Thoughts and memories from a mother of many
Lorene Kumpula, of Cokato, with a picture of her 15 children, who range in age from 29 to 50. Photo by Cathy Nelson
May is here, and Mother’s Day is around the corner. It’s that time of year when marigolds are being planted in paper cups and kids are making plans to get up early to scramble eggs and surprise mom with breakfast in bed. Some mothers will receive a handmade card with colorful hearts, flowers, handprints and “I love you” printed across the paper, and others might find a Hallmark card in their mailbox.
Lorene Kumpula will no doubt have a bunch of cards on display at her Cokato home. She and her husband, Jerry, are the parents of 15 children, 12 daughters and three sons, ranging in age from 29 to 50.
“I like getting flowers or a plant,” she replied, when asked if there’s a special gift she’s received for Mother’s Day. But, spending time with family—her husband, children and “around 70” grandchildren–is more important to her than any present.
Lorene grew up in Michigan and moved to Minnesota after high school. She met Jerry in Minneapolis, and they were married in 1964. They will celebrate 52 years together in September. The couple moved to Cokato the next year and, in March 1966, their first child, LeAnn, was born.
Lorene remembers that spring day because the weather was beautiful and the tulips were blooming. Not long ago, she dug through boxes and found the baby cards she and Jerry had received following their daughter’s birth. “When LeAnn turned 50, I showed her all her baby cards,” Lorene said. “I think she liked looking through them, but I doubt many parents save their baby cards anymore.” Daughter LeAnn Orth, of St. Cloud, has saved some of her kids’ baby cards, “but we only had two kids!” she emphasized.
Family photo of the siblings, taken at Calen’s wedding. Front row (L to R) Barbara Wikman, Alisa Raisanen, Lynelle Kujala, Trina Ojalehto, Rosanne Kumpula, LeAnn Orth, Jonathan Kumpula. Back row–Calen Kumpula, Karla Juusola, Riita Maki, Timothy Kumpula, Kari Kako, Annette Johnson, Beth Hanson and Jennifer Honkala. Contributed photo
After LeAnn was born, Lorene and Jerry had 14 more children. There was Jonathan, Lynelle, Kari, Karla, Jennifer, Beth, Barbara, Annette, Alisa, Timothy, Trina, Rosanne, Riita and Calen. When Lorene was growing up, she never gave any thought to how many children she might have one day, but she had always loved babies. And both of them came from large families.
Jerry worked for Wright Hennepin Electric as an electric outage dispatcher. As their family got bigger, their lives became busier but they took it all in stride. “You do what you have to do,” said Lorene. “You take one day at a time.” Jerry explained that after having five kids, it gets easier. “The first five are hard, but after that, the kids are old enough to help with the younger ones and all the extra work,” he said.
Getting everyone up, ready for school and out the door in the morning was not as challenging as one would think, according to Lorene. They had just two bathrooms, but the kids took turns and, somehow, it worked.
“I think I worried more about supper,” she said. “After the kids left for school, I would sit and drink my coffee and wonder what we were going to have for supper. When that was settled, I could get to work.” Eating supper together was important to the family, and Orth remembers her favorite meals– hamburger rice hot dish, homemade pizza and sloppy joes. The Kumpulas agreed that raising a family of mostly girls was easier on the grocery bill than if they had had more boys.
There were always piles of laundry to be done, and Lorene tackled the job on most days. “I tried to take off one day a week,” she said. “But we didn’t use disposable diapers so you can imagine how much laundry there was.” Lorene doesn’t remember which of her children was toilet trained first. “But, I remember the last one,” she said. “It was Timothy, and he was almost 3 at the time. I’m not sure why it took him so long, but I think he was spoiled by his older sisters.” Lorene recalls telling the kids there couldn’t be three in diapers at the same time, and how surprised she was when she heard one of the kids ask, “Why don’t you just buy Pampers?” Another child’s response was, “You could give one away!”
With a house full of children, there was always someone to play with. The kids read a lot and did art projects and learned to entertain themselves using their imaginations. “We didn’t have a lot of money for toys,” Jerry said, “so the kids discovered other ways to have fun. And they played outside more than kids do today.”
One of the benefits of growing up in a large family is that everyone learns to pitch in. “Our kids learned to work hard,” said Lorene. At age 14, they got their first jobs detasseling corn. “And that’s a hard job,” said Jerry, because you have to deal with the rain, the mud and the mosquitoes and heat.”
Orth liked that she could earn good money detasseling corn, but those weeks were exhausting. “We would come home from work, wash our muddy, wet clothes, make our lunch, freeze water for the next day, eat, go to sleep and start over again early the next morning,” she said. Orth and many of her siblings also worked at the local grocery store during high school. The money she earned went toward special things like contacts and name-brand school clothes.
Lorene didn’t have extra time to finish baby books for each of her children–she did three, but after the kids grew up and left home, she began a labor of love. She wrote poems for each one, using the letters of their first name, and then put all of them into a book for each to treasure.
Eleven of the Kumpula’s adult children live in Minnesota, so their home continues to be a gathering place for many events, including cookie baking weekends, slumber parties and girls’ weekends. Both Lorene and Jerry like the extra activity, stressing, “Yes, we experienced the empty nest syndrome!” The couple has also traveled to Washington and to Alaska to visit their other four children. Traveling with 12 in a van, when the kids were young, made taking trips quite challenging, so they are making the most of their travel these days. They drove to Alaska in 2005 and describe that trip as “an awesome experience” which they highly recommend. They drove seven days in an RV, stopping here and there, and then spent a total of five weeks visiting family and seeing the sights.
Traveling to Alaska was quite an adventure for the Kumpulas, but the greater adventure was raising their family. With all of their years of experience, do they ever give their kids advice on parenting? Jerry smiled, and wondered out loud, “Would they listen to us?” Lorene thought briefly, but didn’t need much time to come up with her answer. “We all make mistakes,” she said. “So, you just do the best you can. And take one day at a time.”