Nearly 60 years ago, a young boy from Salt Lake City moved to the mirage-inducing heat of southern Florida streets.

He learned much from segregated fountains and two influential women in Miami, and now the Rev. Dan Lediard has arrived in Hermiston and become the priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Lediard, a former insurance salesman who was ordained four years ago, said his upbringing in the Florida city — especially coming from the mostly singular skin shades of Utah — quickly made him notice the way people of color were treated.

“It didn’t make any sense,” Lediard said, adding that he was grateful for influences from level-headed folks in his home.

A family maid named Mabel treated everyone with “profound kindred and love” and became a sort of surrogate mother, according to Lediard.

He had to provide care to his severely asthmatic birth mother since he was young, and about 10 years ago, Lediard brought lessons he learned from both those women to a frequently ignored population: inmates at Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Lediard began sitting in with therapy groups in that institution after a friend asked for help.

When he first arrived at the penitentiary, he could sense a “current” flowing throughout the inmates.

“I immediately became aware of the presence of God,” Lediard said.

He began trying to help the inmates find a sense of goodness in themselves — a possibility for everyone, Lediard said, even among the neglected and forgotten.

A friendship developed between him and one of the inmates, a “tough guy” Lediard gave the pseudonym of “Jerry” in an interview Friday.

Jerry was born to a homeless prostitute in Las Vegas, Lediard said, and he committed murder for the first time at the age of 14.

“The first time we met, he really got in my face,” Lediard said, smiling.

A few fellow inmates managed to separate Jerry and the future priest, but after that first evening discussion, he stuck around to talk with Lediard.

Jerry asked him why he was nice, how he could give out kindness like he did and if he knew the crimes the former hit-man had committed.

Lediard said he replied that Jerry’s past didn’t matter, which surprised the felon but didn’t make them buddies — yet.

Some time later, Lediard said a divine refrigerator shifted Jerry’s mind-set.

During one of their group discussions, Jerry said he didn’t want to use the labels “higher power” or “God.”

On a whim, Lediard suggested “refrigerator,” and the image became a metaphor about personal satisfaction in their talks.

After a stint in the prison hospital, Jerry returned to the help group using a walker and confessing an altered outlook.

During his stay in the medical ward, he lay in bed for a week thinking about a fridge light bulb. He eventually figured that God was some sort of everlasting beacon in his life, even at those times he returned to bed on an empty stomach.

Lediard said the convicted murderer’s transition was something he saw often while working in prisons.

He hopes to continue his work with incarcerated individuals, helping inmates cope with substance abuse issues, questions about spirituality and finding that goodness within themselves — all while using less-than-conventional methods.

“To be a good priest, you gotta be kind of odd,” he said, showing his teeth once more.

See A8 for more about Lediards settling in Umatilla County.

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