The passing of a legend: City manager led Kissimmee’s bountiful progress

  • PHOTO/CITY OF KISSIMMEE Mark Durbin was the Kissimmee city manager for 23 years before retiring in 2010.
    PHOTO/CITY OF KISSIMMEE Mark Durbin was the Kissimmee city manager for 23 years before retiring in 2010.

He danced on stage as Elwood Blues.

He glided across a rink playing roller hockey.

And he was one of the longest and most respected city managers in the city of Kissimmee.

Mark Durbin, 65, passed away at his home in Kissimmee from pancreatic cancer on Sept. 22.

He fought to the very end.

“The most anybody ever gave him was a year (to live) and he made it two years and about three weeks,” said his wife, Connie Masters Click.

He had a management style that was about lifting up his employees and letting them do what they do best. An employee memorial at the front of Kissimmee City Hall has a quote from Durbin engraved on it. It reads: “The most valuable asset the city has is its employees.’ – Mark Durbin, city manager.

“He created a culture in the city government that to this day has not left this organization,” said Kissimmee City Manager Mike Steigerwald, who was named Durbin’s successor when he retired in 2010.

Durbin spent 31 years working in the city management profession, 23 of which were as city manager of Kissimmee.

“I had the honor to work with him for 10 years,” said Linda Goodwin-Nichols, who served both as a city commissioner and mayor. “He’s a phenomenal individual.”

Steigerwald said Durbin was certainly a mentor, who helped him model his own leadership style.

“He taught me you don’t have to make every decision. You don’t have to be the one that decides on every single thing that happens,” Steigerwald said. “All you have to do is put the right people in the right places with the proper expertise and give them the ability to provide input and give you advice. Your decisions are always going to be sound when you have your team advising you.”

The leadership

During his time as city manager, Durbin shaped the city into what you see today. He helped facilitate the parks system, including the pristine Lakefront Park. He also shepherded the purchase of 110- acre Lancaster Ranch site. The Lancaster Ranch site is situated on the on the southern edge of the city of Kissimmee’s city limits. The property is located on the west side of John Young Parkway, just north of Pleasant Hill Road. Shingle Creek runs along the south edge of the property. Once completed, the Shingle Creek Regional Trail bike and pedestrian path will bisect the park.

“It’s going to be the largest park the city has and it will be a significant addition to the community,” Steigerwald said.

The park, likely to be completed in about five years, will be like a state park that could include a gymnasium for basketball tournaments, soccer fields and a canoe launch at Shingle Creek.

Durbin also oversaw the growth of Kissimmee Gateway Airport that gained a control tower and an instrument landing system, which can help navigate aircraft landings in bad weather.

He presided over the creation of Martin Luther King Boulevard, which became an alternative eastwest route to U.S. Highway 192. Moreover, he helped establish the city’s 12-mile bike path system.

“When he did something and he believed in something, he gave it 150 percent,” Goodwin-Nichols said. “It was never ‘they (employees) work for me, it’s always we work together.’ He never took any personal accolades for anything he did.”

She recalled meeting with Durbin for lunch at the beginning of 2020 and he asked her if she would do part of his eulogy. So she started calling his friends and former co-workers and asked them to give her one word about Mark Durbin.

“You wouldn’t believe what I have received so far, it is unbelievable,” she said. “I wish I could read you all the words I have gotten.”

One aspect of the job that Durbin loved was the people, his wife said.

The happy couple

Durbin and Click met through a singles group at First Christian Church and dated for about a year before they were married May 3, 1992.

“First time I took him to meet my parents, I got hives,” Click said laughing.

They just seemed to gel together well.

“I was comfortable with him,” she said.

The married couple visited every state except for Alaska, Delaware and Hawaii hiking on trails.

“It was such fun seeing the United States,” Click said.

Durbin also was a fan of the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

“He researched those restaurants and we made sure we ate at many of those,” Click said.

Durbin certainly had a playful side. Along with his friend, Don Miers, Durbin performed for charity events as Elwood Blues, one-half of their own version of the Blues Brothers. He also enjoyed roller hockey and participated annually in an over-50 tournament in Las Vegas.

He gave back to his community by serving on the board of many civic and charitable organizations. He received numerous awards from private and public groups. Upon his retirement, the Kissimmee City Commission renamed Lakeside Park as the “Mark Durbin Park.”

Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he hardly slowed down. He and Click traveled the country visiting his children and grandchildren.

His family and his faith were paramount to Durbin, Click said.

And he took the news that he was sick pretty calmly, Click said.

“What are you going to do about it?” Click said. “So what he did about it was make the best of the life he had left.”