The cheering must have been heard throughout the building when Terry Duda walked into the Recreation Room at The Willows on November 5. Duda, the long-time recreation director at the residential care facility, was celebrated to mark her upcoming retirement after some 32 years. “I was shocked,” she said in a phone conversation after the event, “shocked beyond belief.”
The room, where she had entertained and engaged a generation of long-term patients, will be named the Terry Duda Recreation Room going forward. “You deserve this in so many ways,” said Peter Mongillo, administrator. “The heart and soul you put into your job had an effect on every soul who walked in these doors.”
The retirement planned for March of 2022 marks somewhat of a milestone in the history of the facility, which opened in the late 1980s. “She is the last of the original crew,” said one of her co-workers. The room was filled with current and former caregivers who worked with her, also administrators, patients and volunteers. When Duda walked in, unsuspecting of the celebration that was about to take place, they greeted her with a boisterous rendition of “She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Milton Flaks, president of the Resident Council, thanked her for her years of service. “You made a difference in all our lives,” he said. Among the celebrants was Woodbridge resident Garret Stack with his guitar, who presented a song written specifically for her. Stack had been a long-time volunteer at the facility, as he was looking after his mother.
This is not the first time that the center dedicated a part of its facility to a person who went above and beyond. Some 20 years ago the Walton Wing was named after Mary Walton, who had dedicated her life to the care of long-term patients – as a volunteer, no less. “Mary was one of my little angels,” Duda recalled.
“Woodbridge has been a steady trove of the most generous, kind people,” Duda said, when she talked about the many volunteers that have helped her offer enrichment programs. Among them are many young people who write letters for the holidays or come in to bring music to the residents. The high school has a program through which teenage volunteers come in to help out. “Those are some of our best volunteers,” she said.
Volunteers also come from churches and from the senior center, the Historical Society and other groups. The Volunteer Fire Department brings Santa and Mrs. Claus in December.
For Duda, the patients, the co-workers and the volunteers all constitute an extension of family. “I have more grandmas and moms than I can count,” she said. They tuck in her shirt, fix the collar, and make her smile.
But Covid has worn her out a little. “I need a little rest,” she said. Official retirement is not until March 2022, and even after that date, she plans to continue working per diem. But she is looking forward to developing more of her own hobbies, including biking and hiking with her husband, Mike, maybe taking a cooking class.
What she learns out in the world will make its way back to the Willows and its residents. “I’ll be back,” she promised.
- Rec Room dedication: Patients, co-workers and volunteers at The Willows care facility recently celebrated outgoing recreation director Terry Duda (center). The Recreation Room will be known as the Terry Duda Recreation Room going forward.
- Applause: Patients, co-workers and volunteers at The Willows care facility recently celebrated outgoing recreation director Terry Duda (left) with a surprise party
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent