By Todd Franko (Contact)
Published November 21, 2008
Chip Gilea is home tonight in Boardman instead of on a plane to Romania — a place he has not called home since he was a boy.
Home for Gilea, 30, has been the valley, where he graduated from high school, where he graduated from college and where he worked and owned a home.
All of that came to an end last December when federal immigration agents raided his work and captured him for overstaying his permitted time.
He, his family and their lawyers blamed the issue on a mishandled case by a previous lawyer.
But feds played hardball. They jailed Chip, and would not release him. And they made plans to deport him to Romania.
Worse — no one in power would listen to his case.
One person with some power finally did — Vindicator reporter Denise Dick.
Denise listened. More importantly, she believed. And perhaps most importantly, she cared.
The feds may have had grounds — technically. But they were lacking the soul that one needs to do the right thing in life. There are lots of bad people who get into the U.S. and need to be deported immediately. That was not Chip. Denise saw what federal officials opted not to see.
She convinced editors of the validity of the story. Then she patiently worked with the family. They initially were resistant to publicity — fearing it would hamper their chances of getting Chip freed.
But when word came in late October that Chip was days — possibly hours -- away from being deported, they reached out to Denise.
They quickly worked on a story, which was first published Oct. 23.
From that story, Chip’s case started to turn. Others took interest. The feds apparently got skittish with the publicity.
Friday, it came to an end.
Denise is a remarkable colleague. She’s soft-spoken. She’s not an imposing presence. You’ll rarely hear her raise her voice — either in anger or in celebration.
She just diligently performs her job, and she constantly delivers top-notch work. Constantly. And she's tougher than a middle linebacker.
When she returned from meeting the family Friday, she walked into our office with a smile.
Several colleagues welcomed her with a well-deserved round of applause.
This was Denise’s work. This was her patience, diligence — and faith.
Impacting a life in this way does not often happen for a reporter.
It usually happens another way: we printed an arrest, we outed a politician’s misdeeds, etc. And the reporter hears negative feedback.
But Chip is home tonight, and Denise had a huge role.
If you hear the video on vindy.com you will hear the family personally recognize Denise as they’re clanking champagne glasses, and you’ll hear Chip thank the newspaper for its role in allowing him to be home.