The Rev. Anthony Di Benedetto Jr., 81, of North Philadelphia, longtime pastor of Geiger Memorial Brethren Church, died Saturday, Nov. 26, after being taken to Temple University Hospital.

He preached on Thanksgiving, but collapsed while getting ready for bed the following night. He was pronounced dead at Temple early Saturday. The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said the death was not being considered a coroner's case.

"Pastor Ben," as he was known, was born at home in North Philadelphia to Louise and Anthony Di Benedetto Sr.

He began attending Geiger Memorial at age 14, and was active in Scout Troop 298 attached to the church. He achieved the status of Life Scout, and became a member of the Order of the Arrow.

As a teen, he accepted Christ at a Schuylkill Branch Christian Endeavor Summer Conference.

He graduated from Northeast High School for Boys and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Eastern Baptist College, and a bachelor of divinity degree from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church in West Philadelphia.

He also completed 15 semester hours towards a master of arts degree in counseling at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

In 1958, he married Joan Elizabeth Gibbs, and they had three sons. "For over 58 years, they labored and toiled together, serving the Lord wherever they went," said the couple's son, Paul.

In 1962, he was ordained by the Church of the Brethren. That same year, he became assistant pastor at Geiger Memorial. In 1967, he became pastor and served in that role for 49 years.

In the late 1960s, when other churches near Geiger moved or closed, Pastor Di Benedetto and Geiger stayed put.

"When I was called to pastor, I was called to minister to whoever lives in our neighborhood," he told his family. He insisted on living with his congregants in North Philadelphia.

"He loved his people, and was always willing to serve them in any way possible, and was well loved in return," said his son. "He strived to reach out to the poor, sick, and lonely. He always gave willingly and abundantly, holding nothing back."

Under his tenure, the church initiated a monthly community food distribution program and additional help at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

He served as 21-year chaplain for the 39th Police District. "He could be seen at roll call or doing ride-alongs with police," his son said. "He was there."

Drawing on his scouting experience, he founded and directed Camp Agape, an evangelistic outreach to inner-city youth, and Campers-in-Christ, a weekend retreat ministry.

He also founded and ran the Master's Table, a weekly breakfast at the church for the homeless and those struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by sons Timothy and Mark; eight grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; two sisters; three nieces; and a nephew.

Services were Monday, Dec. 5.

Donations may be made to Geiger Memorial Brethren Church, 2543 W. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19132.

610-313-8102