The Yoder family
Vernon — 45
Lois — 41
Lori — 17
Sheila — 16
Theron — 14
Bradley — 13
Melvin — 11
Jeffrey — 9
Wesley — 6
Judy — 5
Darlene — 3
Tonya — 11 months
Amy — 2 weeks
Craig Five-year-old Judy Yoder turned to her mother, Lois, and buried her blond head in a cotton printed dress that matched her own.
Silent tears started to roll away from the corner of her eyes as she shook her head.
Lois, 41, leaned in to her daughter and spoke soft words of consolation in Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German carried over from early 17th century immigrants.
“It’s OK, Judy, you’re going to be the next girl to make a quilt,” Lois said in English once the girl had gathered herself. “You’ll get to make one all your own.”
The reason behind Judy’s distress was a pink and mauve quilt that lay atop 17-year-old Lori’s perfectly made bed.
Lori and her sister, Shelia, 16, had sewn it between 2005 and 2008 during the evenings after they returned from school at the Craig Mennonite Church.
There were a few jagged stitches where 6-year-old Wesley Yoder had helped out, and his name was written in black marker on the underside of the quilt.
Theron, 14, Bradley, 13, Melvin, 11, and Jeffrey, 9, also had left their mark on the piece of fabric.
Judy, who was only three at the time, had attempted a few stitches, but Lori later removed them because they didn’t quite fit the pattern.
But Judy’s contribution to a family work of art will not be her last. Soon, she will take on the role of older sister and caretaker for her three younger sisters, just as Sheila, Lori and her brothers had done for her.
Even 3-year-old Darlene was learning to sing to her baby sisters, Tonya, 11 months, and Amy, 2 weeks, and bounce them on her lap.
“My older daughters are blessings to me,” Lois said. “That’s one of the blessings of a large family — the older ones relate to the younger ones in a way they normally wouldn’t.”
For Lori, who is finished with school, watching her siblings full time is a favorite pastime.
“I can’t help but think that life with a small family must be so boring,” she said.
The Yoder family, which now totals 13 blue-eyed, soft-spoken Mennonites, moved to Craig from Grand Junction in September 2003, when they, along with six other families, established the Mennonite Church.
At the time, they had seven children.
On Feb. 15, they added number 11: Amy Nicole, who was born at The Memorial Hospital. Amy was Lois’ 11th child in 17 years and another welcome blessing in the family’s life.
“We’re not saying we’re blessed more than anyone else,” Lois said. “There are some people who can’t have children. We’re not more blessed than them — or a family who has six children — because it’s just the working of the world.
“The Lord has different plans for all of us.”
But not every blessing comes as easily and quietly as little Amy did.
Now 11 months old, Tonya playfully grabbed at her toes and pumped her arms in joy as she sat on the floor of the Yoder house in a sunshine yellow frock.
But less than a year ago, she was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Junction for emergency surgery after she was born.
It was a traumatic event, but Lois said it brought her and her husband, Vernon, together in a way that she never thought was possible.
Tonya also was born with Down syndrome, and Lois calls her “our very special one.”
“Those special babies really have a way of working their way into your hearts,” she said. “God gave us the grace to accept this, and now we don’t know what we’d do without her.”
The Mennonite faith is what drives the Yoders’ values and lifestyle.
From the simple, hand-sewn dresses to practicing peace and non-resistance, Lois said the family lives by the Bible in order to maintain purity and holiness.
“We pretty well fit into the world,” Lois said. “But we’re separate in that we don’t really participate in worldly amusements that are just for pleasure and fun.”
They find their own amusement in a variety of ways, from playing with air guns in the basement to photographing elk that wander through their land a few miles north of Craig, to simply spending time with one another.
They each have assigned chores that rotate every day and responsibilities ranging from room-cleaning to picking peas from the vegetable garden in the summer.
The boys have been building up their tool sets for years and often help with their father’s construction business after school and on weekends.
They also keep a clockwork schedule.
On Mondays and Thursdays, all the clothing is washed, Fridays are reserved for visits and Tuesdays are for sewing, gardening in the summers and scrapbooking to keep each and every special memory alive in fabric-bound binders.
There is a birthday almost every month, for which the older girls bake elaborate cakes suited to each of the personalities in their family.
But all the structure in the world cannot tell the future for Lois, who smiled as she held her newest blessing, bundled in pink, to her chest.
The future could hold another baby or another hardship. Whichever it is, it isn’t up to her, she said.
“That’s in God’s hands,” she said. “And we thank him, even for our little surprises.”