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Oak Harbor's pastor Dean honored as black history pioneer

Fannie Dean sings to a crowd at Unity Fellowship during a Martin Luther King Jr., Day celebration in 2009. Dean was named the city’s first black history pioneer for her dedication to the Oak Harbor community. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Fannie Dean sings to a crowd at Unity Fellowship during a Martin Luther King Jr., Day celebration in 2009. Dean was named the city’s first black history pioneer for her dedication to the Oak Harbor community.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

In a history-making day at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Pastor Fannie Dean became the city’s first black history pioneer.

For 30 years, Dean has been a major organizer for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Day event and Junteenth, a celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.

About 100 people came to the NAS Whidbey Island chapel for the ceremony Feb. 19, which also featured songs, dance and readings in honor of Black History Month. The pioneer award was a final surprise, organizer Amanda Boyles said, and Dean nearly melted into tears.

“She’s just so humble. She doesn’t like to be in the foreground,” said Boyles.

In 1976, Dean began a legacy of helping, serving and ministering to her community. Dean was a soccer coach, Girl Scout leader and was the first black woman to be authorized by NAS Whidbey Island to create a mentorship program for teens.

Many times, she fed the homeless from her own kitchen.

“I call her the mobile pastor,” friend Kathlene Brown said. “She goes all over town trying to help people.”

Brown added that when she moved to Oak Harbor a year and a half ago, with only suitcases, Dean quickly helped her find items for her home.

“She saw me walking one day and she said, ‘I have a van for you,’” Brown said. “I couldn’t believe that one person can have that much heart for so many people, regardless of color or religion.”

Just as many pioneers before her endured trials, so has Dean. In the past, her thrift store on Goldie Road was a target for hate crimes, as people purporting to be part of the KKK left her threatening messages to “get out now.” Later, two African statues were decapitated in her store. In the early 1990s, Dean believes she was a victim of arson when her van was set on fire in front of her home.

However, Dean was unmoved by these events, and in some ways, emerged even stronger.

“She simply stated ‘I figure either somebody’s bored or they don’t know what to do with themselves.’ Then she just went back to playing her keyboard, singing and making joyful noise for the Lord,” Boyles read in her tribute to Dean.

Dean has consistently pioneered throughout her life, both as an African American and a woman, Boyles discovered in her research. She was the first woman pastor in Oak Harbor and her ministry, Mission Ministry Outreach, is the longest running African American business since 1940.

Believe it or not, she said, Dean is the first woman in the state of Washington to own her own taxi company.

In the community, Dean is known as a pastor who will “get on you if your dress is too short, pants are too baggy or if you are just, as she would put it, ‘cutting up,’” Boyles said.

People on the Navy base affectionately call her “Mama Dean.” She often speaks with sailors and marines about the dangers of drunk driving and offers them taxi rides.

“She’s probably lowering DUIs,” Boyles said.

Her next legacy will be to expand her church on Goldie Road, and she’s looking for funds to continue the construction. Boyles said she also dreams of opening a shelter for the homeless some day.

In her speech to Dean, Boyles said that when people hear the words humanitarian or pioneer, they seldom think of those in the local community. But Dean encompasses both titles.

“This person has never been on Oprah, she has never been on the front page of USA Today, however she is well known in this community for her selfless acts of kindness.”

Though Dean was the first person to receive the black history pioneer award, she probably won’t be the last. The Fleet Readiness Center Northwest Black History month committee wants to make the celebration an annual affair.

The new committee was formed this year.

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