From the President






  My Response

  Letters to the Editor

  Online Bulletin Board

  Contact Response

  Submit Footnote

  Submit Letter to Editor

  Address Change

  Back Issues

  Response Home

  SPU Home

Spring 2003 | Volume 26, Number 2


THIS IS A love story about a couple — and their 23 children.

On their ranch, Bruce and Billie Palmer are happily surrounded — as usual — by kids.

During Homecoming Weekend in February, Bruce Palmer ’79 and Karen “Billie” Tadema Palmer ’81 received Seattle Pacific University’s 2003 Medallion Award as alumni of distinction. “Of distinction” may be something of an under-statement, considering how the Palmers accepted God’s call to super-size their family. “As Christians, we’re called to take care of widows and orphans,” says Alumni Director Doug Taylor. “The Palmers have done that in an amazing way.”

Yet they say their parental feat is nothing special. “This is not rocket science,” says Billie. “It’s just one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.”

Rocket scientists or not, the Palmers buck the U.S. family-size trend in a big way. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the average family size was 3.9, not a rambunctious 25, including six children by birth and 17 via adoption.

Ironically, the Palmers met surrounded by children. Bruce, who worked at the First Free Methodist Church day care center while an SPU student, had brought a bevy of tots to play on campus. A freshman co-ed introduced him to her friend, Billie. Billie was unimpressed, later telling her friend that Bruce’s most prominent characteristic was his arrogance. Her opinion later changed, and a romance blossomed.

Married in 1981, the Palmers debated their family size. Bruce wanted five or six children; Billie — herself one of eight siblings — wanted zero. “I knew I was built for more glorious things than motherhood,” she says, laughing. “But I fell madly in love with somebody, and he changed my life view.”

Seeing Bruce’s devotion to their first babies, she agreed their family should grow. In the early ’90s, with four biological children and another on the way, the Palmers adopted three siblings. “There wasn’t any adjustment,” says Billie about the day the multi-racial trio joined the family. “It was like they were always mine.”

Their family size now doubled, the Palmers went about their lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where Bruce was a pharmaceutical representative. Then more adoption opportunities appeared, also in multiracial hues such as Native-Alaskan, Latino and African-American. “We weren’t looking, but we were open,” says Bruce.

As they answered “yes” to a rapidly growing family tree, the Palmers found that living in Alaska prohibited travel to visit family in the lower 48 states. “These kids needed to know who their extended family was,” says Bruce of their adopted children, many of whom had lived chaotic lives before becoming Palmers. “They needed that more than my biological kids.” When Bruce had the opportunity to transfer to Washington state, he took it.

The family settled in Eastern Washington on a 20-acre farm outside Spokane they dubbed the Rock Bottom Ranch. About its name, Billie says, “The farm is built on Jesus Christ, the Rock.”

Once in Washington, the Palmer kids quickly grew closer to their extended family, including grandparents Eva McCleerey Palmer ’56 and J. Denton Palmer ’55. Now summers include groups of Palmers trekking with their grandparents to remote Washington and British Columbia lakes for fishing and camping.

With 23 children ages 22 to 7 (10 teens!), the Palmers work hard to keep their industrial-sized life homey. “I didn’t want us to be like an institution and less like a family,” says Bruce. “I don’t know where the line is, but I don’t want to cross it.”

All but four kids live at home. One is married and expecting the Palmers’ first grandchild; one is in the military reserves; and two are in college, including Riley Palmer, the third Palmer generation to attend SPU. “I told God that if he wanted me at SPU, which I suspected, then he would have to come up with the money — and he did,” says the junior communication major.

Back home, the Palmer clan also includes four dogs — among them a Great Dane and toy poodle. Son Cole raises pigs for 4-H, and the family plans to add horses and chickens later this year.

Their house has eight bedrooms (“Bunk beds are a wonderful invention,” says Bruce), four bathrooms (“We have a master bathroom, but it’s not sacred,” he adds, laughing) and a “baking center.” An 84-gallon hot-water tank feeds the bathrooms, kitchen and two washing machines. A 100-foot clothesline stretches across the yard. The family shares one stereo and one television, but TV is prohibited on weeknights.

The Palmers also have three freezers, a restaurant-sized refrigerator and a standard residential refrigerator. Each year, the freezers are stocked with the meat of two pigs, two cows and two lambs. Billie, trailed by a flock of children, shops for groceries at Costco. Dinners are spent together around an enormous dinner table, once three 24-foot conference tables.

The family car is a converted 28-seat van, which takes everyone to church and the occasional after-church dinners at all-you-can-eat buffets. The seven teens who drive (two more are in driver’s ed) use the “teen car,” a 1988 Nissan Sentra.

Each summer, to harness — and expend — the vast amounts of youthful Palmer energy, Billie runs a “boot camp” with shaved heads for the boys, special T-shirts for all and lots of exercise. With mom leading the pack, Palmers aged 16 and under jog. Last summer, 18 children joined the daily maneuvers. This summer, says Billie, she’s hiring a teacher for a seven-week summer school for their first through eighth graders.

While some researchers argue that lots of children means less attention and fewer resources for each, the Palmers again buck the system. “The exact opposite is true of our family,” says Riley. “With God providing strength, we have love to spare.” His mother agrees: “You can’t have too much love.”

But what about their marriage and “couple time”? “You would expect the mother of 23 — 10 teens and years of diapers — to be this beat-up, tired-out, at-the-end-of-her-rope woman,” says Bruce. “The truth is she gets younger and more beautiful each year.” Says Billie, laughing: “We have our PHD. We’re poor, hungry and desperate for each other. I think God knew in his infinite wisdom that we’d have to have that in order to survive.”


Back to the top
Back to Home

Click on image to enlarge.