Catherine Russell Minnis was a church organist and community activist.
She died Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. She was 94.
She was born Feb. 2, 1918 in Philadelphia to the late Charles Russell and Elizabeth Tribbett-Russell.
As a young child, Minnis displayed a talent for music and learned to play the piano. She was educated in the Philadelphia public school system and graduated from West Philadelphia High School. She continued her education at Temple University, where she majored in music.
The gift of music led to her husband of 51 years, the late Milton A. Minnis, whom she met while playing for a spiritual singing group. She was the pianist and he was the tenor. The couple had eight children, Charles Sr., Salahudeen, Francis, Eric, Vera, Catherine, Dorothy and Elizabeth.
Coming of age during World War II, she was employed by the U.S. government at the Philadelphia Naval Base. In the 1960’s, she became a crossing guard after two of her children were struck by a car while going to school.
During the 1970’s, Minnis became a school bus matron with the Philadelphia School District. She was last employed as a non-teaching assistant at University City High School, where she was known as “Grandma Dynamite.”
She served as the organist or pianist for many church choirs throughout the Philadelphia area including Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, Bethel A.M.E. Church in Lansdowne, Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church, Bethany Baptist Church, Concord Baptist Church, Our Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church, where she formed the first African-American gospel choir in a Catholic church. She was also the organist for the Fellowship Christian Church, where she was ordained as an elder of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There she served faithfully as the minister of music, retiring at the age of 90.
Minnis was a social and religious activist. In the Christian Church and in the United Christ of Church denominations, her participation in the Christian Equality Movement helped to open the doors of their ministry to women of color.
As a young adult, Minnis protested for jobs and education on Lancaster Avenue. During her middle years, she marched against segregation.
Her community work included co-founding Habitat for Humanity, West Philadelphia to rehabilitate the houses on her block, founding the Cathedral Park Association to fight for her neighborhood, taking kids to camp and starting afterschool programs. In her later years, she encouraged the development of Park West Town in West Philadelphia.
In the area of politics, Minnis served as the Democratic committee person for the 44th Ward, where she helped to elect mayors, councilpersons, state representatives, congressman, governors and presidents.
She found solace and sisterhood in a social club named the Lucky Ten Social Club, also known as the Love and Trust Choir. The group was recognized by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the oldest African-American social clubs in America.
In addition to her children, Minnis is survived by her daughters-in-law, Deanna, Safia and Aliyah; son-in-law, Billy; special son, Michael Grey; grandchildren, Leslie, Shaye, Naima, Charles Jr., Adnan, Leilah, Jessica and Fadjr; great-grandchildren, Jose , Bianca, Samira, Nico, Elyse-Marie, Reynaldo, Nasira, Nisaa, Zahra and Shuaib and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held Thursday at Christian Fellowship Church, 6101 W. Oxford St. Viewing will be held at 9 a.m. Services will follow at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Eden Cemetery.
Wood Funeral Home handled the arrangements.