Monday, May 14, 2007

Mom of 16 takes life ‘one day at a time’

Submitted by Shawn Hogendorf on May 10, 2007 - 2:52pm.
Filed under: Entertainment

By Shawn Hogendorf

Staff Writer

Bea Melville of Prior Lake grew up with 15 siblings, so she was used to having a big family.

As a child, she joked that she was going to beat her mother and have more than 15 children.

“It didn’t turn out to be a joke,” she said, laughing.

In 1949, Melville gave birth to her first child. Twenty years later, she had her 16th.

Today, Melville is a proud mother of 16 children, 27 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Having 16 children didn’t shock Melville the way it would somebody else, since she came from a large family.

Bea married her husband Bernard in 1948. They had 12 children before they moved from Bloomington to Prior Lake in 1963.

Bernard worked for Honeywell as an electrical maintenance worker for 35 years.

Bea waited tables and cooked at Prior Place for five years, where she babysat women’s children while they bowled. She cooked at Freddy’s on the Lake, now Captain Jack’s, for five years and T.J. Hooligan’s for 15 years before retiring.

When the Melvilles first moved to Prior Lake, Bea worked three nights a week while Bernard babysat the children.

Being a mother of 16 came naturally. “I never minded having a lot of work to do,” she said.

In addition to working in restaurants three nights a week, Melville did all of the cooking for her children. Bernard was a big help with everything, she said, but he didn’t like keeping house. So, Melville always delegated jobs for her children around the house.

Melville cooked a lot of casseroles, soups and chili. The dinner table would overflow into the family room most of the time, she said. She made one meal, and if her children didn’t like what she cooked, they had to learn how to eat it.

“When I would give them something to eat and they didn’t like it, I would say, ‘I wouldn’t give you something I wouldn’t eat myself,’” Melville said. I would tell them, ‘I had 16 kids and I still have 16 kids, so, I wasn’t trying to kill you.’”

Melville has 10 daughters and six sons. All of her daughter’s names begin with the letter “P.” All of her son’s names begin with the letter “L.”

After the Melvilles moved to Prior Lake, neighbors and friends would say they named their children after the town, she said. “But we had 12 of them before we moved here, so we didn’t name them after Prior Lake,” Melville said.

Coming up with first names was never difficult. Finding middle names that didn’t begin with the same letter was the tricky part.

Melville can still keep all of her children’s birth dates straight, but she doesn’t know all of her grandchildren’s birthdays.

The only month Melville doesn’t celebrate a child’s birthday is March.

‘A lot of love’

Melville said her favorite part of being a mother was giving birth.

She loved watching her children grow up, but her favorite ages for children were before they became teenagers, she said.

“I loved being a mother to the little kids,” Melville said. “Once they became teenagers, they became trouble.”

Melville said she kept her children in line by watching every child, every day and getting to know who they were hanging out with.

“I was one with all my kids,” she said. “There was a lot of love to go around.”

In addition to her 16 children, there were at least three neighborhood children who always called her Mom, as well as a family dog, a horse, a donkey and a calf.

“It is amazing to see all the grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Melville said. “I never know when there is going to be another one. When my grandkids started having kids, I started to feel old.”

The novelty of birth never wears off, Melville said.

“It’s new every time a baby is born,” she said. “After my kids would have two children, they would say, ‘Mom, how did you ever do this?’”

One of Melville’s neighbors asked her the same question. Melville’s response was, “The same way you do it.”

“It’s something that comes on one by one,” Melville said. “They don’t all come at the same time, so you take it one day at a time.”

For most of Melville’s motherhood, she had four children in diapers. In addition to cooking for the other children, she made her own baby formulas, food and cleaned the cloth diapers.

Melville’s family has their own double-sided, nine-page directory to keep birthdays and anniversaries straight. Melville has been to hundreds of weddings, baptisms and confirmations.

For Mother’s Day, Melville’s children usually send her flowers or candy or pop in for the annual Mother’s Day open house.

She will spend Sunday sitting at her house waiting for phone calls from her children, who are spread out across the country, and visiting with those who stop by.

Melville had her first child on a Thursday. The following Sunday was Mother’s Day.

“That first Mother’s Day, they brought my daughter wrapped in a blanket and handed her to me,” Melville said. “She had a little corsage made of apple blossoms on her that read, ‘To Mom, from Peg.’”

Melville said she always wanted twin girls but never had them.

“I never got my twin girls, but my daughter Paula had twin girls,” she said.

Melville has another grandchild on the way, as well as her 10th great-grandchild.

One of her grandchildren, Amber McFadden, is currently serving in Iraq, Melville said with a proud look on her face as she held the American flag in her hands.

“She sent this flag to me that was flown in Iraq for nine minutes and 11 seconds,” Melville said.

Shawn Hogendorf can be reached at (952) 345-6374 or

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