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Jacoby Dickens, black bank pioneer, dies at age 82

Obit PhoMr. Jacoby Dickens chairman Seaway Bank Trust Company prominent business leader who opened doors for local entrepreneurs

Obit Photo of Mr. Jacoby Dickens, the chairman of Seaway Bank and Trust Company and prominent business leader who opened doors for local entrepreneurs

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Updated: May 20, 2013 7:36PM

Jacoby Dickens, a son of Florida farmers, rose to become chief of Chicago’s Seaway Bank and Trust — at one time the nation’s largest black-owned financial institution.

He died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at his vacation home in Fisher Island, Fla., at age 82.

“He was part of a cadre of extraordinary philanthropic and successful business entrepreneurs and was a role model for all of us,” John W. Rogers Jr., chairman of Ariel Investments, said in a statement.

Mr. Dickens’ entrepreneurial flair and shrewd business sense made him part of the power elite. He was Mayor Washington’s chief fund-raiser, and he raised money for Timothy C. Evans — now chief judge of Cook County — in his failed 1989 campaign against Mayor Daley. Later, Daley asked Mr. Dickens to work on the redevelopment of Bronzeville, and his bank was awarded a contract to run a branch in City Hall.

The bank he chaired until his death began in Chatham in 1965, when black business leaders established Seaway to offer loans to African Americans shut out by traditional lenders.

Mr. Dickens joined Seaway in 1979.

In 1983, with its acquisition of Union National Bank, it expanded into the biggest black-owned bank in the country. In 1998, Seaway became the first black-owned lending institution to offer online banking. Today, it remains the largest black-owned bank in the Midwest, a spokesman said.

“He was really one of the first African-American millionaires,” said Desiree Tate, a friend of the Dickens family.

After his family migrated from Panama City, Fla., to Chicago, Mr. Dickens graduated from Wendell Phillips High School. He worked for 14 years as a Chicago Board of Education engineer, a bank-supplied biography said. He began amassing real estate, and at one time managed 100 apartments, according to the website He also purchased bowling alleys and part ownership in TV stations in Bangor, Maine, and Rhinelander, Wis., the bank said.

He served on many boards and foundations, including the Chicago State University Foundation. He donated more than $1 million to Chicago State, which named its athletics building in his honor, according to

“He was a most generous man, not only in terms of his giving financially,” said James Compton, retired president of the Chicago Urban League. “He was also very generous with his time and with his counsel.”

Mr. Dickens often helped young people starting out, giving them advice on where to find a job and a place to live, and even where to buy a good suit, Compton said.

In 1999, Mr. Dickens was among the investors who appeared poised to make millions off a Rosemont casino. But the Illinois Gaming Board revoked the license, citing concern that a small number of investors might have ties to organized crime. Nearby Des Plaines won a license instead, and opened the Rivers Casino.

Mr. Dickens loved golf. In 1990, the Chicago Sun-Times featured him in an article on country clubs that remained closed to African-American executives. During the interview, his Rolls-Royce was parked in his driveway.

“I’m not saying they should open up the door to anyone,” he said. “But let it be based on the content of my character, not the color of my skin.”

In his younger days, Mr. Dickens enjoyed nightclubbing at the Savoy Ballroom and the Regal Theater.

He is survived by his wife, Veranda Jolliff Dickens. Visitation is 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, with a funeral to begin at 11:30 a.m., at Chicago State University’s Jones Convocation Center, 9501 S. King.

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