How Octavio F. Verdeja Lives United
Having celebrated his 78th birthday, Octavio F. Verdeja Sr. reflects on his life here in America and tries to envision what would have been had he stayed in his native Cuba. He recalls arriving in Miami in October 1960, just 22 years old, forced to leave behind his wife and two small children, including a newborn. They would join him later.
Following advice from his father who had previously left Cuba, Octavio always kept his emigration papers up to date and had opened a small bank account during an earlier visit to Miami on his honeymoon. When he was detained for several hours by the Cuban police for driving his boss's car, Octavio knew it was time to go. The next day, he took a one-way plane ticket purchased by his father-in-law and boarded a plane to Miami, never to return.
Octavio's first job was delivering packages for a grocery store, then in construction. He relocated to Atlanta with his family, where he worked days and attended night school at Georgia State College. Then he transferred to the University of Miami, where he earned his degree in accounting. He went to work at Ernst & Young, (then Ernst & Ernst), becoming an expert in Medicare laws which, at the time, were newly established. When his company wanted to send him to work in Argentina, he said "thanks, but no thanks", and went off and founded his own firm — Verdeja, Viciana & Iriondo — today known as Verdeja DeArmas and Trujillo.
Again, following advice, this time from a friend, Octavio became involved in the community at a time when few Cubans served on the boards of nonprofit organizations.
His community involvement led him to United Way, where he found a place on what was then the allocations committee, (today's impact council) eventually went on to chair the committee. It was here that he witnessed, first-hand, the impact of United Way's work in the community. Octavio went on to serve as board chair, in 1984 and part of 1985, becoming the first Cuban-American to hold that position.
"For me, United Way is a great organization, full of good people doing a tremendous job for the community," Octavio says. He has been a loyal contributor for 44 years and stresses that "the need for programs is greater now more than ever before."
In addition to United Way, Octavio has served on The Children's Trust Governing Board and served as its past treasurer; and was past president of the Health Systems Agency of South Florida, and he served as a volunteer with the Miami Foster Care Project and the Guardian Ad Litem Program. He coached youth basketball leagues for 48 years and spent 15 years as a Special Olympics coach.
Octavio and his wife Susana are the proud parents of four children — Octavio A. Jr., the firm's managing partner and owner; Juan-Carlos, a surgeon at Baptist Hospital and an associate professor of surgery and director of laparoscopy and minimally invasive surgery at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University; Maria, owner of four ballet schools; and Mike, a business manager of a real estate enterprise. They also have 17 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Through his continued involvement and leadership in the community, Octavio Verdeja Sr. truly LIVES UNITED.