Debra Lees sat at a table in the Glen Sanders Mansion on Sunday, talking with friends and eating dinner as her five kids chatted with each other at a nearby table.
The laughter and smiles made it hard to believe that these children almost lost their mom in a brutal assault by their father.
Lees is now walking, talking and caring for herself at home, less than three months after her husband nearly beat her to death with a baseball bat before killing himself.
On Sunday, supporters collected more money for the Lees family at a fundraiser at Glen Sanders Mansion.
“The tremendous amount of support and generosity from everyone has been amazing,” Lees said. “Thank you to everyone.”
Raymond Lees, 50, struck his wife multiple times in the head with a baseball bat in their Duanesburg home on the afternoon of Dec. 11. Friends became suspicious when he called asking them to pick up the family’s children from school.
After the attack, Raymond Lees killed himself by connecting a hose from the exhaust pipe of his running car into the vehicle and putting a bag over his head.
Sunday’s event was the third fundraiser for the family since the attack. Event organizer Venziana Stone also held a dinner in December that raised $3,000 and a pancake breakfast last month that raised $1,000.
“We’re trying to get her to have a new start in life and to raise these five children to the best of her ability,” Stone said.
Organizers are using the money to help Lees with mortgage payments and lost wages while she recovers.
Lees worked at St. Mary’s Hospital as a maternity nurse for five years prior to the attack.
She was a patient at Albany Medical Center and then Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady before returning home several weeks ago, according to friends.
“There are things that still bring her back a few steps, but she is so strong and motivated by her friends and family that she keeps plugging away,” Stone said. “There is a God, because she’s doing so good.”
Family and friends are taking turns staying at Lees’ home to help take care of the children that range in age from 7 to 16.
“There’s just a lot of great people that we know,” said Lees’ oldest daughter, Anna. “My brothers and sisters and my family are going through it too. It’s easier when there’s more of us.”
Shane Connell, 14, who was at Sunday’s fundraiser, plays football with Lees’ 13-year-old son, Ryan. “His mom was pretty much my mom,” Shane said. “I almost cried.”
Another one of Ryan’s teammates is Deven Schuppe, 14. Deven said the attack was scary because his own father almost died in a car accident. “I was terrified by what happened,” he said. “Now to see her better brightens up my day.”
Donations can be made to the Lees Family Fund at the NBT Bank branch in Duanesburg.