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.

But things went wrong. It turned out the burns in Timber's lungs were worse than at first believed, and over the next few days they began filling with fluid as he lay comatose. Starved for oxygen, his organs began to fail, one after another. There was nothing the doctors could do; it was a catastrophic failure.

Chaos, in other words, had pulled a fast one.


Death isn't the end, believed Timber. It's just a slight transformation, a shifting of gears on the road to eternity.

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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The Mormon church's spiritual messages had seemed so logical to him, promising protection for him and his family from the most irrational part of life: its end. According to the religion, the world he'd help build inside the big white house wasn't just meant for this lifetime. The spirits of his family were sealed together for time and all eternity, and together they would grow and learn and flourish — and probably squabble a bit — in the world after this one. "I think there is this great desire in our lives to find an end to our stories," says Charity. "The truth is, our stories don't end. I know that Daddy's story isn't going to end."

That's why, on the afternoon Timber died, his family, singing and praying around him in the hospital, were filled with grief but also peace. They knew he was simply taking an extended vacation — and sooner or later they'd see him again. Yes, Timber would miss them, but it would be nice for him to have a little peace and quiet in the afterlife. That's the good thing about the Mormon idea of Heaven: It isn't a perfect, cloud-filled Nirvana; rather, it's another world like this one, so there would be a lot of stuff for Timber to fix.

Plus, in his crusade against disorder, the inventor left behind the great whirling engine that is his family, the most fantastic of all his creations. It continues chugging along even without its central, steadfast piston, picking up where he left off.

Soon after the funeral, Tomicah, Levi and Corban traveled to New York to accept the NASA "Create the Future" award, not as a final tribute to their father, but as the next step toward the engine's implementation. Family members, working alongside Timber's business partners and colleagues at the University of Denver, are planning to build a basic prototype of the IRIS, and many believe the device's potential has skyrocketed thanks to escalating gas prices. "All of us felt very strongly that we couldn't let this die," says Tomicah. "At least in the years between today and when we're able to move off fossil fuels, we hope this will become the solution."

Back in Denver, the big white house remains as busy as ever. Brothers and sisters pop in from distant ports, take their seats at the dining room table and add their voices to the ruckus. They help with the morning Dante lessons and trips to the art museum, fill the dining room with lilacs — Annette's favorite — and encourage their younger brothers and sisters to always follow their bliss, just as Timber did for them.

There are the tearful nights, says Corban over the phone from China, "but the biggest inheritance our dad left us was each other. We are able to rely on each other, to support each other, and to know there will always be someone there for us. That knowledge makes dealing with this so much easier and so much less scary."

And then, one by one, the children will be off again on distant adventures, each doing their part toward Tillemann-Dick world domination.

"There's not an hour that goes by when I don't think about what happened," says Shiloh, whipping up some olive bread in the kitchen before he packs for his internship with the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D. C. "But I have no option but to thrive. There is no alternative. If we all stayed together and didn't do anything, what would be the point of that?"

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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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