Through destruction and grief, love endures

Debbie Goetz

To say things have been a bit stressful in College Park lately is an understatement. Hurricane Irma tested our patience, caused damage to our homes and crippled our small businesses from serving their customers. The one thing the storm didn’t touch, however, is our resilience and willingness to help one another. Love of community was seen everywhere in the 32804.

Just before Irma, however, we were dealt another huge blow.

On August 31, College Park lost its biggest cheerleader, champion and community builder. Andrea Kudlacz, “Ms. College Park,” died unexpectedly from heart failure in her home, the home she had lived in on Westmoreland Drive since 1978.

If you’ve ever wondered who spearheaded our fabulous street parties — JazzFest, Holiday on the Drive and Dancing on the Drive — it was Andrea.

How about Small Business Saturday or the Sidewalk Sale? Again, Andrea.

You know that cool bike rack and the beautiful Christmas decorations every year in Albert Park? You guessed it.

And that just barely scratches the surface when it comes to all Andrea did for this community. As executive director of the College Park Main Street program, she worked her tail off trying to connect business owners, not just to the public and future customers, but to each other. She never stopped looking for ways to help people find success.

Andrea and I have shared an office since 2011, so I experienced her dedication to College Park firsthand. Sure, part of it was her job, but I’ve never seen anyone work harder and with more passion than she did. Most weeks, she worked seven days a week in some capacity. On her days off, she could be found taking pictures along Edgewater Drive, supporting a business having a sale, baking cookies or a cake for whatever committee meeting was next, or even working up at the office on the reports she hated doing. (Andrea was a people person whose nemesis was paperwork.)

She never stopped.

While I’m deeply saddened for College Park losing such an important figure in the community, one who can never be replaced, selfishly I’m heartbroken for myself. I already miss our daily catch-up sessions about life and our kids, fighting over who got to buy lunch that day, her filling me on the latest rumors about businesses she heard were coming to CP, and her surprise gifts — whether my favorite snack or the latest find on QVC she was convinced would make my life better.

And, oh, goodness, could she bake. Everyone fortunate enough to be close to Andrea knows that baking was her love language toward others. Having surgery? She would show up the day before with homemade cookies. Lose someone you love? She would make you her famous hummingbird cake. Your birthday? More cake. Always 100 percent from scratch, of course.

Andrea was a beautiful example of a giving heart. Had she been here for hurricane Irma, I am confident she would have been running all around CP seeing how she could help.

What I will miss most about Andrea is her genuinely real spirit. She was someone you could pour your heart out to and know she sincerely cared, and she poured hers out just as openly. Those are the friends who don’t come along all that often, and I’m sure going to miss this one. I know College Park will, too.

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