Dr. Ebert F. "Bert" Cicenia, 95, of Summerville died Wednesday evening in Hawaii.
The Dorchester County resident was a military veteran, an innovator in the field of rehabilitation, a spokesperson and advocate for the disabled, a political activist and a community patriarch.
Cicenia had travelled to Hawaii days ago to visit his nephew, according to his family, but needed immediate medical attention. He suffered a stroke while receiving hospital care.
No service date has been set, but his ashes will be interred with his wife’s at Beaufort National Cemetery.
Born June 9, 1917, in New York, Cicenia first came to South Carolina in 1964 to create Ladson’s Coastal Center, a residential facility for mentally disabled children.
Opening in 1968 with Cicenia as its superintendent, Coastal Center became the first full-sized facility in the U.S. to be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.
In honor of his years of service to the facility, its main office was named the Ebert F. Cicenia Administration Building in 1981.
He retired as regional commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Retardation (now Department of Disability and Special Needs) in 1989.
Continuing to address community needs after retiring, he was chairman of Elderlink, a board member of South Carolina’s Special Olympics, a member of the state committee on Alzheimer’s Disease, a board member of the Summerville YMCA, a member of the local Rotary Club, and was on the advisory council of Dorchester County Social Services.
In 1997 he helped create Children in Crisis, an advocacy center to address the needs of abused children. Since 2003, the organization has commended others in the community for relevant service with its annual Bert Cicenia Award.
Achieving the rank of Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, Cicenia was an active member of Charleston’s Military Officer Association of America.
Cicenia was also very active in the local political community. In 1992, he was Democratic candidate for S.C. House District 94, and regularly participated with and contributed to the Dorchester County Democratic Party, which his late wife Alice once served as chairperson. He remained active with the county party for many years, and was even a state delegate from Dorchester County as late as 2010.
"Bert’s been a legend for decades," DCDP Chair Richard Hayes said. "Our community wouldn’t be what it is today were it not for all of his contributions. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed from this day on."
The county party will honor Cicenia at the Sept. 29 Annual Alice J. Cicenia Dinner, Hayes said.
“I am deeply grieved by the passing of Mr. Bert. He was truly an inspiration to all,” County Councilman Willie Davis said. “I feel because of his dedication to helping those who were in need, God gave him a long and productive life. Our earthly loss is Heaven’s gain.”