By Steve Daniels April 16, 2013
Jacoby Dickens, one of the most prominent African-American financiers in Chicago over three decades, died Sunday at his home in Fisher Island, Fla., after a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Mr. Dickens was 81.
Until his death, which was announced today, Mr. Dickens was chairman and majority owner of Seaway Bank & Trust Co., the largest black-owned bank in Chicago with $547 million in assets.
He also served on the boards of Chicago State University, the School of Business at Florida A&M University and the Chicago Urban League. A noted philanthropist, Mr. Dickens donated more than $1 million to Chicago State, where his name adorns the main athletic center.
He was a past trustee at the Museum of Science and Industry and DePaul University, where a scholarship-and-loan program was named for him.
Mr. Dickens grew up in Panama City, Fla., one of six children in a low-income family. The family moved to the South Side of Chicago in 1946 when Mr. Dickens was a teenager. He attended Wendell Phillips High School on the city’s South Side.
He saved enough money as a building engineer to begin investing in real estate. Mr. Dickens eventually purchased and managed a large number of South Side apartment buildings before selling his real estate holdings in 1971.
After investing in several bowling alleys around Chicago, Mr. Dickens was asked to join the board of Seaway in 1979. In 1983, he became chairman of the bank. At the time, Seaway was one of just a few banks willing to lend in the tough neighborhoods on the South Side.
“He was a visionary in terms of being a minority banker on the South Side,” said Eugene Katz, managing director at investment bank D.A. Davidson & Co. in Chicago. “He created a half-billion dollar organization. It’s one of the top three African-American banks in the country.”
Once one of a handful of black-owned banks in the city, Seaway today is by far the largest and healthiest. That’s due in no small part to lucrative foreign-exchange concessions it has at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports, which generated more than $3 million, or 10 percent, of the bank’s revenue last year.
It remained profitable throughout the recent financial crisis and recession and expanded by acquiring the assets and deposits of two failed banks, one in west suburban Maywood and the other in Milwaukee.
“Jacoby Dickens could have used his wealth anywhere in our time,” Norman Williams, CEO of South Side lender Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan Association of Chicago, wrote in an email.
“He made the choice to use it to support a bank that served African-Americans, in their community, at a time when they needed a bank in their neighborhood the most. He will never know how many businesses he helped stay open, how many family homes that he preserved and how many families that he helped financially remain intact. In my presence, he carried himself as a man who considered himself no greater than any other. He was easy to know, easy to talk to and easy to like as a human being.”
In the 1980s, Mr. Dickens was a key supporter of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, chairing his re-election fundraising operation.
In the late 1990s, he was part of a group of minority business people who were set to invest in the Emerald Casino in Rosemont before the Illinois Gaming Board rejected the application in 2001. The board’s denial hinged in part on what it said was the involvement of some would-be investors tied to organized crime.
Mr. Dickens is survived by his wife of 15 years, Veranda Dickens. Visitation will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 20, followed by a funeral service from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Chicago State University’s Jones Convocation Center, 9501 S. King Drive.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the attention of Harvey Redfern, the Jacoby Dickens Foundation, 626 W. Jackson Blvd, Suite 550, Chicago, Ill., 60601.