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November 22, 2002

For Iva: Soap stars coming home to honor cancer victim

From: Henderson Gleaner, KY
Nov. 22, 2002

By Judy Jenkins - Gleaner News Columnist

When "One Life to Live" soap star Kassie Wesley DePaiva was growing up in Morganfield, she wore a path through the grass between her family's tall white house on South Morgan Street and the residence next door.

She was as much at home at Iva and Wayne Waggener's place as she was her own, and she tells me "I could be crazier at Iva's house. You know when you're a kid you can always be crazier at somebody else's house." The Wesley children, John, Jeff, Sara and Kassie, are contemporaries of the Waggener offspring, Brucie and Doby. In fact, Kassie and Doby are only a week apart in age.

Iva, who's been described as brash, blunt, funny, warm, totally-lacking pretense and full of love, "was very special in my life," Kassie said Tuesday in a telephone interview from her New York City apartment.

Iva Woodring Waggener died at home on July 19 this year, only nine days after her 64th birthday. "She battled cancer for 10 years, and she won most of the battle," Kassie says. And even when Iva was dying, she demonstrated courage that inspired everyone around her and taught them lessons in grace.

Kassie visited as much as possible, and was aware of the care given Iva by nurses and volunteers of St. Anthony's Hospice. That organization made it possible for Iva to remain in her house and be surrounded by friends and family.

Kassie wanted to do something that would be a tribute to Iva and also raise funds for St. Anthony's, which is a non-profit agency. She didn't have to look very hard for that "something," because she and her husband James DePaiva -- "Max Holden" on "One Life to Live" -- have previously performed the touching and entertaining "Love Letters" play written by A.R. Gurney. Last February, they did that play in New Jersey to benefit "The League for the Hard of Hearing."

The League is important to the couple because their son J.Q., 5, was born with a hearing disability and received a Cochlear Implant at 18 months. The little boy with the beaming smile has done very well, and has no trouble keeping up with his peers who haven't had a disability.

Kassie and James offered to do "Love Letters" for St. Anthony's and the organization was delighted to accept. The performance, in Iva's memory, will take place on the Friday following Thanksgiving at the Camp Breckinridge Museum & Arts Center. The good news for hospice is that the play is already sold out, and has raised $10,000 for the agency.

The bad news for everyone who meant to get a ticket but put it off is that you won't get to see the two-person presentation this time, but Kassie says if another charitable organization can fill the 1,000 seat Henderson Fines Arts Center, she and James would be willing to do another performance of the play that follows the lives and relationships of its two characters through their written correspondences.

Kassie's dad, semi-retired Morganfield attorney J. Quentin Wesley, cautions that the play "will make you cry." That it will, Kassie says, "but it'll also make you laugh." Different people derive different things from it, she said. "It all depends on how deep your heart is."

As usual, the DePaivas will be having Thanksgiving dinner with Kassie's family. "All our kids come home on Thanksgiving," her dad says. And he and Kassie's mom Hildegard look forward to each July, when the whole extended family spends a week together at the beach. J. Quentin says they've been doing that for 15 years and that the 4-bedroom house they rent "was $600 a week when we started. Now it's $2,600." The week "gives all the cousins a chance to get to know each other."

It was evident early on that Kassie, who reportedly was full of mischief as a child, was going to make her mark in the world. As a Union County High School student she starred in plays, became Union County's 1978 Junior Miss, and excelled in speech, drama and music competitions all over the South. "Hildegard put about 10,000 miles on the car driving her places," her dad says.

Her first summer after high school she landed a singing and dancing job at Opryland, and at 18 debuted as a soloist on the Grand Ole Opry. Kassie, who attended Indiana University and UCLA, was "Bobby Jo" in the movie "Evil Dead II" and in 1986 won a lead role in the soap opera "Guiding Light." She was good girl "Chelsea Reardon" on that soap for four years.

Ten years ago, she became the scheming "Blair Cramer" on "One Life to Live."

She's done guest spots on "Melrose Place," "Baywatch" and other shows, but hasn't pursued a big movie career. "I'm very satisfied right where I am," she said. She gets to utilize her talents and still have plenty of time to spend with family, which includes James' daughter Dreama. She is, she says, "the most blessed girl in the world."

She and James, as Blair and Max, were briefly married on the soap opera but their on-air relationship has had some thorns. Chuckling, Kassie related that she, as Blair "shot Max in the back 'cause he was cheating on me." But he survived "and I didn't have to go to trial."

© 2001 The E.W. Scripps Co.