Denver's Own Royal Tenenbaums

The late Timber Dick's children are carrying on a brilliant family legacy that includes Nancy Dick and Tom Lantos.

"He was such a good sport," says Annette, shaking her head with a smile. He went along with one family escapade after another, the steadfast anchor in the middle of the magnificent pandemonium that is the Tillemann-Dicks.

Timber helped her home-school all eleven children and still found time to serve as bishop of their church ward, write a self-published autobiography titled With One Heart, and run — unsuccessfully — for Denver City Council. He edited the kids' college-application essays to places like Regis and Yale University when each was fourteen or fifteen. Since no regular house or automobile could handle them all, he scraped enough money and ingenuity together to buy and refurbish this once-dilapidated estate and converted a school bus into the family vehicle so he could haul them from one end of the continent to the other.

And now he's gone.

The Tillemann-Dick family operates in a controlled form of chaos.
The Tillemann-Dick family operates in a controlled form of chaos.

Details

For much more on the Tilleman-Dick family, including Charity singing show tunes, the design of the IRIS engine and a slide show of family adventures, click here.

Though not really gone, notes Annette, as the kids pass around licorice from Budapest. Take, for example, the letter that she recently discovered while going through Timber's papers. He'd started writing it en route to the Far East several years ago. An inventor by trade, he was off to pitch one of his many gizmos, an instrument that was part hammer, part tape measure and part fifteen or twenty other tools.

Timber never finished the letter, and no one had known about it until Annette happened upon it. "I can see Daddy smile. He's so happy we found it," she says beaming to her children, several of whom shift slightly in their seats. Then she begins to read: "My beloved family, this letter is a testament of sorts, even to me.... Whenever I leave, or someone in the family leaves, there is the thought we may not be reunited in this life."

"Things can change in a moment. And it's easy to believe we are alone or unappreciated," Annette reads. But the family must keep strong, continues the letter, it has to believe: "We must see His hand at work, even when things go terribly wrong."

Annette stops reading and looks around the table. "I am so conscious of what he wrote," she whispers in awe. "That things happen for a reason."

For the first and only time all night, the table is silent.


Oh, you have to hear about the rocket engine!" exclaims Annette, her striking sapphire eyes sparkling. Her petite figure is perched gracefully on a stately couch in the parlor, as her youngest, Zenith, serves homemade iced tea, just what this warm spring afternoon calls for.

As the story goes, two somber government types showed up at Nancy Dick's Aspen door one winter day in early 1963 and handed her a letter addressed to President John F. Kennedy — with her return address on it.

"Dear Mr. President," the missive read, "Our country has a big problem. We must get to the moon before the Russians! Regular rockets will take too long and use too much fuel. I have plans for an atomic powered rocket engine. It is the most powerful engine ever made by man! I will contact you again soon. Signed, Mister X."

The FBI wanted to find this Mister X, so Nancy sternly trotted out her eight-year-old son, Timber, his leg cast from one of the many broken limbs he'd suffered since moving to Colorado from Cleveland with his family seven years earlier. Timber sheepishly admitted he'd sent the letter — but didn't surrender his detailed rocket-engine drawings, which were hidden among the Popular Science magazines and model spaceships in his room.

From an early age, Timber had a predilection for tinkering, an obsession with figuring out how to make things more efficient, more elegant and, more often than not, faster. Since he finished his high-school coursework early, he spent his senior year building a steam-powered automobile. With the help of his brother, he purchased an Italian racing motorcycle, which they fiddled with and raced up Independence Pass, following in the footsteps of their father, Howard, who with his wife used to race a 1952 MG-TD sports car up mountainsides until he was killed in an unrelated car accident with a drunk driver when Timber was five.

"On occasion, he gave his mother heart failure," says Nancy. "I never, never, never thought of him as eccentric, but maybe he was."

Through it all, he managed to avoid additional run-ins with the law — except for the time the authorities caught him making moonshine in the school science lab. They let him off with a warning.

