Returning to the Rock Bottom Ranch

Catching up with the super-sized Palmer family

Return to Response

Just some of the Palmer family members

Feeding a growing family usually requires a lot of penny pinching. But for a family of 25, hey, that penny is crushed.


Says matriarch Karen “Billie” Tadema Palmer ‘81, “Give us this day our daily bread has always been a practical prayer for us.” Adds patriarch Bruce Palmer ’79, “The family soundtrack would be hands down the old hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. There are some great truths expressed in that hymn that has kept a smile on our faces over the years."


First featured in Response’s Spring 2003 issue, Bruce and Billie Palmer continue to nurture, humor, and guide their mega-sized multiracial clan. With six children by birth and 17 by adoption, the Palmers are now also in-laws for three spouses of their grown children. They are grandparents of eight, with another due in July.


From their 20-acre Eastern Washington farm dubbed the Rock Bottom Ranch, the Palmers say their family is a microcosm of the Family of God. Some of the children are walking closely with God; others are not. “Some of the kids are running from the Lord,” says Billie. “Their appetite to be around the family is less, but we’re waiting on God’s miracle for them.”


With their children now ages 13 to 28, they are already seeing an emptying of the nest. Sort of. Now instead of using three conference tables end to end to serve meals, they need only two. Instead of stocking the freezer each year with the meat of two cows, two pigs, and two lambs, they fill the freezer with only one of each. “But we're going to have to up that as more and more of my adult children, their spouses, friends, and kids come and stay for extended periods of time!” adds Bruce.


The farm no longer includes son Cole’s pigs for 4-H. But it does include chickens, a Great Dane, Rottweiler, standard poodle, and a Chihuahua. Bruce and some of the kids also plant a quarter-acre garden each year. “Anything that you should eat — and that your mother would make you eat — they plant,” says Billie of the radishes, beans, corn, broccoli, potatoes, and cauliflower that will fill their table in the coming months.


Ten children — all teens — remain at home, filling family life with track meets, driving classes, and first-time jobs. Some of the grown children are serving on the mission field, some have attended college, and some have served in the military, including Riley Palmer, who graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2004.


Riley became a U.S. Army ranger, rose to the rank of captain, and spent 14 months in Iraq, leading troops on regular missions. He returned last winter and is now considering attending seminary.


As the economy falters, the Palmers also welcomed back two of their adult children with their spouses and children. “There’s something very good about that,” says Billie. “What a privilege to be able to spend that much time with your grandkids, or son-in-law, and daughter.”


Now after 28 years of marriage, more than two dozen children, and numerous highs and lows, Bruce explains that verses in Isaiah and 1 Samuel about God’s faithfulness to those who trust in him have brought him comfort and encouragement. And Billie wants to make one thing perfectly clear: “After all of those years — and the ups and downs — I am more in love with my husband than ever.”


By Hope McPherson (

Photo courtesy of Bruce and Billie Palmer