Getting To Know 'Legendary Local' Rebecca A. Duda
Jun 29, 2017 12:25AM
● By Juli Couture
You know someone is truly great in their craft when they can ignite their passion within you, just through simple conversation.
That is precisely what happened when I spoke with Rebecca A. Duda. Ms. Duda is probably best-known as Richardson Middle School’s well-respected, hard-working and charismatic history teacher since 2004. She also has her own history blog on the Lowell Sun’s website called Discovering the Historic Merrimack Valley.
What many may not realize is that she has also taken her devotion to uncovering local history and the early citizens who laid our foundation to the bookshelves. She has written two books through Arcadia Publishing; Dracut Revisited and Legendary Locals of Dracut.
While it is true that she lives and breathes history, for her it is not just about research, writing and teaching it. She yearns to preserve it so that future generations may enjoy immersing themselves in the past that made us who we are today. She not only uses her extensive knowledge and research to reach her students, but she also invites them to share in the history by walking down the same hallways the first settlers walked, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to leave their own mark on history by burying a class time capsule.
These discoveries and projects she shares with her students not only benefit their studies, but the community on a whole.
Rebecca was born in Danvers, but later moved to Beverly and graduated from Beverly High School. She admits that this curiosity and love of uncovering historical “mysteries” began at a young age. Her interest in her surroundings, such as whom a street was named after and why, when a town was founded, or what lay there beforehand, only grew as she did. She went onto Salem State University where she was awarded a scholarship in foreign language. Though she considered herself ‘undecided,’ she enrolled with a major in foreign language with a minor in geology.
It didn’t take long, however, until her love of uncovering the ‘whos’ and ‘whys’ again began to take hold. She ended up graduating with degrees in history and education; however, always a supporter of lifelong-learning, her education has not ended there. She is currently enrolled in Endicott’s Doctorate Program.
When asked what inspired her to write for Acadia Publishing, Ms. Duda said that one day she was reading Beverly Revisited, and noticed a mistake. Hoping to get the mistake corrected, she wrote to Arcadia to notify them, and as she did, read that you can propose a book idea to them.
Having already uncovered much of Dracut’s history through research and hands-on classwork, she decided to put in a bid to write Dracut Revisited and was accepted. She laughed that the mistake she found in Beverly Revisited was never changed, to her dismay. She went to work reading, researching and writing, utilizing the archives in Dracut’s Historical Society and diving into old newspapers. Dracut Revisited was published in July of 2012. She said she found the difficulties of publishing a book were that she was at the mercy of an editor, and also knowing that no matter how many times you went over your work with a fine-toothed comb, that once it went to print, you could not take it back. She admitted that she finds writing for her blog a much more enjoyable experience.
While researching information for the first book, Rebecca found herself intrigued by the names and faces that have forged the town into what it is today, which sparked her interest in writing Legendary Locals of Dracut, which was published in December of 2014. She stated that working on the second book was very enjoyable and exciting since, unlike the last book, this one required more footwork and more personal experience. She got to meet people all over town and they had shared with her their treasured memories, photos and memorabilia.
The best part for her was getting an opportunity to hear and share their wonderful stories with everyone. Legendary Locals has a review of 5 stars which reads: “Ms. Duda has done a great job in capturing the "movers and shakers" of Dracut's past and present. She is an award winning teacher that inspires her students with research and love of local history.”
Both books are available in local bookstores such as Barnes and Noble as well as online on sites such as Amazon.
Though some people may have chosen to use the proceeds of these books to travel, for luxury items or a well-deserved vacation, Ms. Duda chose to give back to her community. The proceeds from Dracut Revisited funded a scholarship foundation in the memory of her Grandfather, which is awarded to chosen Dracut students on Pride Night.
The proceeds from Legendary Locals went to WCAP Lowell’s telethon, benefitting the Salvation Army. This is not out of the ordinary since Ms. Duda thrives helping her community. Through a class project, she and her students found, researched, and fought for the restoration and preservation of Dracut’s Claypit Cemetery. She and her students raised proceeds to protect the Civil War site, Harper’s Ferry as well as headed a fundraiser for the Lawrence Civil War Memorial Guard. She is a member of Dracut’s Historical Society, and is an advisor/coordinator for the National History Club, National Junior Honor Society, as well as the Model United Nations and Geography Club.
Not only do her actions benefit communities, but they also introduce her students to respecting local heroes and to preserve and protect historical sites for future generations to reflect on and enjoy.
Her incredible teaching, community outreach and desire to share the untold stories of the past with the world have not gone unnoticed or unrecognized. Back in 2006, she was Massachusetts’ Council for Social Studies recipient of the William Spratt Award for Excellence in Teaching Middle School. Then, in 2009, she received the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award for Outstanding Middle School Social Studies Teacher. In 2010, Salem State University named her as an Outstanding Educator and was also named a ‘Local Hero’ by Community Teamwork in Lowell for preservation efforts and also received Dracut Access TV’s Youth Impact Award. In 2011, she was awarded both the Outstanding History Club Advisor Award as well as the Student Excellence in Cultural Heritage Award, given by the Lowell National Park Service for her work in preserving the Claypit Cemetery.
In 2014, Rebecca was the National Honor/National Junior Honor Society’s Advisor of the Year, and received the Rynearson Award from the NASSP. In 2015, she became the very first recipient of the Varnum award, which was created to recognize a member of the community who ‘exemplifies civic and patriotic spirit through volunteerism to the community or demonstration of love of country through military service.’
To date, I don’t believe there is an award that captures the pure essence of Rebecca Duda, a ‘Legendary Local’ in her own right, any better than that of the Varnum award. She truly is a pioneer of education not just through teaching, but also advocating, advising and creating new and exciting ways to introduce her students to the foundations of their past.
When I had mentioned her impressive list of accomplishments and accolades for her outstanding work through the years, she humbly explained: “I don’t like to talk about those, that’s not why I do what I do.”
She went on to say that her goal in life is simply “earning people’s trust and respect” and that her true reward comes from sparking excitement and interest in history within her students and watching them thrive and succeed. She said she is especially proud and honored when her previous students return to her and share that they have also chosen a career in teaching.
As Harry S. Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” and Rebecca A. Duda’s gift to us all is uncovering these whole new worlds and sharing them with her students and with us all.