Sister Jean Ceremony

Pastor Cecelia Woodard, Jean Webster's daughter originally from Atlantic City and now residing in Jackson, MS, places a flower on her mother's grave during a dedication of Sister Jean's headstone at the Atlantic City Cemetery, in Pleasantville, NJ, Thursday, Aug, 22, 2013.

Vernon Ogrodnek

A headstone to mark the grave of Sister Jean Webster, an Atlantic City resident and casino cook who spent 25 years feeding the resort’s  poor, was finally obtained and dedicated Thursday.

About 20 people, including Webster’s daughter, attended the dedication of the headstone, which was purchased through contributions from the public.

“That was a labor of love and I thank all of them,” said pastor Cecelia Woodard, Webster’s daughter, of Jackson, Miss.

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 Webster began serving meals to the city’s homeless in 1986 after she saw a man searching for food in a garbage can.

“God told me to start feeding people,” she later said.

First from her home, and later from a church kitchen, Webster would feed 100 homeless people a day, three times that on holidays.

Webster used her own money at first, but eventually donations and grants began to grow as word of her work spread.

She died in January 2011, at the age of 76, after a 20-year battle with cardiopulmonary disease.

Her grave was left unmarked. Until Thursday.

A close friend, Sister Debbie Thomas, of Pleasantville, said it was something she couldn’t get off her mind. She contacted Webster’s family who were unable to buy the headstone, she said.

Thomas then approached a friend, Frank Cirillo, of  Mays Landing, who decided to make the call to radio talk show host Harry Hurley.

The show “Hurley in the Morning,” on WPG Talk Radio 1450 AM, ends at about 10 a.m., Cirillo said. “I called at about (9:40 a.m.) and in 15 minutes they had raised almost $500 or $600.”

Cirillo said he was motivated to make the call because he had worked for about five years as a volunteer at Sister Jean’s Kitchen.

Woodard said she is inspired by her mother’s work.

“People were always called guests, not homeless. And she said not to call it a soup kitchen,” Woodard said. “It is an honor and privilege to be her daughter.”

“She always said never look down on a man unless you are lifting him up,” Woodard said.

The family will have a private memorial on Saturday, followed by another memorial on Monday that donors can attend.

Many people who want to go see her grave can do so now, Thomas said. “People won’t have to worry about where it is and can see it.”

The Rev. John Scotland, executive director of Sister Jean’s Kitchen, said Webster was an important person in Atlantic City’s history and it is great to have a marker to identify where she rests.

He added that the historical marker, located on Pennsylvania and Pacific avenues, which was one of 24 put out by the city a couple of years ago, recognizes her life and importance to the city.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:


Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

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