Farewell, Andrea

If College Park had an unofficial mayor, her name would have been Margaret Andrea Kudlacz.

A tireless advocate, promoter and all-around cheerleader for this unique community so many call home, Andrea Kudlacz quietly passed away August 31, leaving a gaping hole that her smile and warm greeting previously filled.

Andrea moved to Orlando in 1971. Her long career in public relations and marketing took her from Main Street at Disney to College Park’s main street, Edgewater Drive, with many interesting stops in between. At the time of her death, Andrea had served for seven years as executive director of College Park Main Street (formerly College Park Partnership), sharing an office with the College Park Community Paper.

Since 2001, Andrea also managed one of the area’s most prestigious political/civic entities, the Tiger Bay Club. With her trademark Southern drawl, Andrea loved to sidle up to people and talk politics — trading stories and tidbits with a smile.

Andrea was also an accomplished photographer. She coaxed smiles from many people while she shot pictures at events she organized around town.

“I met Andrea through Tiger Bay years ago, and she was a friend ever since,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “She was such an important part of the Main Street District in College Park. It was one of the earliest districts and the most successful, which is a direct result of her willing things to happen.”

Dyer also said: “Andrea was a force to be reckoned with. She was always jovial. With her friendly personality, she somehow could bend people to do things for the community and brighten anybody’s day in the process. The name Andrea Kudlacz is synonymous with College Park. She will be very missed.”

College Park Community Paper Publisher Debbie Goetz said: “Andrea made everyone feel like they were her best friend. She was just so unique — capable and devoted and smart and loyal — and fun. So much fun.

“She was a true Southern woman at heart. I’ll never forget her refusing a piece of gum, every single time I offered, because her momma told her a lady should never chew gum.”

“But she had a sassy side too. She loved trying new things. She got a tattoo for her 60th birthday and danced the night away when she took my daughter and me to the Nicki Minaj/Britney Spears concert.”

Andre Kudlacz with her daughter Logan and her sweet pup Cruella Deville.

Andrea’s most cherished job was being mom to her daughter, Logan Kudlacz, 26, who lives in Southern California. Logan said the first word that comes to mind to describe her mom is selfless. “It was just how she lived her life. It describes her perfectly. She lived in the moment and raised me to look people in the eye when in conversation and make them feel as special as they are,” she said.

While Logan was a student at Ole Miss, Andrea attended an event there that became the impetus for College Park JazzFest, one of many local events she originated.

Logan explained that well-known Orlando singer Jackie Jones sang at JazzFest and became a good friend of her mother’s. Logan said: “Mom had a lot of scarves, and I thought it would mean a lot if I gave them to close friends. I called Jackie, and she said at the last JazzFest, Mom was wearing a black and red and white scarf that Jackie kept complimenting. Jackie said, ‘Your mom took it right off her neck and gave it to me.’ That’s a good anecdote to illustrate how Mom lived her life.

Andrea Kudlacz at College Park JazzFest with past Main Street president, Melissa Hart.

“She loved where she lived and the people in this community. I knew that but am amazed at how many lives she affected. She’s empowering. She never complained. I’m in awe of her — the way she navigated conversation. She always wanted the attention on you, not herself. She would always say, ‘What’s the best part of your day so far?’ She loved people. She was really good at talking to anyone.”

Andrea and her close friend Paulette Clarke had a standing date every Saturday to shop at estate sales all over Central Florida, followed by lunch. Andrea’s daughter said, “She would cancel things to keep her date to do this. She would sound so professional telling people ‘Oh, I have an appointment on Saturday.’”

Logan also said, “She told me never to lose my childish enthusiasm. She really knew how to have fun,” and she always said she wanted a Harley-Davidson for her 70th birthday.

Raised in Mississippi and a lifelong Ole Miss football fan, Andrea graduated from UCF and could frequently be found cheering for her teams at The Tap Room at Dubsdread, trading barbs — and bets — with owner and close friend Steve Gunter.

“She was my biggest fan and my biggest critic, which is what a true friend is,” Gunter said. “Our teams, Ole Miss and Arkansas, play each other every year, and we bet every year. It was usually dinner at The Tap Room versus 20 bucks. And it was her favorite bet.

“The fun thing about betting with Andrea was that it was about fun with your friend. She never got upset about the game; she just rolled with the punches — with everything. She was so good-natured. We bet just so we had something to haggle over.

“I already miss her. I think of something and think of her … and she’s not here. It will take a long time for this to sink in.”

Describing a community as much more than the buildings or lakes in it, Gunter also said, “Communities are special because of the people in them, and she was one of the special ones.”

Andrea’s humor and civic leadership touched many in College Park and beyond. Friends and colleagues near and far wrote Facebook posts sharing heartfelt thoughts following her unexpected death. Several message boards in the area bid her “rest in peace.”

Posted by Mike Miller: “What a loss for our community! A wonderful lady who worked so hard to keep the conversation going on how to make Central Florida even better … she will be missed.”

Jackie Shaner Carlin posted: “Such heart-breaking news for our community. I first met Andrea Kudlacz through a great GB (Growing Bolder) story Marc (Middleton) did on her getting her first tattoo. When I discovered we lived in the same neighborhood, I liked her even more. There was no bigger advocate for our College Park. Her energy, enthusiasm, kindness and joy made 32804 a better place to live. She’s irreplaceable. My thoughts are with her many friends and especially her beloved family.”

Logan said: “Mom constantly told me something her momma told her, that you ‘always leave a party while you’re having a good time.’ She left us while she was having a great time. She left peacefully, and her spirit is with us. That’s how I deal with this.”

Ultimately, heart issues extinguished a great light in College Park, but Andrea Kudlacz leaves a legacy that will shine forever.

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