The voice stood out, and was unmistakable.
Whether you walked in a South Florida gay bar over the last two-plus decades, sat at a poker table, bowled at the local lanes, or played softball at Mills Pond Park, when David Guzdek rasped, you knew who was barking without even looking.
But that bark has been silenced.
Guzdek, a longtime popular bartender at various South Florida establishments and member of the local gay softball league's Hall of Fame, died Tuesday morning at Holy Cross Hospital after being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, according to his husband Butch Fornaza. He was 47.
"All who knew him knew what a kind and generous soul he was," Fornaza wrote Wednesday morning on Facebook. "He was one of a kind. My heart hurts and my life will never be the same without him. I know he is in a better place, but we are going to miss him terribly."
Guzdek and Fornaza married on Feb. 29, 2016. Guzdek said he picked that day on purpose so he would only have to remember his anniversary once every Leap Year. Together they raised dogs and grew pineapples at their Fort Lauderdale home.
Born March 16, 1974, in Buffalo, N.Y., Guzdek moved to South Florida in 1996 searching for a community and better lifestyle, his sister Michelle said. He graduated from Pembroke High School, and studied business management at Bryant and Stratton Business Institute, his Facebook profile states.
His early days centered around bartending, where he used his handsome features to pack his station and recruit softball players. It was a theme that would continue to play out through his life until recently, when he took a management job in retail.
“I got the chance to work with him at Cathode,” friend Steve Woollett writes on Facebook. “He had quite the following he built up over the years. They would come to masse to see David, even at lunch.”
Woollett also remembers a time Guzdek brought in the softball league for an afterparty, and “Guz” didn’t think he’d be able to handle the overflow crowd. “But I didn’t need David’s help. He was ready to jump behind the bar, but I didn’t need him. I was busy AF, but I prevailed.”
Later, they toasted the day, raised a couple jagers. “David smiled, and with his lovely raspy voice said, ‘Atta girl,’” Woollett recalled.
But softball? He played that until the end.
Just this past November, Guzdek's Coalition Dynasty softball team won a D Division championship at the annual Hurricane Showdown. As the final out was being recorded, Guzdek bolted from the dugout with hands-on head, mouth agape, tears flowing, looking for someone — anyone — to hug. In a quarter-century of playing ball, it was the first time Guzdek won a championship. And he let everyone know that on social media.
“I will never forget us holding each other, crying after that final game,” teammate Ryan Schnell wrote on Facebook. “This man has picked me up and supported me so many times on and off the field. He is my champion.”
That championship game was the second to last time he would be in uniform at Mills Pond Park, with his final days in uniform coming a week later in the league's season-ending playoffs.
"He was more than just a member in our league," SFAAA Commissioner Jarvis McCray said. "He was an integral part of SFAAA. He was family to many."
Guzdek started his career in gay softball soon after starting his job behind the bar at Cathode Ray, which used to be on Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. From his perch, Guzdek started to play, coach, manager, and recruit gay players for the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association.
Guzdek was instrumental in those fledgling days of SFAAA in turning out dozens of players. For his efforts and hard work, he was inducted into the SFAAA Hall of Fame in 2015.
Guzdek played on numerous teams during his career, including Cathode Ray, Alibi Angels, Amazing Greens, Hung Jury, Arsenal, New Moon Thunder, Bandits, Marauders, and most recently Coalition.
“David and I played together my first year,” Michael McDonnell writes on Facebook, recalling his first year of league play in 2004. “He taught me how to play darts. A wonderful man.”
He played in his first Gay Softball World Series in 2002 in Portland with the Angels, and went almost 20 years before returning to a World Series, shuffling off to Kansas City with Coalition in 2019.
"It is a sad day in SFAAA as he will certainly be missed," McCray concluded.
As far as local watering holes, Guzdek has also worked at among others Sidelines, Bills Filling Station, Depot, Monkey Business, and finally Matty's Wilton Drive until late 2021.
Tributes have been pouring into Facebook since news broke of Guzdek’s passing.
Most are shocked, in disbelief, and are terribly saddened.
“The heavens have a new angel,” writes Blanca Puerta.
Others recalled his voice, welcoming smile, and love for his husband.
“We’ve lost too many good ones already,” writes Henry Corona. Butch “was the best thing to ever happen to Dave, and he loved you very much.”
Guzdek was preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Nancy. Guzdek is survived by his husband, Fornaza; brother Charles Jr. and sister-in-law Becky; and sister Michelle and brother-in-law Sherman.
"He had a lot of friends and loved you all," Michelle said. "You were his family, too."
No funeral service will be held, the family said. A celebration of life will be scheduled at Matty's Wilton Park in the near future, Fornaza said. The date and time have yet to be determined.