DES MOINES, Iowa – After the world’s first surviving septuplets graduated from high school 6½ years ago, did their necessary press conference for Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri, where five of the seven McCaugheys took up the small Baptist university’s offer for free college tuition, they figured they did their part and could go on and live their life out of public view.
But now the McCaughey septuplets will be – check your time-sure-does-fly meter – 25 years old.
Four of the seven are married – and it’s five of eight counting their older sibling, Mikayla. There are four children among the eight, with another on the way.
Alexis, Brandon, Joel, Kelsey, Kenny, Natalie and Nathan and are now grown-ups and talk like it, wistfully recounting their wonder years side by side, and how much they miss one another.
With jobs, spouses, growing families and other duties, they can herd in one place at one time only a couple of times a year, usually at the holidays.
“When we are all together, it’s just the best time,” said Kelsey Morrison, who married Kevin Morrison in June 2020 and lives in Hannibal, Missouri. “Those times are even more sacred now. They are so incredibly sweet with all our significant others and kids.”
In those times, you can’t wipe the smile off mom Bobbi’s face. The adjustment period is long over because “the girls went to college six years ago and never came back, even for summers,” she said. It’s the continuation of a new phase – waiting for them all to come home to visit. Their donated 4,833-square-foot home in Carlisle was sold in 2018 to a nonprofit, Ruth Harbor, that supports young mothers. Parents Kenny and Bobbi now host their children in a country home outside of Runnells, in the southeastern corner of the state.
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“I love it when everybody gets back home; it doesn’t happen often,” Bobbi said. “It’s crowded and noisy. I love seeing the driveway full of cars and grandkids riding bikes.”
They pick up right where they left off.
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Kenny said immediately the boys start horsing around and everyone reverts to their roles. The girls sing.
“One thing we do, and it sounds ridiculous,” said Natalie, describing how they reprise their roles as fifth-graders sitting in the back seat with their parents hauling them from school and band practice, where each played a different instrument.
“We played a song in band, ‘Crazy Cat’ and all had our parts. On the way home we would sing the sounds of our parts. We do that now when we get together.”
An Army sergeant and a hospital worker
The McCaughey children are grown up and think of simpler times, while their parents are proud of what they’ve become.
As promised since childhood, Brandon went off to the U.S. Army, where today, he’s a sergeant. He married Alana, and has a child, Ellie. He remains an influence on his siblings.
Natalie graduated from Hannibal-LaGrange with a degree in exercise science and met her husband, Shawn, while running on the cross country and track teams. She began to work as a patient care technician at a regional hospital. That’s when the pandemic hit.
She suddenly was feeding, giving baths, changing bedding and brushing teeth for double the number of patients, 20 at a time, wearing an N95 mask, often in the COVID unit, in the middle of a crisis.
“People don’t understand, but going through it was a very intense and emotional thing,” she said.
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Kenny also says he sometimes feels “on my own.” After having so many siblings, it feels as if “no one has my back and you kind of feel vulnerable … But we do all get on a group chat to see what everyone is up to,” he said.
He married Synthia two years ago after they met at an Ankeny church. He was already well into the career he long ago chose – building. He returned to his first love of cabinet making six months ago, taking a job at Waukee Cabinet Works, and bought and remodeled what he calls his “dream home” in Dallas Center.
The couple is expecting a baby boy Nov. 28, and his name will be Kenny V.
“It’s hard to believe I will be 25, and my baby is going to be a boy,” he said. “Kenny V, me, my dad, grandpa and great grandpa, all Kennys. When he’s born, grandpa wants to take a picture of the four of us together.”
It’s hard for him now at 25 with a child on the way to believe his parents were just four years older when they had eight kids.
“I tell people that I don’t know how they did it. That would be crazy,” he said. “When we were first born, they had help, but after that, I never thought how they were able to be sane.”
But the influence of those years is not lost on the siblings.
“All of us are hard workers. My parents gave us that growing up,” Natalie said. “We worked for everything we have. It’s also by the grace of God what we have.”
Two in IT, another works with children and an Iowa dream
All in the family are proud of the one some label the smartest of the bunch, Joel. He and Nathan both graduated from Hannibal-LaGrange with degrees in computer information systems. Joel works in IT at Emerson Electric in Marshalltown and lives at home, while Nathan has his own apartment and works in IT with Wellmark.
Nathan and sister Alexis were born with cerebral palsy. Natalie said she’s especially proud of Nathan: “Watching him be so independent and live in his own place and drive to work and provide for himself has been really cool to watch.”
Alexis has also followed her dream, working with children at Altoona Kids World child care company after earning her liberal arts degree at Hannibal-LaGrange. She lives with her parents and hopes to be a special-education teacher.
People don’t know them as much anymore, but occasionally they get a standard question.
“Do you have siblings?”
“Actually quite a few,” Kelsey tells them. “I’m a septuplet.
The media experience helped her in college, where she sidelined her career in music – the only one to shift from her childhood dream – to enter public relations after a professor noticed her skills in front of people.
She joined the campus news station as an anchor and reporter and especially loved it when she was behind the camera instead of in front of it. Kelsey said she worked in public relations for a year but is now a receptionist in a medical office as careers in her field in the Hannibal area dwindled during the pandemic.
She dreams of one day moving back to Iowa and hopes other siblings will also return and all live a short drive away.
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Dad is still dad. He always showed a sort of reserved pluck, a talk-about-the-crops-and-weather Iowan who grew up in these parts, watched his kids have some of the same teachers he had, and now is taking up hobbies, riding his motorcycle and disc golf, which he learned from his sons-in-law.
“The girls have chosen pretty decent husbands. I love ‘em, too, and we all get along pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t have to hold a shotgun as they proposed. They all did the decent thing and asked me if I could marry my daughters. But I had them all nervous.”
After all the graduations, the weddings and the grandkids’ births, life has been quieter as Bobbi continues work in the Des Moines school district as a special-education associate while Kenny remains on an as-needed basis for the metal coating company where he spent much of his working life.
The couple does a lot more together now.
“Kenny and I can do some things we haven’t done in a long time. Life goes full circle,” she said. “You start out doing things without kids and then eventually you get back to doing things without kids. Like going camping, just the two of us.
“But it’s hard when they don’t need you as much anymore. We don’t get to tell them what to do anymore unless they ask us, though there are still times when they call and want to talk about things or the boys ask their dad how to fix their cars.”
“There is probably as many things to pray for now as they are older as when they are little, just different things as they are raising their own families. Now we are praying for the same things that people prayed for us. It just changes. It doesn’t stop.”
It’s likely most of the group won’t celebrate their 25th birthday together, so it does change – and it doesn’t stop.
One day soon they will break out in song together and all sing their seven parts.