KASOTA, Minn. – It wasn’t just another high school commencement for Frank and Connie Weber. The last of their 16 children received her diploma, ending a remarkable era of sibling graduations for the Weber family.
“It’s joyful. My whole family is home,” said Connie Weber. “We get to move on to the next things.”
Fourteen of the siblings, along with neighbors and friends, assembled in this southern Minnesota hamlet for Saturday’s crowning graduation party for 17-year-old Teresa. A sister who is expecting a baby any day could not attend.
Over the past 23 years, Frank and Connie Weber watched their children, all named after Roman Catholic saints, graduate from three area high schools. Aside from the changes in technology for invitations, Connie said each graduation got easier.
“I have more helpers,” she said.
At one point, nine siblings attended a Catholic school in nearby Mankato, Minnesota, at the same time, and there were 13 siblings living at home at one time.
“That’s what bunk beds are for,” said Connie Weber. “They’re a good invention.”
The first child, Bill Weber, was born in 1977 and graduated from high school in 1996. Five of the children have gone on to have families of their own, resulting in 21 grandchildren.
“There’s one in New York, one in Missouri and one in Oregon,” Frank Weber said before five of the siblings added, “And Wisconsin!”
No matter where the children reside, the family tries to reunite for special occasions.
“If there’s a wedding or graduation or other big event we try to get everyone together,” said newly-graduated Teresa, who will be the fourth sister to study at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Her oldest brother graduated from St. John's University in neighboring Collegeville.
On Christmas, the one holiday all 16 offspring normally gather at their parents' house, they combine tables so they can sit together and talk about growing up in small town Minnesota and what’s new in their lives.
The back-and-forth group texting before family gatherings has issues.
“It blows up your phone and drains the battery,” said sibling Chris Weber of nearby Rapidan, Minnesota. “You look at your phone and there’s like 40 text messages.”
All the siblings helped out at the family-owned City Grille, where the parents put in 80 hours weekly, until they sold it in 2015 “If they were too little to work they stayed at home,” Connie said. “The rest came with me and they worked.”
The family got about in an extended, 15-passenger Dodge van. “We wore four of them out for church and school events,” said Frank Weber. “We always got asked to transfer people around town because we had the big van.”
When the siblings were asked about the benefits of being a part of a large family, Chris Weber quickly replied, “Permanent friends!”
“And lots of them,” Bill Weber added. “If you’re moving you have plenty of helpers.”
Bill and Marie, the two oldest, experienced what it was like to be the only siblings before the others were born. All the siblings agreed their parents were remarkably balanced throughout the raising of 16 children.
“We were all treated equally, loved equally and taken care of equally,” said Marie. “We have the best parents in the world.”
Dan Greenwood is a reporter with the Mankato, Minnesota, Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.