An entire community said goodbye to one of its toughest leaders Friday afternoon. Friends, family and members of the community gathered in a celebration of life for longtime CASA executive director Linda Osmundson at the Palladium Theater in downtown St. Pete.
As those who knew Osmundson would expect, the celebration was just that. Lively music played as people filed into the theater by the dozen. By the time it was time to start, the theater was standing room only – filled with domestic abuse advocates, community leaders and anyone else whose life was in some way touched by Osmundson.
The fierce domestic abuse survivor’s advocate, herself a survivor, was so instrumental in the St. Pete community stamping out domestic violence and empowering its survivors, Osmundson’s memorial drew several elected officials. Spotted in the crowd were Congressman David Jolly, County Commissioners Ken Welch and Pat Gerard and City Council members Ed Montanari and Steve Kornell. Others were likely there too, hidden amongst the throngs of Osmundson fans.
Under her tenure, CASA, which stands for Community Action Stops Abuse, grew from a staff of seven working out of a small home to a 100-bed facility that opened last summer. The program also has a downtown outreach center, provides transitional housing, and has 80 employees.
Under Osmundson, the organization started a first-of-its-kind substance abuse treatment program for victims. It grew further still in 1996 with the opening of a supervised visitation center and in 1997 with a 14-unit transitional housing facility.
Osmundson also ushered in the Peacemakers Program for children in preschool through Middle School. The program aims to teach children alternatives to violence.
She also co-founded a program to get pardons for women who were victims of domestic violence and sent to prison for defending themselves. Her work on that statewide effort earned her the governor’s “Peace at Home” award.
Osmundson’s work has spread to other countries, including Columbia, Russia, China, India, Japan, Australia, and others.
Before heading CASA in St. Petersburg, Osmundson headed programs in Gainesville and West Palm Beach.
The service was full of life, but representative of Osmundson’s frugal lifestyle with one sole flower arrangement decorating the stage where a lone podium stood for speakers to eulogize her special life.
Gaelynn Thurman, vice president of CASA’s board of directors and longtime friend, shared the importance of Osmundson’s faith. Osmundson was a devout Christian Scientist. As such, she rejected medical treatment for an illness that led to a wound overtaking much of one side of her face.
It’s a move that may seem odd to some, but to her it was the logical choice. Even Osmundson’s husband, Maurice Kurtz, stood by her choice to rely on faith rather than medicine pointing out in his own eulogy that it was a decision she weighed heavily. He said he stood by her because he knew how important her faith was. He also joked that it was one of those things, of which there were several, that his wife would not be likely to budge.
Though most of the sentiments shared by friends, family and co-workers during the nearly two-hour celebration were jovial and many laughs were shared, Kurtz shared the story of how he and Osmundson came to fall in love. While he kept his voice steady and wore a near constant smile remembering their love story, not an eye was dry in the palladium.
Kurtz and Osmundson met through cycling. Both would meet a large group for Saturday morning rides. Their love blossomed over years of chance meetings and chats on curbs. Once married, the two continued enjoying cycling and other physical activities. They took their “real” honeymoon in 2012 to explore parts of Africa.
Kurtz joked that Osmundson was forever frugal in order to fund her next adventure.
But, of course, Osmundson’s biggest legacy in St. Pete will forever be her work on domestic violence. Tiffany Carr, CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, shared the story of how she met Osmundson years ago. New to the advocacy world, Osmundson schooled her on her wardrobe – lose the suit, heels and pantyhose Osmundson suggested while herself allegedly rocking a flowing skirt and a pair of Birkenstocks.
Carr lauded Osmundson’s work saying that after six hours of rifling through historic documents, there wasn’t an action taken in Florida domestic abuse advocacy work that wasn’t covered in Osmundson’s finger prints.
Osmundson’s three surviving sisters were also in town for the memorial. They joined on stage to sing a song they sang with their sister as children – Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
During the final half hour or so of the service, friends, family and supporters of Osmundson’s were invited to the microphone to briefly share their own memories. Each was full of love, admiration and strength.
Osmundson passed away January 5.