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Happy Father's Day, Ed Dick


Do you believe in miracles?

Ed Dick
Ed Dick of Bradenton has always stood up for people who are threatened or fear for their lives, whether it was blacks in the 1950s in Florida or survivors of the conflicts in Bosnia and Somalia.

Ask the hundreds of refugees Ed Dick has saved from genocide, war and abuse.

They will tell you stories of Ed and Joanne, his wife of 56 years, greeting new refugees and shepherding them into their new homes. You will hear how Ed, an insurance salesman is a member of so many families, stretching beyond actuaries into acts of goodness, giving nourishment to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and shelter to the stranger.

You will hear tales of Ed and Joanne's eight legally adopted children: Ed Jr., Shauna, Reid, Dawn, Kevin (deceased), Kelly, Cristine and Aaron, sharing their four-bedroom home with as many as 14 other homeless guests.

"He's one of God's chosen people," said Ed Price, who for more than a generation worked with Ed Dick on scores of community projects. "Ed epitomizes the Scripture: He who loves God loves his brother and sister."

Ed's the classic community organizer. In 1979 he created Refugee Incorporated, a consortium of a thousand volunteers and 70 churches. "It was designed to bring in the flotsam from the Vietnam War," he said. And more recently survivors from the Bosnia and Somalia conflicts have found shelter.

Cheu Kong Ung will never forget the first time he met Ed and Joanne. It was June 13, 1979, and the first full day in America for the Ung family. Unable to speak English, the Ungs could not understand what all those smiling people were saying. "I not understand what they say, but I knew what they meant. Joanne and Ed are very good people," Ung said.

Thanks to the Rev. Roger Dunnavan, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Ung family found sanctuary in a pastoral Bradenton neighborhood home far away from the mass murderers.

Cheu is a survivor of the infamous killing fields, when the Communist Khmer Rouge regime ravaged Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, killing 1.7 million Cambodians through starvation, overwork, disease, torture and execution in their attempt to build a tyrannical peasant utopia.

"Ed Dick is an angel sent from God," said Cheu, who with his family was deported from their home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, to a rural rice farm. For four years they slaved in one of Pol Pot's death camps, until 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Cheu and his family escaped into Thailand, walking for weeks in the jungle before reaching a Red Cross refugee camp. Thanks to Ed Dick, Cheu's entire family of nine was soon on an airplane to freedom.

"Ed is part of my family," Cheu said. "He gave me hope and courage, and I respect him like my father."

The Ung family prospered in America. Cheu and his wife Sou opened a restaurant, the Oriental Village in Palmetto, and for 18 years it was a popular destination for succulent Asian delicacies. Their two children excelled in school, then graduated from college.

Their daughter Tuong is a pharmacist and their son Hong is in the wholesale import business.

Cheu offers, in Mandarin Chinese, a father's day greetings: "Fu qin jie kuaile, Ed Dick."

Ed Dick's father was a conversationalist, like his son. "My father was a great storyteller and wit," Ed said. "My humor is to compensate for my lousy disposition."

When Ed was 16, his family migrated from Pennsylvania to Fort Lauderdale. Less than a year later he had his first date with Joanne, and was hooked on Joanne, "Sug," for life.

With a smile, Joanne recalls when, just before they married, Ed's mother asked her how she felt about Ed's anger. "Well, love is blind, and I told Ed's mother that I thought it was cute," she said.

A graduate of the University of Miami, Ed championed human rights even before he was out of high school, and when it was dangerous to practice such troublemaking in the South.

In 1946, as a 17-year-old high school senior, he frequently sat in the back seat of Fort Lauderdale buses with the blacks to protest segregation. Years before the march on Selma in 1965, Ed had registered thousands of blacks to vote.

And Ed's zeal for fairness never wanes. Nothing ignites his famous temper more than witnessing cruelty, lying and prejudice.

One day in the late 1960s a young man entered Ed's insurance office in Bradenton, looking for a job. The gentleman had excellent credentials; he was a recent graduate from the University of Tampa and had sterling letters of recommendation. But no one would hire him. Insurance companies only hired whites.

"All I want is a chance," Seymore Sailes told Ed Dick. He was hired on the spot, and Sailes became the first black insurance agent to work in a white-owned property and casualty agency in Florida. And when Sailes was invited to dinner at Ed's home, Ed insisted that that he not enter his house from the back door.

"Ed's house was the first white-owned home that my dad walked in the front door," recalls his daughter, Gladys Sailes. "He has always been a part of my family. I consider Ed my grandfather."

In honor of all his charitable achievements, the Palmetto Youth Center is named after Seymore Sailes.

In 1996, when Yugoslavia was being torn asunder by civil war between Serbs and Croatians, Veronika and Izhak Kunovac realized they had to leave their country for America to provide a nurturing home for their 13-year-old daughter Sanela and 8-year-old son Sanjin.

While still in Croatia, Veronika seemed to will her guardian angel. "I believe in miracles. I first met Ed Dick in my prayers and wishes to have someone who would be accepting to our family," Veronika said.

Her prayers were answered when Ed Dick met them, accompanied by Ed's 8-year-old son Aaron. Sanjin and Aaron hit it off, and are still best friends.

The Kunovac family prospered in America. Sanela perfected her tennis at the Bollettieri Academy, won championships and scholarships, and now has a master's degree in political science. Sanjin graduated from University of South Florida, majoring in communications. Veronika is activities director at Clare Bridge, an assisted living center, and her husband Izhak works for Ten-8 Fire Equipment Inc.

"Ed is the best guy I know," Sanjin says. "He is always trying to be a better person."

"Ed is my American father," Veronika says.

Happy Father's Day, Ed Dick.


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