September 3, 2019

Jacob Gelt Dekker

Jacob Gelt Dekker


Jacob Gelt Dekker, international entrepreneur and philanthropist, passed away peacefully on Sept. 1 at his home in Key West, Florida after a renewed battle with lymphoma. Jacob was 71. He is survived by John Padget, his lifelong partner, and five family members.

Jaap, as he was known to those closest to him, was born in Oterleek, North Holland on April 22, 1948. Wanderlust gripped him at an early age; he traveled and explored the planet endlessly. He practiced dentistry in Amsterdam after university, and then became an active entrepreneur with a talent for making something out of seemingly nothing.

Together with John Padget, he launched multiple businesses in Europe. Early ventures were in the fitness business, one-hour photo developing, car rentals and leasing, cosmetics, brand licensing and cellphone retailing.

After stepping out of the business scene in 1990, he traveled the world extensively and fell in love with Curacao, where he launched a long-term project to renovate the rundown Otrobanda district in Willemstad. The result was the creation of the Hotel Kura Hulanda & Resort, and the anthropological Kura Hulanda Museum, which houses extensive exhibits with more than 10,000 artifacts documenting the transatlantic slave trade. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

His philanthropic interests focused on advancing schooling and education, primarily for underprivileged students wherever he lived, including Key West.

Over the years, he authored several books, among them “Het Doel Heiligt Het Middelen” (The End Justifies the Means), “Pot Met Goud” (Pot With Gold), “Persona Non Grata” and “The Caribbean.” While seen at times as a controversial figure, he was deeply driven, creative and tremendously compassionate about the humanity around him.

He survived battles with various cancers for more than four decades. He held a doctorate in Dentistry from the University of Amsterdam, and master’s degrees from the University of Rochester and the University of Rotterdam.

He was the recipient of numerous recognitions, and knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in the Order of Oranje-Nassau.

His family survivors are sister Stijntje “Christyna” Wijdenes (Dekker), 67; niece Sacha Dekker, 46; nephew Jacco Dekker, 42; nephew Daniel Wijdenes, 35; and great-nephew Henrik Wijdenes, 7.

A private memorial will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Monroe County Education Foundation, P. O. Box 2561, Key West, Florida.