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Tearful goodbye for longtime, beloved Recreation employee

Kristin Duda01
Kristin Duda receives loving goodbye hugs from Hollywood Boys & Girls Club children during a farewell gathering July 30 at the Howard Tiger Recreation Center. Duda worked for the Seminole Tribe for 23 years.

HOLLYWOOD — Children waved farewell signs, wept a few tears and in unison shouted, “We will miss you!” during a retirement party for Hollywood Recreation Department employee Kristin Duda, who devoted more than two decades of her life to the lives of Tribal members.

“I’m sad because every time when I needed a person to talk to, I could talk to her. Now that Kristin is leaving, it hurts,” said Alexa Tosca, 8, at the July 30 two-hour send-off.

Hired as a swimming pool lifeguard in 1992 at age 19, Duda retired July 31 to move to Florida’s west coast with her sweetheart and the couple’s menagerie of Chihuahuas for a life in a new home. Her other half, Joshua Harrison, also retired July 31 after serving 13 years as a logistics supervisor with the Seminole Police Department.

News of Duda’s departure was bittersweet for fellow employees and Hollywood community members.

“You can grab anyone to do paperwork and keep a budget straight, but Kristin brought that and herself to the department and everybody. Her work was a personal relationship,” said Joe Collins, Hollywood Recreation site manager. “I’m not saying no one could do her job, but no one will do it like Kristin did. She will be sorely missed.”

Recreation Director Richard Blankenship said Duda’s institutional and cultural knowledge will not be replaced easily. He credited Duda for helping him learn how to conduct himself within the expectations of the Tribe when he was a newly hired employee more than three years ago.

“I will miss her consistent demeanor. She is very even-keeled. No one would know if she was sad or mad,” Blankenship said.

Duda’s responsibilities expanded several times during her tenure. While earning a liberal arts degree from Broward College, the teenage lifeguard eventually became the Tribe’s aquatic supervisor. The promotion put Duda in charge of pool operations in Hollywood, Big Cypress and Brighton.

She began holding swimming lessons for children and babies. By 1995, Duda had created a competitive swim team called Team Florida. She went on to coach swim teams for three consecutive North American Indigenous Games.

“I was raised around the water and was taught to swim at 6 weeks old by my father. I think I followed his footsteps,” Duda said. Her father, David Duda, is a sports fitness, recreation and therapy professor at Broward College.

Kristin Duda made a dramatic department switch in 2006 when she became the purchasing supervisor for the Tribe’s police department.

In short time, Duda realized she missed spending days and nights surrounded by children. Eleven months later, she returned “home” to Recreation, but in an administrative role as the office coordinator.

Duda said she found it “kind of neat” during the last few weeks before retirement to look around and realize that some of the youngest children she met 23 years ago now have children of their own – and some of the oldest teens from back then are now grandparents.

Juanita Carlene Osceola, 28, said she was about 9 years old and the youngest among a gaggle of girls who made up the now defunct Girls Club created by Duda.

The girls, with Duda at the helm, went on adventures that included Women’s National Basketball Association games, camping trips and tours of Washington, D.C.

Osceola said the club formed tight friendships and Duda helped make the memories.

“[Duda] was always a person to count on. She’d go out of her way to help whenever you needed her,” Osceola said. “I’m glad she is in my life, but it’s going to be weird without her every day … but she said she’ll visit, so…”

Duda said she is grateful to the Seminole Tribe for personal and career opportunities that helped her mature from teenager to mentor, golfer, scuba diver, and swimming, track and volleyball coach. In November 2002, she won the employee category award in the Seminole Weight Loss Contest by losing 22.1 pounds in just two months. Twice, Duda was awarded plaques for going above and beyond employee duty.

Having assisted other departments at many Tribe events, Duda said she will miss Trike Fest the most because she loved interacting with elders.

Among the younger crowd, cherished friendships evolved that she believes will endure across miles.

But mostly, Duda said she left the job with memories of countless children she watched over and helped grow up. She said the mentoring was mutual.

“I never had children of my own, but I treated all of the kids like they were mine. I was only 19 when I started working here, so taking care of them taught me how to be an adult,” Duda said. “There have been times when I would stand back, look at them and be happy.”