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Diana Almodovar, Orange County Engineer

Diana Almodovar doesn’t need to get the band back together in order to celebrate her new post as Orange County’s Engineer, responsible for policy and code determinations for future development.

Her family is the band.

Almodovar, who worked alongside predecessor Joe Kunkel for nearly a decade before he retired in January, steps easily from her Deputy Director post into his shoes – and with a commanding salsa beat.

She plays the güiro – a gourd-like percussion instrument prevalent in Latin American music – in her family’s band – Ritmo y Sabor (Rhythm and Flavor).

“[The güiro is] typical in the merengue, the salsa, typical in music from the islands – and a very important instrument,” explains Almodovar, a native of Puerto Rico. “It keeps the rhythm for everybody.”

It’s an unsurprising musical role for the hardworking nucleus of a family – even if her kids are mostly gone from the nest.

Almodovar’s son Alexander recently joined Lockheed Martin as a test engineer, and husband John, an electrical engineer, will retire from the same company next month). Middle child Allen is a Le Cordon Bleu-educated chef, and the youngest, Michelle, will graduate from the University of Florida this year with plans to move on to veterinary school.

Music runs thick throughout. Almodovar’s husband and youngest son are percussionists, her oldest moonlights as a salsa dancer, performing regularly at Disney World and SeaWorld. Her three nephews and brother-in-law are musicians, and a niece plays sax and clarinet.

“When we get together, we jam,” Almodovar says. “Whenever we gather with friends, for a birthday or anniversary, we all bring the instruments and start playing.”

The scratch of the guiro isn’t quite enough to satisfy Almodovar’s itch, either. She plays guitar as well every Sunday, accompanying a church choir in which she also sings. It’s a comprehensive band: three guitars, one bass, and her husband on percussion.

“I started playing guitar when I was about 10,” she says, “picking it up from some of my family members. I took a few classes, but I didn’t like them and kept playing on my own with the neighbors and the people I spent time with – picking up whatever I could.”

The right side of Almodovar’s ambidextrous brain is satisfied by music – self-created and local. A Gotha resident, she’s a frequent guest at Yellow Dog Eats where she and family enjoy the barbecue and live entertainment.

Her father was what Almodovar describes as a “one-man band. He did a little bit of everything: plumbing, electrical, woodwork…. He was a handyman in every way.” And quite the influence. While her identical twin sister was elsewhere – “she would not get dirty,” Almodovar laughs, “her fingernails could not get messed up!” – Diana was the one helping dad do things like mix cement, lay pipe and do stucco.

“I learned a lot of construction and he used to tell me that I would make a good civil engineer. He geared me toward engineering.”

Athletic and active, she spent her childhood and adolescence heavily involved in sports – baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball and later, upon graduation from college and a move to Tennessee, soccer.

“My company had a co-ed league that needed female players,” Almodovar explains. “I didn’t know anything about soccer, but I loved sports and they taught me. Two weeks later I was on the field playing.”

She continued for her four years there, even moving on to coach 5- and 6-year-olds to play. A Sunday school teacher for some 25 years, Almodovar admits that teaching could easily have been her calling.

That said, she loves her work in transportation, and counts Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs among her professional proponents. The two met more than 20 years ago, when Almodovar worked with the county’s Development Engineering Division and Jacobs was an irate homeowner trying to prevent a road from being built in her backyard.

Born under adversarial circumstances, the relationship is now anything but.

“I have worked with Diana for more than two decades and have been impressed with her professionalism and technical competence,” Jacobs told Growthspotter. “She embraces every project with enthusiasm and commitment. Diana has my utmost confidence in assuming the position of County Engineer.”

Almodovar steps into Kunkel’s shoes with equilibrium in mind.

“In life, you have to have balance,” she opines. “You have to do what you like. I do music with my family and that makes me happy. I am a public servant and I will be until I retire because I feel like I’m contributing something to our community, to the place where my kids were born and grew up. Anything I can do to improve it will be a benefit not only to them, but my future grandkids…. I hope I have one soon!”

A.D. Thompson
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