"He was so intent on making the world a better place," says Annette as afternoon sunlight filters through the parlor, casting lazy amber rays upon the photo on the windowsill of Charity performing a duet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, over the grand piano where the family spends evenings engaged in sing-alongs. Would you like a chocolate? she offers distractedly. Timber loved chocolate, by the way. But where was she? Oh, yes, Timber's childhood. Sure, he was a little different, but so was she. "He was a great match for me. We were both a bit unconventional."

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19 comments
Barb
Barb

I enjoyed this article very much and knowing this family the way I do they will continue to thrive as they continue to enjoy life together. Thank you for memories of their background. I try to stay in touch with them but as you can tell they are so very busy it proves to be a challenge. God Bless them.

Gracie Jones
Gracie Jones

By the way, great article. Wonderfully written and I feel like I know these quirky, crazy cool people.

Gracie Jones
Gracie Jones

I don't understand why people assume they are wealthy. I know exactly 0 families who have that many kids and are wealthy. But I do think they're pretty cool.

Jana
Jana

There are PLENTY of well connected kids who end up doing nothing with their lives. What is remarkable about this family is that they put their family first -- over fame or money or anything else -- and it shows.

Ben
Ben

Yes, it's amazing what heights children of wealthy, well-connected members of the elite, can reach. Golly.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

What kind of idiot names his kid Timber Dick? And what kind of idiot named Timber Dick doesn't get it changed?

Jeremy Bates
Jeremy Bates

How could anyone hope to accomplish more? Open-minded, accepting, always willing to help. The entire family has been a great example in education, career, and religion. It's also refreshing to have the media's stereotypical view of the LDS as being nothing but conservative illuminated.

Nuri
Nuri

A beautiful family full of amazing people. May they be well served, and may we be deserving of their service to our country as we move forward into this exciting and terrifying time.

Lilac
Lilac

Impressive is an understatement when describing any member of this large family. A chance encounter in which several members of this tribe of over-achievers gave me a lasting and inspiring impression of what is right with the world today is a cherished memory. Kudos on this lovely article.

Ernest
Ernest

I think that they sound like an incredible family. I'm curious though why the author compared them to the Tenenbaums?

Harley K.
Harley K.

Well written article, Joel. Timber is a great American man with a great American family. I hope to incorporate some of his characteristics in my own family like curiousness, service to others, and love of life.

Holly
Holly

I grew up with the Tillemann-Dicks and went to church with them. I remember growing up with the older kids and seeing majority of the younger ones being born and the joy of always going to their home for church functions. I will always remember the stories that Timber and Annette shared all the time about the love they had for eachother. Timber was a wonderful bishop when I was in Young Woman's. I will miss Timber, but there is always one thing to never ever forget and that is the happiness we share in the LDS faith, Families are Together Forever.

Chris Willford
Chris Willford

It is sad that people use the anonymity of the internet to make such insensitive, thoughtless comments. Callousness too often replaces compassion. I knew Timber--an intelligent, compassionate man who was always willing to help. He truly demonstrated the principles of success: education, hard work, integrity, and love of family. If we would seek to better implement these ideas into our lives, I am convinced that we would all be better off.

Lora
Lora

And you're voting for Ron Paul. At least these people seem ok with being different.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Well Christian have come to represent the worst there is in religious America. When you contrast the portrait painted in this article versus the story last week's article followed which seems more cult like to you? A loving successful family or dramatizations that ask the question "if you're not willing to die for Jesus how can you live for Him." I am sick of being subjected to the judgments of any self-righteous evangelical tom, DICK or harry who is so insecure with their own belief system that they feel the need to belittle the faiths of others. The only point you prove in your derisions is the emptiness of your religiosity.

Rhonda
Rhonda

You sir, sound far more like a cultist than this lovely family. So unless you're a mormon, I'd keep my mouth shut. And good luck to them in their quest for world whatever they want to do. I think they'll do a lovely job.

nick werle
nick werle

Mormons are cultists just like Jim Jones and Branch Davidians althought low key.

Steve Eisenberg
Steve Eisenberg

Rich and priveleged people have to work as hard as anyone else to get good at something. What this family is mostly rich with is love, enough to give the kids self-confidence to succeed.

 
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