7 Who Care: Jack Dean

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SARASOTA - Jack Dean has done too many things with too many organizations to try to list them all. But getting involved comes nearly as naturally to him as walking.

You've heard it said: the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. But the journey to help a single person can begin with a step covering thousands of miles. And that's why this story of a Sarasota man begins in Ecuador.

“You're in this little jungle jump plane and you're landing in the middle of the Amazon, and you're 60-plus years old at the time, it's frightening,” says Dean. But when a friend asked Jack to help him provide dental services to people in a remote village in the Amazon jungle, his discomfort did not stand in his way. “I've always found that if there's a need, you go do it. These Indians were dying of gum disease, and we were the first dental/medical trip that ever came to their village.”

Jack is not a dentist, he sells flooring. His job there was to hold the flashlight so that the dentist could do his job. And for that, Jack conquered his fear, because this is where he saw the need.

“You do good things, good things happen. And he lives by that. It's not just words, it's action.” Terry McKenna and Jack Dean call themselves best of friends. It’s amazing enough for people who have known each other for less than a year; more amazing when you consider where they met.

“I had never, one-on-one, gone to the jail…didn't know what to expect.” Jewish family and children's services had told Jack that it needed people to mentor inmates at the Sarasota County Jail. “There was just all this fear of the unknown,” says Dean.

“I was at the very bottom of bottom. I pretty much didn't believe I had anything left,” says McKenna, who was in jail, convicted and addicted, when he says that Jack Dean walked in and changed his life. They talked, they listened, and soon Terry felt hope. “He's just like Santa Claus, he's got that much love. He gives that much of himself, and he's just always there if you need him.”

Terry got a job at a local car dealership when a friend of Jack's hired him. Jack feels sure that Terry has licked his addictions, and just as sure that he has made a great friend. “You don't have a lot of friends in this world you can tell your deepest darkest secrets to. But he's told me his, so I've told him mine.”

Jack also volunteers for Circus Sarasota, the historical commission and countless other organizations. But where did Jack's volunteering spirit come from? That brings us to the midget who once worked in the circus.

“I came from a dysfunctional family as a child, and the step-father was pretty dangerous.” A volunteer fire chief told Jack's mother he could live in the firehouse on Stickney Point Road. Frank Cooksey, who had worked in the circus, worked the radio room at night. He became Jack's guardian. “And I really believe -- I was 15 at the time -- that's where the volunteerism came in. The volunteer firemen were volunteering. We went and did a lot of things in the community.”

Dean has taken the lessons he learned from the fire station basement to the county jail, to the Amazon jungle, to wherever he sees a need, and believes he can help.