Throughout Frank Lee’s long tenure as a coach and athletic director at Fairview and other high schools prior, he preached mental toughness in dealing with adversity. Now, he’ll have to lean on that philosophy more than he ever imagined he would.
This past Thursday, as Frank was making lunch for his grandsons in their Rock Creek neighborhood home in Superior, his wife Paula rushed home and urged them to evacuate. She had seen the thick, black smoke that was engulfing the area west of the McCaslin Costco and Target and described it as an “armageddon type thing.”
The Lees quickly gathered a few possessions and drove their grandkids to their son’s house in Denver, where they nervously watched the live television coverage that tracked the Marshall Fire as it raced closer and closer to the place they’d called home for 24 years.
“My wife, at about 10 o’clock, was on the phone with a neighbor and she saw the house next to ours catch on fire,” Frank recalled. “I just figured with the way the wind was that our house was probably not going to make it. We didn’t know and we didn’t sleep that night. We just couldn’t sleep. We were physically OK but we were pretty numb. I think we’ve been pretty numb since then.”
The next day, Frank and his son drove to the neighborhood to find that their worst fears had been realized. All that remained was the foundation.
The Lees, just like the nearly 1,000 other families in Louisville and Superior, have lost everything they had owned but are grateful that everyone is safe and healthy. And, much like the others who had lost their homes, they’ve felt the overwhelming support of the community around them, from Fairview all the way back to their days in Illinois prior to 1997. His son Adam and daughter-in-law Samantha jumped at the opportunity to help them get back on their feet.
“They didn’t want us to start a fund for them and we said, ‘No, you need to. It’s your turn. You guys have helped so many people,’” Samantha said.
The couple set up a GoFundMe campaign, named “Frank and Paula Lee Fire Relief Fund,” and set an initial goal of $2,500. By Monday at 4 p.m., it had nearly reached $70,000 thanks to 495 individual contributions.
They’ve all been overwhelmed by the response in the midst of a tragedy that’s been felt so widely.
“It’s just been really cool to see how everybody’s rallying around everybody,” Adam said. “My parents have spent so much time in the community and essentially making deposits of kindness over the last 25 years. I think it’s a very interesting situation for them to be on the other end of receiving this type of help when they’ve been doing that for others for so long.”
The Lees have felt numb since they first evacuated, but they plan to rebuild on the same lot if they can. The process, they know, will be long and difficult, but they’re grateful for the multiple communities they have around them to help carry some of the burden at every step.
Aside from the nearly 500 people that have contributed financially, countless friends, new and old, have reached out to them personally. There has been no shortage of kindness as parents, players, coaches, teachers, administrators from Fairview, schools in the Front Range League and Centennial League and other schools he’s coached have reached out to offer whatever they can.
“Each time somebody reaches out, it brings back a memory of a relationship we had with that person,” Frank said. “Many of them, we’ve kept in touch with over the years but I coached for over 40 years so some go way back. I can’t express how humbling it is and how they’ll never know how much we appreciate it. I wish there was a way we could share that with them.”
Nobody wanted to be in the position, but the Colorado community has proven time and time again that the best of humanity will always come out in the worst of times.
Through collective strength, a few deposits of kindness, that is how Superior and Louisville will rebuild.
“I think we’ve all been through a tough couple of years and I think it’s things like this that really put things in perspective that community is so important,” Adam said. “They love where they live and they love their neighbors. It has just shown that even when other people are in a really tough spot, they’re willing to give the shirt off their back to help their neighbor, who’s also in a tough spot. I think everything is so polarized right now that it’s really nice to see everybody putting that aside and just really caring for one another and caring for their neighbors like it used to be.”
Note: The BoCoPreps.com staff will be dedicated this week to future stories on the impact of the Marshall Fire on local high school sports programs. If you know of any donation efforts coordinated by local student-athletes or those intended to directly help families of student-athletes and coaches affected by the fire, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.