Dutka Set to Retire from DHS

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Clay County DHS administrator Duane Dutka, shown here with gifts gathered for area children, will retire at the end of the year

Those with only a passing knowledge of Clay County administrator for the Department of Human Services Duane Dutka know he has long dedicated his time and efforts to helping others. For those fortunate enough to be more familiar with the man, he is a near-tireless volunteer, missionary, minister and state employee working to protect and care for the needs of not only residents of Clay County, but others struggling around the world. Dutka, who is battling an advanced form of arthritis, will be retiring from the DHS at the end of the year.

With the DHS, Dutka has led, and often created, programs which have made a difference in the lives of many. He has helped bring holiday cheer to countless families through the years with the Clay County DHS Christmas gift drive. The program collects gifts to be given to area families, most notably toys, through "adoption" by volunteers and organizations which purchase the gifts for local families on lists provided by DHS. As the holidays rapidly approach, Dutka and these caring volunteers are making final preparations to gather and distribute gifts to children who may not have received Christmas gifts without these special deliveries.

"Most counties gather gifts for foster children," Dutka said. "A few do it for abused children. Even fewer do it like I do, for any family that comes to us in the county."

The program, in its 28th year, means so much to those at Clay County DHS, employees have volunteered their time since its inception, coming back to the office after full days and hectic weeks to sort and wrap gifts in order to bring smiles to the faces of children in the county. Early on, Dutka partnered with area law enforcement agencies to distribute gifts, but this has since evolved into a more subtle volunteer practice, increasing anonymity for the families involved.

This is just one way in which Dutka has striven to help others in the county. To better understand the efforts of just this one program, one can imagine the hundreds of hours of work needed to plan, prepare, gather and oversee distribution of the gifts, spread out over a period of 28 years. The efforts can quickly become a massive undertaking, yet hard work and long hours is something from which Dutka has never shied.

Joining the DHS in 1984, Dutka worked in Blytheville for the first year he was employed by the state. In 1985, he was able to transfer to Clay County, taking an office in his hometown of Piggott. In 1988, Dutka became the state's youngest county administrator, taking over duties in Clay County at age 31.

Dutka became known for his efforts not only for those whom the DHS served, but also for his quest to improve and implement skills and technology. He soon went from attending seminars and training to hosting these educational opportunities across the state.

His skills have been applauded throughout Arkansas. Dutka was named as the 2007 County Administrator of the Year, which is comprised of all 75 Arkansas counties.

He has worked closely not only with DHS, but also the Division of Tourism and other agencies. Since 1992, he has served many times as Chaplain for the Arkansas State Senate and House of Representatives. He's served on the Clay County and Northeast Arkansas Regional Library Boards and was appointed to Division of Tourism Advisory Council by Gov. Mike Beebe in 2008 and served as chairman in 2010. Dutka is a board member for the Continuing Adult Education program at Black River Technical College. He is chairman of the board of Mid-South Christian College in Memphis. He has taken several courses through ADEM and FEMA regarding emergency preparedness, which he utilized to help organize volunteer efforts during the ice storm. Dutka says he'll continue to serve in these and other organizations and capacities even past his retirement.

Dutka has also offered help in other lands. He recently returned from a missionary effort in the Ukraine where he and others were working with orphanages.

"I've always believed children, whether right here or on the other side of the world, are among the most precious parts of humanity."

Dutka attributes his ability to perform in several different areas by "staying organized."

When asked what moments stand out most to him through the years, a telling smile appears on Dutka's face which represents one of those special individuals who truly cares about the challenges others face and the well-being of those around him.

"I would say its working with the community," he said. "Our workforce here has always been like a family. We interact more like a family than we do employees. I have been privileged to supervise many very, very good employees."

At the same time, though, there's no doubt the often sensitive nature of the work done by the DHS has impacted Dutka, as well.

"The worst part, something that's kept me awake for week straight before, is the child abuse that we see. There are some cases that, emotionally, I still can't talk about. That's the worst. There are things I've seen that will forever haunt me."

These terrible sights have not shaken Dutka's determination nor his strong faith. If anything, they only strengthened his efforts to make a difference.

"There are people, especially children, who need help. I've worked with many people who, like myself, want to be there to offer that support and do everything we can to help. I'm grateful to everyone I've worked with, through DHS and volunteering, with that goal in mind."

Dutka will be honored during a special retirement ceremony at the DHS office in Piggott from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4. The entire community is invited to attend.

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