Bill and JJ Leese stand in the living room of their Everett home. The well-traveled couple’s house will be part of the Holiday Home Tour. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Bill and JJ Leese stand in the living room of their Everett home. The well-traveled couple’s house will be part of the Holiday Home Tour. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

See a globetrotting Everett couple’s international treasure

The annual Holiday Home Tour features an Everett residence that’s filled with collectibles from 49 countries

Travel lovers will adore Bill and JJ Leese’s Everett home.

So will the history buffs and holly jolly fanatics. New Englanders, however, will wonder how it ended up here.

Their Cape Cod home is one of five destinations on the annual Holiday Home Tour by the Assistance League of Everett. They’ll have holiday decorations and international treasures from 49 different countries on display for the self-guided tour, which is set for noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 2.

There’s also the 82-year-old home itself. The classic Cape Cod home, modeled after 17th century half-timbered houses in England with Federal-style architecture, is exceedingly rare in the Northwest, Bill Leese said.

“We have friends from the East Coast who say, ‘Oh, we just feel at home here,’” he said.

It also has ties to a respected Everett family. Gertrude and Jasper Rucker — the son of Bethel Rucker, who co-founded the city — lived in the 3,600-square-foot house until the late 1970s.

The home’s history was part of the draw for the Leeses, and especially for Bill, 58, a fourth-generation commercial fisherman who was born and raised in Everett. His ancestors emigrated from Germany to Michigan before settling in Everett in 1910.

Husband and wife moved in 4½ years ago. They started a tradition of hosting a Christmas open house for neighbors.

“The house gives us a feeling of warmth and invitation,” Bill Leese said. “We want to be able to share that with others.”

Their holiday decor includes nativity scenes, nutcrackers, angel figurines, poinsettia and holly. Other decorations include carolers intricately carved and painted by Bill Leese’s parents and a trio of trees with two wooden puppies dressed up for Christmas at the base.

They’re most proud about the two international-themed trees in the dining room, which feature ornaments from 49 different countries.

The couple spent 11 years overseas as ministers of Christian education. They purchased much of their ornament collection during their travels in Asia, Europe and Africa.

“A lot of them represent the different handwork of these countries,” said JJ Leese, 56, an assistant professor in scripture at Seattle Pacific University.

They sent the ornaments home to JJ’s mother-in-law, who diligently labeled them by location: Vietnam, Netherlands, Bhutan, and so on.

“Each of those ornaments has some kind of story,” Bill Leese said.

One is a green and gold bulb from a church in Bethlehem, made from shards of broken glass after a break-in. Another is a knitted doll made in Thailand from the New Life Center Foundation, which helps women who escape human trafficking.

“This organization teaches them different skills, so they make these and sell them so they can get education and skills,” JJ Leese said. “That’s been special. I’ve been there about three or four times.”

A miniature elephant sporting traditional garments is one of several ornaments from India, where the Leeses adopted two of their three children, Sanjay Leese, 24, and Janae Kuzminsky, 26. Also on their Christmas tree is an ornament of a camera for their oldest son, Nate Leese, 28, who is a photographer living in the Philippines.

There are more clues of the couple’s globe-trotting past throughout the house. The living room is decked out with conversation starters, from the antique Chinese wall hanging made of teak to the Tibetan chest dating back to the 1700s.

“We’ve really added some international flavors to the house,” he said. “It’s kind of embedded in it.”

This year’s Holiday Home Tour includes a gift shop, visits from Santa and numerous raffle baskets. Each house will also have cuisine from local restaurants including Buck’s American Cafe, Bleacher’s Grill at Cedarcrest and The New Mexicans.

Proceeds go toward the Assistance League of Everett’s many philanthropic programs serving those facing hardship, poverty and homelessness in Snohomish County. Its largest program, Operation School Bell, provides new school clothes to more than 4,000 students throughout the county.

“They’re so generous to do this,” said Kathy Hutton, a volunteer with the Assistance League of Everett. “We raised nearly $40,000 last year.”

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

If you go

The Assistance League of Everett’s annual Holiday Home Tour is noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 2 through five north Everett homes. Advance tickets are $30 and available at Stadium Flowers, Barbara’s Floral, Joy Works, J. Matheson Gifts and Island Floral Shop. On the day of the tour, pick up tickets for $35 each at the Assistance League Thrift Shop, 5107 Evergreen Way, Everett. Call 425-252-3011 to www.assistanceleagueofeverett.org for more information.

This story has been modified to correct the name of Jasper Rucker’s father.

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