Verna Simpkins, teacher, school counselor, health care president and trustee of the church, has died at the age of 94

Verna Simpkins, 94, of Philadelphia, a retired teacher and counselor, past president of Covenant House Health Services and trustee emeritus of the First African Baptist Church, died of cancer at her home on Wednesday, September 14.

For decades, Mrs. Simpkins was a leader in the Church and in her community in Germantown. Inspired by her faith, she dedicated herself to helping children and others in need. Before retiring in 1990, she worked as a teacher and math specialist at Pickett Middle School in the 1970s and 1980s and then as a counselor at Fairhill Elementary School.

She joined Covenant House, a government-funded health services clinic, in 1964, became a board member in 1969, and retired as president in 2001. From 2011 to 2015 she was President of the Baptist Women’s Center, a food distribution agency, and previously Vice President for 15 years.

“She was an original thinker,” said her daughter Melissa Miller. “She used common sense to solve problems and wanted to make everything better.”

She and her husband, Robert Simpkins Sr., also bought, renovated, and sold several abandoned homes in their neighborhoods. “She lived by the motto, ‘Treat others as you would like them to treat you,'” said her daughter, Beth Puciata. “She was all about community service and keeping her neighborhood beautiful.”

Mrs. Simpkins became active in the First African Baptist Church at 16th Street and Christian Street in 1973, and thereafter served as a Sunday School teacher, Chairperson of the Board of Christian Education and Board of Trustees, and Committee Member and Trustee for the Baptist Congress of Christian Education . She joined the Nazarene Baptist Church in 2017 after First African Baptist moved to West Philadelphia.

“We know she was a wonderful woman of God who loved her family and friends,” Nazarene Baptist members and staff said in an online tribute. Her daughter Velma Chisholm said: “She always told me I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard. She was right.”

Verna Hankinson was born in Philadelphia on March 14, 1928 and graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1946. She married Robert Simpkins in 1947 and they moved to Germantown after living briefly in New York.

She worked at the Army’s Frankford Arsenal from 1951 to 1964 as a computer programmer, planning artillery launch and landing patterns. She earned an associate’s degree from Community College of Philadelphia in 1969, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in education from Antioch University in the 1980s.

She and her husband had sons Robert Jr., Jan, and Cornelius, and daughters Velma, Beth, and Melissa. Her husband and son Robert Jr. previously died.

Mrs. Simpkins enjoyed browsing thrift stores, pottering around in her garden and especially loved her roses. She made sure to serve balanced meals at dinner, used cherries from a neighbor’s tree to bake pies in the summer, and whipped up homemade pasta sauce on the weekends.

Inventively, she sometimes spontaneously explained algebra to her sons, misting the bathroom mirror with her breath and solving the problem with her finger. “I’ve always wondered how she knew that stuff, especially since she wasn’t in college at the time,” their son Cornelius said. “Apparently now I know she was a computer programmer with a high school education.”

As a teacher, Mrs. Simpkins became acquainted with the families of her students, who often greeted her affectionately in the neighborhood after their retirement. A believer in the It Takes a Village educational concept, she was the first adult to introduce many of the children to good eating habits and the benefits of mastering math.

Her niece, Anastasia Gray, said Ms Simpkins had shown unconditional support to the whole family. “She had a beautiful mind,” Miller said. “If she had been born under different circumstances, the world would know about her.”

Ms Simpkins also had previous bouts of breast cancer and colon cancer. “I’d heard so many horror stories about moms that I couldn’t help but tell her what an amazing mom she was,” Puciata said. “I told her, ‘Thank God you were my mom.'”

In addition to her children, Mrs. Simpkins is survived by seven grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren, four brothers, one sister and other relatives. Four sisters died earlier.

A viewing is scheduled for Thursday, September 22 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Nazarene Baptist Church, 3975 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19140, planned. A funeral service is to follow.

Donations on their behalf may be made to the American Cancer Society, PO Box 6704, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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