PILLAGER — Genie and Grant Jensen of Grand Forks, N.D., met at a Parents Without Partners social event back in 1970. He was a widower and she was divorced.
Four months later, they got married and became a family of 10, with eight children — she had five children and he had three — all between the ages of 10-16.
They’re not “The Brady Bunch” — but they certainly had some hair-raising experiences raising children so close in age in a four-bedroom home.
“We watched ‘The Brady Bunch and said, ‘That’s silly,’” Sue St. John, Genie’s oldest daughter who lives in Thief River Falls, said with a laugh. “That’s not real life. There was much more commotion at our house. ... Eight children between the ages of 10-16 — Who does that?”
“It was a shock to have had your own bedroom and then to sharing it with three others,” added Anita Lesmeister, Grant’s oldest daughter who lives in Woodbury. “But it worked out.”
The siblings nearly all share the same birthdays since they’re all so close in age. The first four siblings — Anita (Grant’s daughter), Sue (Genie’s daughter), Ben (Grant’s son) and Patti (Genie’s daughter) — were all born within 16 months of each other. Lynelle, Grant’s daughter, was born 10 months later and Vicki, Genie’s daughter, is five months younger than her. The youngest, Stephen, Genie’s son, was born two years later.
While it may seem confusing to keep everyone straight, imagine the difficulty this past week when about 65 members of the family took over Shady Hollow Resort in Pillager. The family, which includes aunts, uncles, cousins and grandchildren, rented nearly the entire resort for the week. They were expected to leave Saturday.
Many family members traveled great distances to spend all or most of the week together and came from California, North Dakota, Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota.
While many of them had seen each other at various weddings in recent years, it was the Jensen’s oldest granddaughter, Heather Pettis, who lives in California, who organized the large family reunion. She said the cousins had started to connect on Facebook, as well as at weddings, and they wanted to get together.
“We had so much fun getting to know each other as adults and we wanted our kids to get to know each other,” said Pettis.
Pettis chose Shady Hollow Resort in Pillager after researching a central location that had an airport for family members to drive and fly to.
As luck would have it, the reunion coincided with Grandma and Grandpa Jensen’s 41st wedding anniversary, which was Monday. The family celebrated their anniversary together at the resort, toasting the couple. He is 82 and she is 79.
The Jensen family has now grown from a family of 10 to include spouses, as well as 23 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Seven great-grandchildren were born within the past year alone and another one is on the way next year, Genie Jensen explained with a smile.
The family hosted town hall meetings each day, to give out silly awards and talk about the day’s activities, and also took turn cooking meals. Other activities were planned for the children, including arts and crafts at the picnic tables in the middle of the resort. They all made tie-dyed t-shirts together. Mark Kennedy, a Jensen son-in-law, brought his inflatable large screen from California so they could watch movies together outdoors on the lawn at night.
“It’s been great,” said Genie Jensen.
“The most amazing part is everyone gets along,” added her husband, Grant, who is the brother of the late Elaine Jensen Chesley of Brainerd.
While it would be difficult to make this large family reunion an annual event, the Jensens said they hope to do it again.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.