlene was born in Philadelphia to Ernest A. Branch and Irene Reel. She graduated from Overbrook High School in 1966, and went on to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in elementary education and received a bachelor's degree. She obtained a master of science degree from Rutgers University in 1974.
She went to work as an elementary-school teacher in Camden in 1970. After 35 years, illness forced her to retire in 2005.
Darlene was a founding member of the Friends of Madison Square, a community organization consisting of residents of the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Madison Square in the Schuylkill neighborhood of South Philadelphia.
The organization was devoted to gardening and community improvement. In 2011, it won an award in the City Gardens Contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Its work was also featured in US Airways magazine.
Darlene was a member of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, and was devoted to developing community gardens as well as working in her home garden.
Darlene was an active member of Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. She served as a junior usher, Sunday School teacher, member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and the Young Adults Ministry, and on the Finance Committee.
She was a founding member of the Charles Albert Tindley Committee and the Middle Adults Committee. She was also the church's first historian. Most recently, she was chairwoman of the Staff Parish Relations Committee.
In 1990, she was initiated into the Quaker City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Besides her husband, she is survived by a brother, Gregory.