COLLEGE TOWNSHIP — COLLEGE TOWNSHIP — Emotion breaks into Dana Carlisle Kletchka’s voice when she says that her tree-filled, close-knit street “was an awesome neighborhood.”
Emphasis on “was.”
Grandview Road “was” the kind of neighborhood, in Lemont, where residents welcomed Dana and her husband, Paul, in 2001 with garden produce, meals and introductions. They enjoyed a bond so close that neighbors held each other’s house keys.
“Most of the people who lived around here were retired,” Dana Kletchka said. “We liked that there were people here during the day so they could keep an eye out on the neighborhood.”
At the time, the Kletchkas’ real estate agent told them they’d be living next door to Jerry Sandusky. Dana Kletchka said she didn’t think she’d ever heard that name.
Soon enough, the couple met the Sanduskys, and Dana said she spoke more to Dottie, Jerry Sandusky’s wife. One day, during a rainstorm, she called Dottie Sandusky from work and asked her to close the Kletchkas’ home windows. They were the kind of neighbors that borrowed sugar.
“It was a very neighborly place,” she said. “A comfortable place. A happy place.”
That was before the child sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky. The case has rocked the entire community and brought shock, anger, confusion and other feelings to the quiet street.
Neighbors have hesitated to speak at length publicly, and some still choose not to. But those in two homes near the Sanduskys’ decided to speak to the CDT this week after the defense and prosecution rested in the case and a verdict was on the horizon.
Dana Kletchka said she has thought a lot about what happens next, and she and her husband have discussed leaving the neighborhood with their two young children.
“But our Realtor has said our house is not sellable,” she said. “At least not now.”
Paul Kletchka said that, while he reminds himself that the alleged victims have been through much more than his family, he can’t help but take some things personally.
“Our neighborhood will never be the same,” he said. “Really, I just want to see them gone. Frankly, I would like to see the house gone.”
Both he and neighbor Susan Strauss said they hoped for guilty verdicts in the case.
Strauss lives across the street and both yards display banners encouraging people to “Support victims of sexual abuse” from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an effort to provide a resource to people who may need one.
Strauss said life has been “really hard” and that she hoped for a guilty verdict.
“I think that would be the first step toward healing for everybody,” she said Thursday while the jury deliberated, watching a fawn lie next to a tree in her front yard.
And Strauss said she doesn’t plan on moving, because she recently added on to her house, and brought three of her six adopted children home in December.
“I don’t want to move,” she said. “I don’t think we should have to.”
Dana Kletchka said she has followed the trial “too closely” and that she and Paul speak to people about it mostly on Twitter.
“I think both of us feel like silence and complicity is what allowed this situation, allegedly, to flourish,” she said. “We don’t really feel like we want to be part of that silence.”
Dana said she remembers receiving a phone call from Dottie when news of the case first broke in March of last year.
“Dottie called us and asked us, if there were cars in the neighborhood, to kind of keep an eye out,” she said. “And that it wasn’t true, and that she appreciated our support.”
From the beginning, the couple said they thought it was important to keep open minds.
Strauss said she has supported Dottie Sandusky, and Strauss’ family even had lunch with her a couple of weeks ago, because the kids thought she might be lonely.
She took a handwritten note of support to the Sandusky house when the case broke. That day, Jerry Sandusky said something to her son that she didn’t find troubling until she read the grand jury presentment about six months later.
She said her son wanted to pet Sandusky’s dog, Bo, but was shy.
“Jerry said something like, ‘Next time you come over, we can go play with Bo in the basement,’” Strauss said.
When she read the presentment, which states that some incidents of alleged abuse happened in the Sanduskys’ basement, she asked her other children who were present that day if she had heard him correctly. She had.
“That woke me up in the middle of the night,” she said.
Strauss and the Kletchkas said everything they felt about the situation changed after reading the presentment, which gave graphic detail about the alleged abuse.
That day in November, Dana Kletchka was at work, and Paul was at home with their infant son. He saw police cars in the neighborhood and called his wife, who found the report detailing the accusations.
“I went home and we got the kids to bed, and I remember sitting on the couch and reading it, I think it was on a laptop,” Dana said. “I was thinking, I wish someone would hit me because it would hurt less than reading this. And both of us were in absolute shock and horror.”
The Kletchkas had about two more weeks of contact with the Sanduskys. The last time Paul spoke to them was the night in mid-November when someone threw two cinderblock pieces through one of the windows of the Sanduskys’ house. Paul said he and his wife had fallen asleep in the living room when a noise woke him.
“I looked outside, but I was looking at our house,” he said. “I didn’t see anything and I came back in. The phone was ringing and it was Dottie, and she asked if we had seen anything.”
Kletchka went to the house and, fearing for the safety of the Sanduskys, his family, and neighborhood, asked if they had another place to stay.
“They didn’t seem to take that very seriously,” he said. “After that I was petrified.”
For the last seven months, myriad reporters and gawkers have appeared on the street, which dead-ends at the Sanduskys’ home. The Kletchkas have a drawer full of reporters’ business cards and have fielded phone calls from many.
While Dana Kletchka said it was unnerving to watch the street become a spectacle, she and Strauss both said they felt some security with the media present.
“If anyone did anything, it would be on camera,” Strauss said.
Paul Kletchka remembered what he considered the strangest incident. In early December, he recalled being outside when a van with a family inside drove down the street. He said they pulled up slowly, and one member had a camera in hand. He said they turned around in his driveway, and he said their Christmas tree was attached to the back, freshly cut.
“They had cut their Christmas tree and come to see the Sandusky house,” he said. “It was surreal. It was just very weird.”
Strauss recalled another early day when she was cooking inside and her son was playing outside. A reporter walked up to the boy and spoke to him, then escorted him to the door, asking Strauss if he was OK.
She has used the case to help give her kids an education. Adopted from Ethiopia, she said they have less knowledge about the world than American children. In the beginning, she told them people were saying bad things.
“Now I’m giving them a mild version of what’s happening, day by day,” she said.
Strauss has used the case to open a conversation about inappropriate touching and that children can talk to their parents. They’ve also learned about the judicial system, like the difference between the prosecution and defense.
Dana Kletchka said, after the verdict, people will say it’s time to move on, but questions will remain about how to do that.
“We really have to learn how to trust one another again, while remaining vigilant about the safety of our children,” she said.
While the three neighbors said it has been hard to believe the allegations, they do believe them. Paul Kletchka said they would still be ignorant if not for the alleged victims.
“The thing we really want people to know, and especially want the victims to know, is that we believe them,” he said. “We really respect them and we think the world of them for coming forward and being brave enough to take the stand and not let the case die.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter