BY SUSAN ERWIN – Englewood Bank Teller and Boca Grande native Diane Kuhl Todd grew up in her grandmother’s house on Palm Avenue. She recalls with a gleam in her eye the peaceful, earlier days of island life.
“The island was so much quieter – everybody knew everybody,” she said. “PJ’s Seagrille was the theater down here. Fifty cents would get you in to see the movie on Thursday and Saturday nights. There was no restroom there, so you’d have to leave through the side door and go over to The Temptation, and then re-enter the theater as quietly as you could.”
Raised by her grandmother, Jane Kuhl, Diane recalls how the island was mostly woods once you left the main area in town.
“It was so small. There were hardly any restaurants. Journey’s End was as far as we could go. It wasn’t as pretty as it is now. The depot was all run down and haunted looking,” she said.
She remembers once running to Neighbor’s Gas Station in her pajamas when she was 11-years-old to get a bottle of root beer for her grandma.
“The only living thing I passed was a dog laying in the middle of the road. There was no one around,” she said.
She also recalls sneaking out of the house at night to see her friends and then trying to sneak back in without waking her grandma.
Diane said the locals were allowed to have beach parties at night. They would bring their guitars and dig a hole in the sand and line it with a garbage bag filled with ice and put cans of beer in it. She recalls there were only two law enforcement officers on the island at that time.
“Sometimes they would come by and if people were getting crazy they would say, ‘You behave or I’m gonna take you home to your mama!’”
Her uncle Velpeau Kuhl owned Griffin Builders, the only building company in town. Her father, Rodney Kuhl, worked with him and was also a caretaker for some of the houses on the island. They eventually sold the business and it became Boca Grande Builders. Her mother, Betty Kuhl, worked as a waitress at The Gasparilla Inn.
Diane’s aunt, Pansy Cost, was a librarian at the Johann Fust Community Library for more than 50 years. She retired in 2002.
Diane has one older sister, Trisha Lowe and a younger one, Judy Kuhl Joy. Trisha works at Sotheby’s in the real estate estate business and Judy cleans homes on the island.
Diane was born in Venice Hospital and was carried by her mother on a ferry over to Boca Grande.
She and her sisters attended the Boca Grande School. Trisha went through ninth grade when the high school closed in 1963, so she and the other island high school kids were bussed out to Punta Gorda.
Diane attended the school through the fifth grade. She recalls there was only one other boy in the class.
“That’s when they decided it wasn’t worth keeping the school open, there just weren’t enough students,” she said.
Diane and Judy attended Lemon Bay High School through ninth grade and then were bussed to Charlotte High.
As teenagers growing up on the island, Diane and her sisters enjoyed plenty of freedom. They would drive up and down the beach in a friend’s dune buggy. Diane later would drive around the island in her VW Beetle that was converted into a “hippie car” by applying flower power decals all over it. It had no brakes, but holes in the floorboards of the passenger side that allowed for emergency “Flintstone style” stopping.
After graduating high school in 1972, Diane worked for her Aunt Myrtle at Kuhl’s Dress Shop.
“We would have items ordered and shipped to the store for locals to buy,” she said.
Two years later, she married her high school sweetheart, James Todd, Jr.
Diane and James’ only daughter, Amber Todd, was born in 1978. Amber was two years old when they divorced.
Diane left the island and went to work at First National Bank of Englewood. In 1996, she began working for Englewood Bank.
“I didn’t go to college because back then college wasn’t so much expected of you like it is today. So, I started out bookkeeping, and then tellering, and then I learned how to process loans.”
She worked at SunTrust Bank after that, and then decided to get out of banking.
After that, she worked at The Gasparilla Inn for a while and then a friend asked her if she wanted to help out cleaning houses.
“I liked the idea of that because of the flexibility, and it paid pretty well.”
After a while, she realized she missed banking.
She received a job offer from Englewood Bank and has spent the past 19 years with the institution. She presently is a teller at Englewood Bank in Boca Grande and has worked at the branch for 16 years.
“I love being a bank teller. I enjoy dealing with the public and I like the routine part of the job. I am not one who accepts big challenges, that’s not in my comfort zone,” she said.
Diane added that many locals who know her refer new customers to her all the time.
“I’ve been here for so many years, when people have questions about Boca Grande they send them to me,” she said. “I’m known as the Ambassador of Englewood Bank Boca Grande.”
Diane’s daughter Amber and her husband, Tommy, live in North Carolina and have four children, who enjoy coming to visit their grandmother and play on the sandy beaches of Boca Grande. They are: Kyler, 13, Haven, 5, Zoe, 3 and Cruz, 1.
“They live on a farm and they have a lot of animals so they love it,” Diane said. “They like coming to visit here because they are three hours away from the beach up there.”
Amber is a high school science teacher. After graduating from high school, she worked at the Boca Beacon for a while as an office assistant.
Diane said she began to notice changes in Boca Grande in the early 1980s.
“More people started discovering Boca and property values started going up, and up. The little shack houses were all being bought and fixed up. The ones that still exist are being bought up and made into bigger and better homes,” she said.
Diane lives in Englewood East and has a cat. She and Trish also do some dog sitting on the island.
“I go home every other day to spend time with my cat and give her some attention, but I am here most of the time,” she said.
Diane recalls how her grandmother once offered her the home on Palm Avenue.
“I told her no. But, if I had known then what I know now I certainly would have kept it. When we were kids, we couldn’t wait to get off the island and go to bigger cities where things were happening. The funny thing is, although many people choose to leave the island, many of them end up coming back here within ten years.”
If you have any banking needs on the island, stop in Englewood Bank and say hi to “Tan Diane” – as the locals call her. She is sure to greet you with a warm and friendly smile.