Former Miss America, Incest Survivor, Shares Her Story

…“Scuff, scuff, scuff.”

The sounds of expensive felt soles making their way down the hall of a Denver mansion in the middle of a night.

The slow turn of the door handle on the private bedroom door of a 5-year-old girl.

The child recalls from memory that they were the sounds of terror and of horror in her home.

And she says she listened for them every night of her life until she was 18 years old.

Her father wore these shoes, remembers Miss America 1958 Marilyn Van Derbur.

Marilyn and her father

Marilyn and her father: a photo can tell a thousand words

The late father was a wealthy and prominent Denver businessman and philanthropist. The Boy Scouts building in Denver once had his name on it — since taken off — and he was a chairman of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said Van Derbur.

“He played the piano. He loved poetry. He was one of the finest speakers I have ever heard … Mother was beautiful, gracious, lovely. You would look at my family and think, ‘It could never happen,’” said Van Derbur.

Miss America 1958, author of the prize winning “Miss America By Day,” says she is a childhood incest survivor and discusses the incest and the aftermath with passion and obsession in a telephone interview with The Times.

Her father was never charged nor convicted for the crimes the daughter says happened in her childhood and he died before she went public with the story.

However, her mother was still living when the story originally came out in the Denver Post, but before her daughter came out publicly.

Van Derbur brings her story here for the Oct. 14 Gingerbread House Bossier/Caddo Children’s Advocacy Center Partners in Prevention 2014 Luncheon. The event is presented by the Ballengee Foundation.

“Proceeds from the luncheon will help the Gingerbread House continue to provide all services free of charge to victims and their families,” said executive director Jessica M. Millen.

“What I have been able to share with America, is that ‘Incest doesn’t just happen in ‘those’ families.’ … What people need to understand is this (incest) could happen to anybody,” Van Derbur said.

And it does in nine parishes, predominantly Caddo and Bossier Parishes, which Gingerbread serves, Millen said.

Although incest itself is not broken down in figures in 2014, Gingerbread House served 649 victims of child — boys and girls — sexual abuse.

“The children were ages two to 14 — from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest of the wealthy families, from the blue collar workers to professionals. On the average, we see 54 new children every month,” according to Millen

“This year, we are up to 66 a month, a 22 percent increase,” she added.

She says the biggest threat to children are people they know — from parents to a parent’s boyfriend, to the babysitter and others.

“Her’s (Van Derbur) is a message of powerful survival,” said Gingerbread House board member Waynette Ballengee. “It will be an inspiring, astonishing story to learn how she rose above it. She has a happy marriage and has raised a child.”

So, a questions begs to be asked: Where was Van Derbur’s mother when her father visited her bedroom and that of an older sister? (Two other sisters shared a bedroom and were not molested.)

Well, one night only, there was the “clip, clip, tap, tapping” of expensive stiletto-size heels of house shoes known as “mules” on the linoleum.

When the sound came, everything stopped in the bedroom. There was no sound.

“It is over,” thought Van Derbur. “Finally, it is over.”

But the tapping sound turned around and disappeared into the night.

Her mother knew, said her daughter.

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van derbur, seated with her family, Sept. 7, 1957, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo)

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van derbur, seated with her family, Sept. 7, 1957, in Atlantic City, N.J.

Years later, Van Derbur finally went to tell her mother.

“I was sobbing uncontrollably and tried to get the words out. Her arms were folded. She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t believe you. It is in your fantasy,’” said Van Derbur.

“I felt I had been slapped. I walked out the door,” she continued. “And came home sobbing.”

In a subsequent meeting, her mother, then 88, said, “I have no tears for you. I have no tears,” Van Derbur said. “I was with her when she died. I had no love for her.”

In all those years, Van Derbur never talked about her life.

Nor how she endured what she describes.

“I found a way to separate my mind, to departmentalize, to repress all those memories … The trauma was so severe,” she said.

She said as difficult as it may seem, she was one person at night as her father touched her, and the next day was a popular high schooler, and later college student, who graduated from University of Colorado, Phi Beta Kappa.

In the interview with The Times, Van Derbur talks fast and furiously about her life and what she has done with it after her life began to “implode” at 39. When her own daughter turned 5 — the age Van Derbur was when she recalls that her father began abusing her — it triggered memories and feelings she had long buried deep within her.

She said her body suddenly went into physical paralysis and she was hospitalized for weeks. The struggled continued for years.

In her early 50s, she went public, after the Denver Post ran a front page story on the incest.

“Most adults do fairly well with their lives until they are in the late 30s or early 40s. We are forced to go back and heal childhood wounds and relive,” said Van Derbur.

The Denver Post story, done without an interview with Van Derbur, was headlined “Miss America Overcomes Shame.” It was just one of many stories about her life, including one in People magazine.

Van Derbur thought her life was over when the story was made public.

“People will turn away,” she thought. “No one will see me as the same. No family will want their son to marry my daughter. No university will accept my daughter.”

She didn’t know what to do.

She was surprised when people begin to tell her how proud they were of her.

And, when her sister came forward, too, Van Derbur felt people would believe her.

And she helped create an adult survivor program at the Kempe National Center, now recognized as the Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse.

Before she came out publicly, Van Derbur confronted her father.

“I drove as fast as I could to get there. The house I grew up in was very big. This was the most difficult thing I had ever done.”

She even made notes because she wanted to be very specific, but she says she didn’t go in anger. At the end of conversation, he lay a gun in the palm of his hand and said if she had come any other way, he would have killed himself. She had no doubt he would have killed her first.

In seven years, she called her father a second time, but before she could get to the house, she received a phone call from her mother that her father had died of a heart attack.

The sounds in the night she says she heard have stopped for her.

For many area children, they have not.

So, for the children and the adults who have never found peace, Van Derbur speaks.

Her message is powerful.

EVENT: Gingerbread House Bossier/Caddo Children’s Advocacy Center Partners in Prevention 2015 Luncheon.

Benefits: Gingerbread House.

When: Noon, Oct. 14 at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino, Shreveport.

Presented by: The Ballengee Foundation.

Admission: $125, individual; $1,500, table for 10; $1,500 to $5,000, sponsorships.

Information: 674-2900.

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http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/life/2015/10/07/former-miss-america-incest-survivor-shares-story/73516224/

 

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