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Six months ago, Steve's world exploded when his wife, Kate, killed herself. Her secret life of gambling debts and unpaid bills was about to be exposed and the family evicted from their home in Collinsville.

But now Steve says he believes he has begun building a new life with his two children.Last week, he closed a refinancing deal to save the house he feared would be lost in foreclosure because his wife had not made the payments for 17 months. After months of uncertainty - and with the help of more than $7,000 donated by the public - he is keeping his home.

"It makes me feel real good," he said Monday. "It takes a big burden off my shoulders."

Steve, 45, asked that his last name not be used in this story to protect his children from the truth about their mother's gambling. "They're doing wonderful," he said, "but they're too young to understand."

Steve's attorney, John Rekowski of Collinsville, said he had been able to negotiate a new mortgage with a balance just slightly higher than it was before the foreclosure.

Rekowski said donors to the "Save the Home" fund would get a letter informing them of the results of their generosity and thanking them.

"I'm very grateful to those who donated," Steve said. "I was in need. I didn't know where to turn. John set up the fund, and that got me over the hump. I'm a long way from being a millionaire, but it's better than it was six months ago."

Rekowski called Kate's death "an absolute tragedy." He said the couple's financial and legal problems could have been worked out.

"It just wasn't that bad," he said. "But you're in the tunnel, and you can't see far enough ahead."

Kate was 40 and had been married to Steve for 16 years when she drove to the parking lot at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights last Feb. 1 and shot herself in the head. She knew that a deputy from the Madison County Sheriff's Department was on his way to evict her family from their home that morning, shortly after Steve had left for work and she had taken their children to grade school.

She taped a note to the front door saying Steve knew nothing of the financial problems, and telling the deputy where to find her.

Steve had no idea that Kate had not made the $338 house payments since September 1993, or that the bank had foreclosed on the mortgage in December of 1994. Utility bills and other debts had gone unpaid for months.

He was shocked to learn that a savings account that he thought held $8,000 had a balance of just $830.