OLIVIA MATILDA SANDERS, a daughter of the South, brought her religious faith, her cooking skills and her deft needlework to Philadelphia at an early age.
Her fried chicken was spectacular and her peach cobbler outstanding, but she was also known to family and friends as a quilt- maker whose products were coveted by all who saw them.
She never made a dime quilting; all her work went to family and friends, or were donated to various charitable enterprises.
She could sit for six to eight hours at a time making her quilts - but never on Sunday. Her religious faith forbade that.
Olivia Matilda Sanders, who did domestic work for private families in Philadelphia and the suburbs for 55 years and was a devoted matriarch of a family that grew to 49 descendants, died Dec. 19. She was 96 and was living in Elizabethville, Pa., but had spent most of her life in West Philadelphia and Mount Airy.
For the past five years, Olivia got to see large chunks of the United States. She was living with her son, Gaylord, and his family, and they lived spring and summer in Dauphin County, then escaped in their mobile home to warmer climates for the winter, including Florida, Arizona and Texas.
Olivia was born in Edenton, N.C., to Joseph Harrell and the former Hattie White. She received her early education in Edenton before coming to Philadelphia.
She joined Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. She became a stewardess, choir member and member of the cooking ministry, sharing her Southern-inspired recipes with the church as well as her expanding family.
"Every time I eat fried chicken, I think of my mother," said her daughter, Roseanne Coston-McHugh. "You have to go to the South to find the kind of fried chicken she made. You can't find it in the North."
Olivia and her late husband, Robert Woodrow Coston, had eight children. They were married on July 25, 1937. She later married the late Thomas Sanders on Aug. 3, 1984.
People interested in obtaining one of her quilts would often provide her with the fabric. Her artful designs came directly from her imagination. She didn't copy anything from books or magazines.
"She was a kind, caring woman, always willing to help anyone," her daughter said. "She could be very funny, but she also spoke her mind. You always knew where you stood with her."
Olivia was a matron in the Eastern Star Deborah Chapter No. 5.
Besides her son and daughter, she is survived by three other sons, Thomas, Albert and Nathaniel Coston; two other daughters, Catherine Edwards and Hattie Saulsberry; 15 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by another son, Robert Coston.
Services: 11 a.m. Monday at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 410 S. 6th St. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester.