Extraordinary Woman – Linda Unfried

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Linda Unfried was born and raised in Ybor City and learned very early on that family was the most important thing to her parents. The youngest of four children, she has “always been the type to have a strong personality and strong beliefs and to always stand up for what I believe in.”

In 1992, she attended a Christian Singles group and was blessed to meet her husband Karl. When she and Karl met, she had been divorced for 12 years, with two grown children, Roger Jr. and Traci, and a 12-year-old son, Trent.

Today, she and Karl have celebrated 20 years of marriage and have five grandchildren: Danielle, 17, Delaney, 13, Alex, 11, Zachary, 10 and Arden Kathleen, born Dec. 9, 2013. “They are all the light of my life. Soon after our first grandchild was born, I realized like most other grandparents quickly do, the love of a grandchild is different. It’s amazing and truly unexplainable love.

Karl and Linda are very active at Corpus Christ Catholic Church in Temple Terrace. As part of the marriage ministry team, they work with engaged couples. They are also both Eucharistic ministers.

Linda’s faith has brought her through tough times. In 1983, while celebrating her parents’ 55th wedding anniversary, she said goodnight to her sister Josie. She did not know at the time that the hug and kiss they shared would be their last.

Josie was driving home and was struck head on by a 17-year-old driving on a suspended license and with an alcohol level twice the legal limit. Josie died at 12:35 a.m. Oct. 29, 1983.

“Earlier that year, Josie and I had watched the TV movie about Candy Lightner, who started MADD in California after her teenage daughter was struck and killed by a DUI repeat offender. After the movie, we spoke about volunteering with MADD to keep our teenage children safe. At the time of her death, I felt that I needed to do all I could to help other families who were suffering like mine. This was a senseless tragedy and I now needed to step up and help to make a difference.”

Linda co-founded the Hillsborough County Chapter of MADD in March 1984. She has earned numerous honors during her many years with MADD, including 2007 Citizen of the Year (Temple Terrace), Bay News 9 Everyday Hero, Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL Community Quarterback Award Finalist, MADD’s Lifetime Humanitarian Award and MADD National’s Mickey Sadoff Drunk Driving Prevention Award.

“What seemed like such a simple message — don’t drink and drive — has been an uphill battle all the way. Great strides have been made over the past 30 years, including changing the legal drinking age to 21, lowering the legal limit to .08 and educating students on the dangers of drinking and driving at an early age. Even through all our efforts and achievements, we have a lot of work to do to end these senseless tragedies that still occur every day.”

What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?

Unconditional and, sometimes, tough love! In good times and bad times, my parents were always there for me, and I am confident that my children and grandchildren know that I am always there for them as well.

What is your biggest fear?

That the life-saving message that I have struggled so hard to spread throughout our community will go unheard by someone I know, love and respect.

What advice would you give to other women?

Keep the faith! Persevere and stand up for what you believe in! Throughout my life I have always stood strong in anything I believe in, such as the Hillsborough County MADD Chapter. In the early days of MADD, people misunderstood what we stood for. Many perceived us to be prohibitionists, which we are not and never were. But that didn’t discourage me. It has been a tremendous uphill battle to get a very simple message across to people: Be responsible and don’t drink and drive.

What is your proudest moment?

On Nov. 14, 2013, surrounded by my husband, children, grandchildren, family and friends, I was honored and recognized as a Community Hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning. That night, Jeff Vinik handed me a check for MADD for $50,000. My dream for the past 30 years has been to begin educating children about the dangers of drinking and driving at a younger age. This grant has made this dream come true as we are now able to begin educating the students in middle school. Statistics have shown that by age 10 some children have already had their first drink of alcohol. I believe the earlier we educate the safer our children and streets will be. A dream is having a goal. Our goal is to eliminate drunk driving. This grant will enable us to make strides in attaining our goal.

What is your biggest achievement?

My greatest achievement is being a part of a well-respected organization that has been instrumental in saving lives. When a life-altering tragedy happens to you, it has to be grieved. I decided to grieve in a positive manner. I refused to stand in the darkness of tragedy and moved forward with courage. I recently read that courage is not fearlessness. Courage is the ability to keep going. I thank God everyday for the strength and courage that keeps me going.

What makes you happy?

Spending quality time with my grandchildren. I love to hear them laugh and see their smiling faces. When they are happy, I am happy. My husband and I love taking them on mini vacations, making special happy memories all the time. I have been employed at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office since 1993. When I retire, I look forward to traveling with Karl and spending lots of time with the grandchildren.

How do you relax and take time for yourself?

I love working in my garden, where I seem to find a sense of peace. I also find that same sense of peace and relaxation when we travel to the mountains. The outdoors is absolutely my favorite place.

What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?

Never give up fighting for what you believe in. All dreams are attainable. Enjoy your family and friends. Life is short and you should embrace your time together.

What else would you like to share with our readers? About being a mom, about your work?

There is no greater gift than being a mom or a nana.  The first time they smile or call your name, those are gifts you can’t put a price tag on. My oldest granddaughter Danielle recently asked, “Nana, what do you want for Christmas?” My reply was, “Nothing but spending time with all of you! There is no greater gift!”

How do you enjoy or draw information from the magazine?

The health and wellness articles are my favorite. I really try and maintain a healthy lifestyle so I enjoy any articles about health and well-being.

What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in Tampa Bay?

We love going to Busch Gardens. We also love the outdoor games we play with the grandchildren like Bocci Ball and Ladder Golf. Sometimes our best memories are made by playing the simple games we enjoy.

Who is your biggest inspiration or role model?

My biggest inspiration is my faith and trust in God. It’s the many people who share their faith with me. If it were not for my faith, I would have never been able to journey through the last 30 years in MADD. God has truly blessed me in my faith as his follower, a wife, mother, nana, sister, family and friend.