It's all for the children
Region 15 Children's Advocacy Center to open soon

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

“Would you like to see a baby bunny?”

Innocent words spoken from a man a nine-year-old girl knew and trusted explicitly, led to a calamity that changed her life forever.

Even though the woman, Diane Kvapil is now 77, an accomplished actress, professor, and award winning screenplay writer - her story is a true one. It is a story of innocence lost at the hands of a respected businessman.

Diane’s story dates back to the early 1940’s. The stage is set with World War II being the focal point. Those who hadn’t gone off to fight in the war were feeling the effects at home. Diane’s family was no different. Her father and mother both worked long days at jobs that accelerated the war effort.

During this time, gas was rationed as were many other items. “During the war, the focus wasn’t on children,” Diane remembered. She was left to her own devices and since she wasn’t a michevious child, this worked well for all involved.

Her family lived in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where a little yard afforded her the love of her life, some chickens. These were her “Easter” chicks, who guess what? They grew up to be chickens, all 12 of them! Her family had a “victory” garden, as did most people in those days, and the chickens were all part of the process, therefore her parents didn’t kick about having them.

Diane took full responsibility for those fowl, feeding and caring for them daily. She even rode her bicycle to the feed store, about 20 minutes away, to purchase the grain they needed.

She described her neighborhood as one where you would see a brand new home and a block away cows were grazing. Such was the Bethesda, Maryland area at that time. It was a place of suburbia contentment, as much as could be had considering the circumstances.

On this particular day that changed the course of Diane’s life forever, she set out as she had many times before - to get her chickens some feed.

Diane arrived at the feed and grain store just ahead of what she called a “brewing” storm. Once inside, she could hear the rain pounding on the tin roof and knew it would be a while before she went back home.

The owner of the store, a man Diane described as a “beardless Santa in bib overalls” always kept little animals in the back store room. She said he had perfected a personality that appealed to children and she liked and “trusted him completely.”

When he offered to show her a baby bunny, she was excited. Her excitement would quickly change to fear, and then anger and hopelessness before it could be revealed.

There in the back store room, he sexually assaulted this child who said, ,”I froze. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I knew it was very ugly.”

Diane was literally “saved by the bell” as the tinkling sound of a customer coming in the front stopped this monster in his tracks. He told her to wait right where she was, he’d be right back.

Although she was terrified and could barely move, she knew she had one chance. “I walked straight through the store,” she told The Versailles Republican. Her strength was the only thing that kept him from completely destroying her innocence.

“I rode my bike hard and fast in the heavy rainstorm,” she recalled. Diane went to a recreation center where children were known to frequent where she said, “I cried and cried and cried.”

She thought she couldn’t tell anyone. “I was so ashamed.” And, although she had done absolutely nothing wrong, as many child victims do, she suffered in silence.

She knew she could never go back to that store. Therefore, she made one of the most heart wrenching decision of her young life - to get rid of her beloved pets. “I couldn’t get the food, I couldn’t tell my parents, they (the chickens) just had to go.” At this point of the interview, Diane was sobbing. Her love for her pets broke her heart.

Through the process, her parents were so busy they never questioned her odd behavior. Why was she riding her bike in a rain storm? Why didn’t she bring the chicken feed home? And why would she insist on getting rid of these beloved pets?

No one noticed.

“The thing that amazed me the most, was how much I changed after that,” Diane told The Versailles Republican. “I was an angry little girl.”

She remembered having a BB gun that she practiced with until she became a “real dead eye.” She took wire clothes hangers and made a rack and hung that gun over her bed. “My parents never noticed,” she commented.

Diane became a “tomboy”, a loner, an athlete. None of the things she was before the incident. She surrounded herself with friends who were boys (for protection should she need it).

For an entire year Diane carried the burden an adult had willfully placed on her.

But, vindication did come. About a year after the incident that changed Diane’s life occurred, she said she had been playing softball in a vacant lot when her mother was sitting on a neighbor’s porch with a strange man. They summoned Diane to the porch and he turned out to be an investigator. The situation was more grim than anyone could have imagined. Lots of children had been molested by this same store keeper, even a teenage girl was pregnant by him.

The secret shame of a well-preserved neighborhood was about to boil over. There were more problems. “None of the parents wanted to go to court,” Diane recalled. “You have to remember, this was the 40’s - sex was not talked about - period,” she noted.

But, she was willing and so was her “fiesty” mother, who was hopping mad.

I remember walking into court and seeing all these scared little girls with their upset mothers, recalled Diane. She said the kind officer who she had initially told her story to just bent down and said, “keep on telling the truth.” And, so she did. “That man was glaring at me, but I told the truth.”

The storekeeper was convicted on Diane’s testimony alone. He was given the maximum sentence at that time - only six months in jail, which infuriated Diane’s mother.

Knowing the trauma of the whole ordeal first hand and then having to see her perpertrator face-to-face makes the idea of the Region 15 Child Advocacy Center such an important issue for Diane.

“Here, the children will be safe,” she noted. The concept of the CAC is to interview children who have been allegedly abused or molested in a safe setting by an expert forensic interviewer. This interview is videotaped and often eliminates the children from having to face their perpertrator in court. “You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve done it,” Diane quietly stated.

She has another motivator with the new CAC. Her daughter, Sarah Brichto, is the executive director.
Between Diane’s hectic life of still instructing acting classes in Cincinnati, she has made time to help completely redecorate the facility at Dillsboro making it “kid-friendly.” The facility, a regional one, is the first in the state of Indiana.

Excitement mounts as Diane helps put the finishing touches on the center located just two blocks off US 50 in Dillsboro on Rullman Drive. The facility used to be the law office of Kim Schmaltz and has two floors with 2500 square feet to work in.

“I’ve dealt with it so it’s not hard to talk about,” Diane told The Versailles Republican, saying the incident of her childhood made her stronger.

However as years went by she realized society still wasn’t dealing with the issue of abused and molested children. She worked on a screenplay that eventually won an award in New York City for being the first TV show ever to deal with child molestation. It was an NBC Young People’s Special entitled, “The Horrible Secret.” Diane plays herself in the special under the screen name of Diane Danzi.

Diane shares her story for one simple reason - to save a child from the horrors she suffered. She advises parents to look for radical changes in their children.

Diane has no time for self pity. She closes the chapter with a positive spin that can help others. She admits bringing her artistic flair to the new CAC is a way to help other children. But, it’s also an opportunity to spend time with her own daughter, Sarah.

An open house for agencies, law enforcement and donors will be held at the center on September 24. A public open house will be announced at a later date, according to Brichto.

The support of the community will make a difference in the lives of future generations and make a stronger community.

Whether Diane Kvapil, seated right, is sifting through color swatches with her daughter, Sarah Brichto, left, who is the executive director of the new Region 15 Child Advocacy Center located in Dillsboro, or telling her compelling childhood personal story about abuse, Kvapil captivates an audience with her quiet story of despair turned into triumph. She has helped decorate the new Region 15 Child Advocacy Center while still teaching acting at the University of Cincinnati.