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 ball hit a kid in the head!" exclaims Kimber, giggling at the on-field antics as she gives husband David a shoulder massage with one hand and talks on her cell with her brother Levi, calling from Washington, D.C., on the other. "Ooh, I just want to coddle that poor little child," pipes in Liberty, before grimacing at a snarky comment made by her boyfriend, Gabriel, who's spending the summer singing opera at the Aspen Music Festival. "Oh," the twenty-year-old snaps at him, "go sing an aria!"

Because of Timber's death, there are fewer goings-on than usual, though the family is still operating under an agenda that's more befitting of a global conglomerate than a household. For the past few weeks, Annette's been in Israel and then Hungary to attend memorial events for her father. She just flew back, meeting Charity, Levi and Tomicah in D.C., to help prepare for Lantos's posthumous receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The rest of her children, other than the Beijing-based Corban, plan to meet her there.

And to think Annette was afraid of how the kids would turn out after she started home-schooling them in 1982. She made that decision partly because she knew school administrators were wrong when they told her Tomicah wasn't ready to enroll in kindergarten, and partly because she had an inkling that she and Timber could handle the task themselves. Annette, armed with her teacher's certificate, threw herself into the endeavor, turning baking into fraction lessons; installing blackboards around the house; speaking French, Spanish, Hebrew and Hungarian around the dinner table; and talking Dante after breakfast. But still, every now and then, she'd wake up fearfully in the middle of the night. "Honey, I've got to stop," she'd tell Timber. "I know they're not learning anything." She stopped worrying so much when her children started getting into Yale and Oxford and White House internship programs not long after they hit puberty.

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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While it certainly didn't hurt to have one grandparent in Congress and another in the Colorado lieutenant governor's office, even connections like that only took the kids so far. "Through no apparent organization whatsoever, we learned how to function in the real world," says Kimber. "And, kind of surprisingly, it all turned out all right."

While the tribe may be more knowledgeable of NPR than HBO and more comfortable at diplomatic cocktail parties than high-school keggers, they do okay for themselves when they head off into the world beyond the big white house. After all, for them childhood has been one big social hour. Remember the time there were 26 people staying in the house at one time, asks Mercina, thanks to foreign exchange students and miscellaneous guests? That's not even counting the salamander and bat and vole and albino rabbit that learned to use a litter box, points out Zenith.

At the head of it all was Timber. He ran the mandatory household meetings every morning, going over who needed to be picked up from chorale practice and what time the afternoon soccer game started. He helped Annette with lessons and, like her, encouraged each child to follow his or her bliss, whether that be astronomy or opera, the Air Force Academy or international politics. And, most notably, there were the pinewood derby cars many of the siblings would undertake. Under Timber's tutelage, the tiny cars became month-long scientific explorations of aerodynamics and wind resistance, wheel friction and center-of-gravity placement.

"There was a tremendous, infectious curiosity that emanated from my dad and went through everyone in my family about how the world worked, whether it was on a mechanical level or a political level," says Tomicah. "My dad, I think, used his creative talents and his administrative talents to direct my mom's energy and the energy of the rest of us in ways that allowed us to make good on talents and abilities that might otherwise just have gotten lost in the chaos."

And he would have loved it here at the Little League game. Surely he would have dropped a few of his signature zingers, terrible puns involving bats and balls. Plus, he could have helped keep everything a little more organized, the whirligigs of the kids' lives a little more under control.

As Zenith dashes off the field and recounts his exploits in colorful hyperbole, Kimber directs the others to tidy up. Everything seems on track, until Gloriana makes a face and clutches her stomach. "I have a tummyache!"

She should have known better than to choose Twinkies over Nietzsche.


The Tillemann-Dick International Emporium, which is what the kids call the big white house on their answering machine message, is hardly ever tranquil.

There's usually a Great Pyrenees getting its tail stuck in a French door or a foreign exchange student stumbling around in bewilderment, or a child sullying an Oriental rug with residue from the annual "Mud Day" festivities in the back yard.

The home's colonnaded white facade and Mediterranean-style crimson tiled roof encapsulates a world that seems to exist in another era. Classical statuary mingle with billowing plants, stained-glass windows disperse rainbows over geisha dolls. The house has come a long way since its dilapidated state in 1992, when Timber and Annette decided their cozy Victorian on Zenobia Street could no longer sustain their continually expanding brood, despite the bunk beds Timber had installed in the walk-in closet and the load-bearing walls he'd expanded using obscure mining techniques.

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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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