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.

The big white house was the perfect place for their family, they decided, and negotiated a byzantine arrangement of mortgage payments and credit-card loans to get it. Now the refurbished chandeliers and polished walnut columns seem perennially poised for a masquerade ball, or at least the Christmas party thrown every year for the neighbors and mailmen and bank tellers and strangers in the grocery store with whom Annette struck up conversations that never seemed to end.

All about are signs of Timber. In the kitchen, the pantry doors fold in on one another like a wooden origami puzzle of dry goods. In the basement, walls conveniently slide away and bookshelves swing open into hidden rooms. There's a gargantuan swing set in the back yard, with steel-girder braces and thirty-foot oscillating swings and a veneer of painted vines and sunflowers and black-eyed Susans. The grass is kept tidy with a lawn mower modified with two wheelchair wheels. The driveway holds a big blue school bus whose seats are interspersed with double beds and whose luggage rack doubles as a tent platform. And, of course, there's Timber's office, where towers of blueprints and papers, adorned with bits of frayed wire and pieces of PVC pipe, now sit untouched.

Somewhere around here is a Sit'n'Stroll, a baby car seat that, with the press of a button, sprouts a handle and wheels, transforming itself into a stroller. Timber's idea for the apparatus came in the 1980s when, frustrated by continually having to wake up her babies to transport them from house to automobile to shopping cart, Annette asked him to make her a car seat that was also a stroller. It was the perfect assignment for Timber, allowing him to produce something that, because of the cost concerns and safety issues involved, would have to be elegant, even beautiful, in its simplicity. The fact that it involved automobiles, one of Timber's favorite things, probably didn't hurt, either.

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.

And so the Sit'n'Stroll was born, along with a corresponding company, Safeline Children's Products Company, which Timber ran with his brother, Justin. It was the perfect job, better than his synthetic-fuel research at the Exxon-Tosco Colony Shale Oil Project in Colorado, better than selling passenger train systems after that, even better than the political campaigns he helped run for his mother and, later, his father-in-law, who appointed him campaign manager despite their rocky relationship. Safeline would be focused on ways to improve the unruly lives of busy families, something at which Timber was an expert. In the future, he could see all sorts of gadgets selling alongside the Sit'n'Stroll, like pneumatic-powered high chairs and baby swing sets that slipped away into briefcases.

None of those contraptions made it past the drawing board. The Sit'n'Stroll demanded most of his time, involving significant manufacturing expenditures, thorough safety testing, high insurance costs and a challenging industry to break into.

"We thought we would just knock this off and move on to something big," says Justin. "It wasn't meant to be as all-consuming as it was. We worked on it for ten years."

While Sit'n'Strolls eventually started selling, their creator never got to enjoy much of their windfall. When a potential investor expressed interest in the business, Timber trustingly revealed to him the debt the company had accumulated. That businessman quietly bought off the debt, then demanded that Safeline's founders hand over the company or face bankruptcy. It was a pattern Timber experienced again and again.

In 2003, inspired by the political fervor coursing through his family, this lifelong Democrat threw his hat into the ring for the city council race in northwest Denver — a race that turned ugly. Anonymous fliers appeared calling Timber pro-life, anti-schools and racist. Someone sent out e-mails, probably inspired by his name, that suggested he sold porn videos. Their target, however, wouldn't respond in kind.

"I recall suggesting, 'Maybe you should look at your opponents and look at their negative things and bring them up,'" says John Haney, a local business owner and police officer who helped with the campaign. "He refused to do it, saying, 'We are all trying to make a better Denver.' I don't know if that really hurt him." Timber would go on to win the first round of the election, but lost in a runoff to Rick Garcia.

"There were some difficult conflicts which he and I talked about a great deal during the last year or two of his life," says Bill Paddock, Timber's church bishop and close friend. "There is a certain type of person, and Timber would say he is one, who kind of get pushed around in business, or who get blindsided by dishonest people."

Even the orderly realm Timber strove to maintain at home wasn't perfect. While the household whirlwind was a hoot, there were so many kids to care for, so many agendas to juggle, so much energy to harness. Holding it all together became harder and harder.

Several years ago, while serving a mission for the church, Timber's son Levi decided to leave Mormonism, no longer able to reconcile the logical and liberal outlook his parents had instilled in him with inconsistencies he perceived in church doctrine. "There is a little bit of a Camelot element to the family," says Levi. "But there are problems, like any family."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
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.

 
Loading...