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No kidding, Utahn revels in big family

Mardee Clark has 19 children.

Not 19 by way of a Brady Bunch arrangement or adoption, but 19, as in take a deep breath and push.

That's 19, as in 19 trips to the hospital. As in 171 months of pregnancy. As in three more and she could field her own football team, offense and defense.

MarDee is the Barry Bonds of mothers. Married at 21, she had 19 babies in 21 years. All but one of them weighed at least 8 pounds, and several of them weighed 9 and 10 pounds. They range in age from 29 to 8 years old.

She's 51 now and raising them alone. She and her husband, Floyd, split up.

MarDee and Floyd had always planned to have a large family. They decided they wanted an even dozen kids.

"I've always known since I was a young girl that I wanted lots of children," she says.

When they got to 12, well, "I just knew there was more, so we just kept having them."

She can name every one of them — if you give her a minute.

"Let's see," she begins, "there's Christina, Yvette, Stephen, Conner, Evan, Ethan . . . um, let's see, I have to say them in order so . . ." (At this point, she pauses to think a moment and then starts over again with the first child and works her way back to where she left off.) . . . "Bridget, Brian, Ileana, David, Danielle, Jason, Darlene, Cullen, Deborah (twins), Donovan, Forrest, Amber and Shannon!"

She pauses to catch her breath.

"Yes, I have trouble remembering names," she says, laughing. "Sometimes I have to try four or five times till I get the right one."

She forgot a child once — not his name, but the child. They were at the park and she did her usual head count when they were about to climb into the van. ("That's one thing you learn to do is count when you have this many children," she says.) The head count was right, but what she didn't know was that one of the boys forgot something and ran back to retrieve it and they drove home without him.

"There are so many kids it takes awhile to realize you're missing one," she says. "We were getting ready for bed when I realized someone was gone. The police brought him to the front door."

MarDee and the kids live in a 2,600-square-foot home in Bountiful. The family room serves as an extra bedroom. The most children they ever had living at home at one time was 18. You might naturally assume MarDee is a stressed mess, but you'd be wrong.

"She is an incredible lady — very calm and kind," says neighbor Julie Holmgren.

"Of course, it's easier now with fewer children," says MarDee. She has only nine kids living at home. It's almost lonely in the house.

For religious reasons, she felt compelled to bring children into the world. "The Lord will provide ways to do what you have to do," she says. Their furniture was old and they drove big vans until they wouldn't drive anymore. Now the family has one minivan, which is so small she can't take the kids anywhere without making two trips.

They survive because the children have chores, and part-time jobs when they're old enough, and because MarDee is a world-class bargain shopper — if it's not on sale or doesn't have a coupon, she doesn't buy it. The most she ever spent on Christmas: $600. Her presents have varied from $45 watches she bought for $10 to laundry soap for the older kids, because they needed it and because it was on sale.

She is eager to have her missionary under her roof again. Even with 19 kids, she feels the absence of one of them.

"When I had my second baby," she says, "I wondered how I could possibly love another child. But the more you have, the more the capacity to love grows."


Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. E-mail drob@desnews.com.