The Prodans say Lake Highlands is where God wants them to be.

In 1988, Nelu and Verginica Prodan were told by the Romanian government they had to leave their home in Bucharest. They were the only civil rights lawyers in Romania at a time when defending civil rights was a hostile act against the communist government.

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With a refugee visa to anywhere in the United States, the Prodans – Nelu, daughters Anca and Andreea, and Verginica, pregnant with son Emanuel – opened a map and prayed.

On a whim, Verginica suggested they move to the place where former President John F. Kennedy was shot, not even knowing the name of the city.

“We knew our lives didn’t rest in the hands of the communists.” Nelu says. “It was up to God to decide what happened to us.”

The move took place soon after the American Embassy had negotiated Nelu’s release from prison. Nelu had been grabbed off the street by secret police for his legal practice. Verginica didn’t know if he was alive for two weeks.

“We continued (practicing law) because someone had to stand up,” Nelu says. “There are times in our lives when we are called to do special things, and if we do not answer, it’s denying our dignity as human beings.”

Once in Dallas, Verginica and Nelu decided Lake Highlands would be the best place to educate their children.

At that time, only Nelu spoke English. Today, the entire family, including 6-year-old Emanuel, speaks English, Romanian, French and Spanish.

Anca, 17, is attending Southern Methodist University with plans to become a pediatrician. She graduated last year from Lake Highlands High School, a year earlier than her class.

Andreea, 16, is a junior at the high school and an honor student like her sister. Emanuel is in the first grade at White Rock North School, a private elementary in our neighborhood.

Although Nelu and Verginica have law degrees from a Romanian university, they also have continued their education in Dallas.

Nelu, 42, graduated from SMU’s School of Law in 1994 and now works for Fulbright & Jaworski LLP. Verginica, 41, is working on her SMU law degree.

In 1996, she plans to return to Romania, now rebuilding after a democratic revolution, to teach summer classes at Romania’s first private law school.

She and her husband also have established the Dallas American-Romanian Chamber of Commerce to encourage United States investment in Romania.

“Romania needs a better understanding of the free market,” Nelu says. “The new government is trying very hard to reverse a 50-year process and bring the country more into the world. It’s not easy. America didn’t become America in four years.”

Like their country, the Prodans did not have an easy time rebuilding.

At first, their thoughts were of their lost home and lost relatives. But their concerns soon turned to their son, born seven months after they came to America.

“We started to look at Emanuel,” Verginica says. “This was his land, and we had to learn more about this land.”

Today, the Prodans say they have many friends in Lake Highlands. All of the family members are American citizens and have come to enjoy Tex-Mex and barbecue.

Above all else, they value a good education.

“In life, you can lose everything,” Nelu says. “They can take your freedom. They can take your possessions. They can enslave your body, but they can’t take your education, what’s in your mind and in your heart.”