ST. PETERSBURG — For more than 25 years, Edward LaDuke bought groceries for the poor, paying for them with most of his Social Security check and whatever he could scrounge from trash bins.
Workers at Daystar Life Center came twice a week to his modest rented home, decorated with multiple statues of the Virgin Mary and a Christmas tree year-round, to pick up nonperishable goods he had bought on sale. They called him "Saint Ed," but he didn't want their praise.
"This was what he was supposed to do, and he didn't know why other people didn't see that it was what they were supposed to do, too," said Jane Trocheck Walker, Daystar's executive director, who added that Mr. LaDuke also gave to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and other charities.
Mr. LaDuke died Nov. 25 at St. Anthony's Hospital of an aneurism. He was three days shy of his 80th birthday.
He had strong opinions and dispensed them freely. A former Marine sergeant, Mr. LaDuke disapproved of people who showed up late or did not follow through with commitments.
"I don't think he could take a joke too well," Walker said. "He was so serious about everything."
Every morning except Sunday, Mr. LaDuke rose at dawn and dressed for Dumpster diving near his home on Eighth Avenue N. He did not drive a car, and covered the ground on foot. He combed through soggy newspaper and coffee grounds with a broom handle he had sawed off and outfitted with a hook.
He cleaned off the items he deemed worthy with a rag and dumped them into a plastic garbage bag. He salvaged items from spices to office supplies, and sold hundreds of pounds of scrap aluminum. He found picture frames to take home and mount with another image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.
Mr. LaDuke loved Christmas, and always kept a decorated tree in the living room. He never said why, but his friends knew it was important. The last birthday in his address book reads, "Dec. 25, Jesus."
He did not like people throwing useful items in the trash or telling him what to do. Ken Carroll, the former owner of Lockhart's Supermarket, saw the gaunt Mr. LaDuke buying up to $400 worth of groceries at a time. Carroll sold to him at wholesale prices but was still concerned. "Ed didn't eat anything," said Carroll, 64. "He probably didn't weigh 80 pounds."
When he suggested Mr. LaDuke buy a little less food for the Free Clinic and a little more for himself, "He told me that he was here to take care of the needy and the homeless, that he would spend his money the way he wanted to spend his money and he didn't need any of my advice," Carroll recalled.
He cultivated other causes, too.
A developer bought the mobile home park where he lived, but Mr. LaDuke slowed down the process with legal motions he banged out on an old typewriter. He often shared his grievances with Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who always wrote back.
Mr. LaDuke grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., the sixth of 10 children. The family was deeply Catholic, and celebrated Christmases with extended family at Mr. LaDuke's childhood home, his family said. He dropped out of high school and joined the Marines in 1945, and re-enlisted twice more before joining the Army. He finished his last tour of duty with the Army in 1967, in Vietnam.
A military record shows that Mr. LaDuke was married during at least part of the 1950s — something that took family members and friends at Daystar by surprise.
Daystar staff convinced Mr. LaDuke to show up at its 25th anniversary celebration last year so that his contributions could be recognized. But by the time volunteers arrived to pick him up, he had changed his mind, and shooed them from his driveway.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.