Edna W. Delk, 97, of Philadelphia, longtime real estate entrepreneur, community advocate, and devoted foster parent, died Thursday, Nov. 2, of congestive heart failure and kidney disease at her home.
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Mrs. Delk began investing in real estate in West Philadelphia and North Philadelphia in the 1960s and retired in 2022 as the owner of 30 apartments and houses. She bought her first rental house in West Philadelphia at a sheriff’s sale in 1967, oversaw renovations and maintenance for many of her properties, and was determined to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing to those who needed it most.
Altruistic as a rule and committed to combating poverty, hunger, and community blight, in particular, she focused on providing much-needed subsidized housing even as the market fluctuated around her. She earned a real estate license when she was in her 50s and, despite standing a bit shy of 5 feet tall, inspired respect and results from colleagues and others.
“She was feisty,” said her son Maurice Walls. “When she walked into the room, everybody made sure they were working. They knew she was the boss. She was a little Napoleon.”
In addition to her own business, Mrs. Delk assisted other organizations in need. She contributed to local groups such as the Germantown Life Enrichment Center and was active with Heifer International, a global economic development charity based in Little Rock, Ark.
She finally retired at 95 in 2022 and immediately donated most of her money to friends and charities, and her property to family. “She lived life on her own terms and was an advocate for herself,” said her granddaughter Maurissa Walls. “She commanded people’s attention. She was ahead of her time and never stopped engaging with life.”
One of six children, Edna Emelia Moody was born Oct. 30, 1926, in Philadelphia. She grew up in South Philadelphia and worked for years after high school as a government keypunch operator at the Naval Shipyard.
She married Calvin Walls, and they had sons Calvin and Maurice, and lived in West Philadelphia. After a divorce, she married James Delk. They divorced later. Her son Calvin and both former husbands died earlier.
A foster parent to several children, Mrs. Delk cared for Ronald Jackson for many years and considered him a third son. Likewise, he said, she was indeed his mother.
“She meant everything to me,” he said. “She always reached out to others. She was focused, loving, compassionate, consistent, and caring.”
But she was no pushover. “She brought us up old school,” her son Maurice said. “She didn’t play.”
Mrs. Delk valued education, bought a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica with S&H Green Stamps, and instructed her sons to read every volume. “We were happy when we got to Z because it was the shortest,” her son Maurice said.
She worked several housekeeping jobs before her real estate career and used her experience as a keypunch operator to master administrative work later in her own business. She invested wisely in stocks and traveled to Europe, Africa, and elsewhere with family and friends.
She did two or three word puzzles nearly every day. She read People magazine and watched countless classic movies with her granddaughter. She tried new things often, her family said, and was supportive, tenacious, and fearless in adversity.
“She was so dynamic for her age,” her granddaughter said. “She was still curious as she grew older, still wanted to be part of society. She taught me how to age with grace.”
Her son Maurice said: “She was a sweet, sincere, and compassionate person.”
In addition to her sons and granddaughter, Mrs. Delk is survived by five other grandchildren, a sister, and other relatives. Three brothers and a sister died earlier.
Visitation with the family is to be from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 17, at Vine Memorial Baptist Church, 5600 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19131. A service is to follow and may be viewed on the church’s website.
Donations in her name may be made to Heifer International, 1 World Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72202.