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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.

That match seemed far from certain when this spirited blonde met the lanky sophomore at a Yale function in 1976. She was in the divinity school, pursuing her second master's degree. He'd already flunked out of New College of Florida and was only at Yale because of an academic turnaround and a convincingly plaintive seven-page application letter. She was reading the Bible; he was a bit tipsy. When he introduced himself as "Timber Dick," she felt like responding, "And my name's Cinderella." (Though she swears she didn't grasp his moniker's giggle-worthy connotations.)

None of their differences stopped Timber from falling hard. He'd always been intrigued by dynamic forces, about fashioning order from chaos, and in Annette he found a force of nature demanding all of his orderliness and rationality.

He pursued her until she felt the same about him — but that still left her father. Tom Lantos, a Hungarian Jew, hadn't escaped a Nazi labor camp in 1944 and scraped together a new life in San Francisco just to see his princess with some shiftless punk, which Lantos made clear with all the formidable passion that would later mark his nearly thirty-year career in Congress. While their relationship survived his wrath, there was another complication. Annette, following in the footsteps of her mother, converted to Mormonism after experiencing an overwhelming feeling one night that the religion had the power of truth, and she would only marry someone who shared her faith.

Timber Dick became an inventor at a young age.
Timber Dick became an inventor at a young age.
Annette Tillemann-Dick home-schooled all eleven children at the family home.
Annette Tillemann-Dick home-schooled all eleven children at the family home.

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.

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Timber had always been a spiritual person, one who believed in divine order, but he'd never had a formal religion. Furthermore, to his friends and family, the rigid belief structures and conservative nature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seemed at odds with his and Annette's open-minded attitudes and political liberalism.

"I don't know whether he would have become a Mormon if he had not fallen so deeply for Annette," says his mother. "Though he gave it a tremendous amount of thought. It was not a quick decision."

The Mormon church at first didn't seem like a great fit for him, adds his brother Justin. "I think it fit his needs. But I think in some ways, he was conflicted in his needs. Being such a rational person, it was difficult for him to make that change. He had one urge to find a spiritual practice in his life. He had another innate predilection for rationality."

Despite other people's questions, Timber forswore his few vices and delved headlong into Mormonism. That led the way to the wedding chapel — or, more precisely, the Washington, D.C., Mormon temple, the nearest to Yale — where, in March 1978, the two were sealed together for time and all eternity. Annette took Timber's last name as well as that of her maternal grandfather, Sebastian Tillemann, who was killed in the Holocaust.

In fact, says Annette as the parlor's soft afternoon hues begin to fade, they marked their thirtieth anniversary this past March with a breakfast concocted by the kids and a special visit to their Denver temple. For her, it was a much-needed distraction from the death of her father a few weeks earlier; little did she know that tragedy would strike again so soon. "I remember saying to Timber, 'This is such a wonderful moment in our lives. We have had thirty amazing years. I believe the next thirty will be even more amazing.' I'm baffled, because I really had this sense that we had this future ahead of us."

Tears well up, but only for a moment. Annette won't let herself go there — for her kids' sake, for her own sake, and for Timber. As her husband once told her, "You've just got to hold on to the things you believe. The minute you let go, you'll slide down into an abyss, and you may not be able to climb back out."

So it's best to compartmentalize, to focus on the happy memories, like the birth of Tomicah, their first son, the winter before Timber graduated from Yale with a bachelor's and a master's in business administration. Sure, Timber ended up delivering the baby himself in their back seat on the wintry Connecticut roads on way to the hospital while their two dogs clambered all over them — but other than that, it was perfect.

At the time, they both knew it wouldn't be their last child. Annette had made it very clear she wanted a big family, to replace the relatives she had lost in the Holocaust. Timber had agreed — "He was such a good sport about it!"

After all, how many more children could there be?


Was that a grand slam? It looks like five kids are running around the bases."

Kimber, 28, gazes quizzically in the warm summer dusk at the Little League game transpiring in fits and starts on this baseball diamond in Barnum Park in west Denver, then turns with mock annoyance to her sixteen-year-old sister, Mercina, who's sitting in the metal bleachers next to her. "You're getting peanuts in my purse!"

The Tillemann-Dick kids aren't the best at sports — among the abundant honors strewn about their house, there are fewer than a dozen athletic trophies — but they do excel at sideline enthusiasm. "I want a hot dog!" hollers eleven-year-old Zenith, sitting with his Little League teammates in the fenced-in dugout by the field. "With ketchup and mustard?" Shiloh, eighteen, bellows back from the bleachers as he rummages through the baskets they brought crammed with sodas and peanuts and Costco-sized condiments and Hostess cakes to find the homemade vegetarian hot dogs. Next to him, Gloriana is enjoying a Twinkie, the first the fourteen-year-old says she'd had in years, having for the moment put down her copy of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which she started last night after finishing a Dostoyevsky novel.

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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.

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.

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.

 
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