By Marty Trese, KnoxPages.com Editor
GAMBIER - New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center of Knox County held their annual fundraising dinner and celebration benefit Thursday night in Thomas Hall at Kenyon College.
About 200 attendees were on hand to celebrate the agency’s mission to join with the community to create safe, respectful and loving relationships. A delicious meal was served by AVI Food systems, a silent auction was held, and two special awards were presented.
The most poignant event of the evening was the presentation by featured speaker/singer Rene Marie. She shared her experiences with music and domestic abuse through words and song.
She grew up in Virginia with her family, including several siblings, in a household full of music. The house was also full of violence as her father drank and beat her mother every single night. Her mother was a teacher and would go to school with black eyes. Once during a sleepover with her friends, Rene says she sang songs to distract her friends from the violence in the home. The music became a shield.
When she was 15 Rene started singing in a band and met a keyboard player who would later become her abusive husband. When the pair married she became a Jehovah’s witness. The couple gave up being in the band because that’s what they thought God wanted them to do. The couple had children and eventually said Rene, “There was an insidious creeping of domination in the home.”
“In a religion where women are to be quiet it was a perfect breeding ground,” said Rene, “for domestic abuse – verbal and emotional. “
When their two boys were grown and out of the house Rene got the opportunity to get back to her passion, to sing and be around musical people, but her husband asked her to quit. When Rene wouldn’t quit and even had a chance to make a recording (with money from her dad) her husband gave her an ultimatum. He said, “If you go to the studio, do not come home.”
He told Rene, “My job is to cut you down to size and keep you in your place to make sure you don’t think more of yourself than you should.” Rene says there was always verbal and emotional abuse in the home.
He also physically beat her, once. After the beating Rene got up off the floor and picked up a packed suitcase and her music and walked out the door.
Eventually Rene managed to become a professional singer at age 41 and quit her job as a customer service representative at a bank. It was a tough decision but one of her brothers told her, “Jump and the net will appear.”
The net appeared, Rene has been nominated twice for a Grammy award. She has recorded seveal CD’s and she sang parts of some of her songs throughout her presentation. The audience was captivated during her entire speech and gave her a standing ovation.
New Directions Executive Director Matt Hellman thanked the many sponsors who made the evening possible. He shared highlights of the past year including the opening of an administrative office on East Gambier Street which made way for more rooms for domestic violence survivors to stay at the shelter. The agency also built a pet kennel and placed it behind the shelter. The first dog is staying there now and his name is King, a Rottweiler.
Board member Joan Stallard introduced a video that highlighted the accomplishments of Jean Riley, the recipient of this year’s Mary Hendrickson Award. Riley was the volunteer coordinator for New Directions shelter for decades, beginning in the early 1980’s.
The Volunteer Award was presented by board member Margaret Clor to board member Haley Shipley, a Kenyon College senior from Knox County.