By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
FOLSOM – What words can be used to describe a home in today’s world that includes seven children—none of which came from a “blended family” with previous marriages?
Crazy, interesting, unusual, shocking, different.
Those descriptions are all accurate, but probably more than any is the peace, happiness and joy that can be found in the western St. Tammany home of Brad and Kelly Schroeder.
While Christmas at most homes is always a fun affair, few could compare to the activity and family spirit that transcends the Schroeder home in Folsom on a five-and-a-half acre piece of property they have turned into a mini-farm.
Brad is a commercial banker at Metairie Bank and its St. Tammany Parish branch, and serves as president of the Covington Business Association (CBA), while Kelly quickly turned into the stay-at-home mom as the children began arriving in 1996.
“When we first were married we talked about having three children,” Kelly said. “But after three I wanted one more, and it kept going. Only the seventh one was a surprise.”
Nathan is the oldest at age 21, followed by 18-year-old Rebecca, 16-year-old Luke, 12-year-old Anna, 8-year-old Lydia, 6-year-old David and 4-year-old Julia. Kelly and Brad might have been given a little sign that seven was enough since Nathan and Julia have the exact same birthday on June 19.
How does a couple have seven children in a day and time when three is usually considered a big family?
The best answer from Brad and Kelly seems to point to their Christianity, clearly the foundation of their family that helped them raise what they call “seven good kids. We enjoyed them so much,” Kelly said. “We kept wanting more.”
The key to making a seven child family work, Brad said, is “having a good team. Everyone has their chores, especially cleaning up in the kitchen after Kelly cooks. And I try to tell these kids they don’t realize what a great cook she is—she’s like Emeril. So the deal is that she cooks and we all clean up.”
Brad said he will yell “kitchen!” and the crew jumps into action in their five bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home on the Folsom “farm” as they like to call it.
Kelly said that she and Brad always talked about having a piece of land, and after moving to the North Shore in 2001 it took six years to find the right property north of Covington. Today they have a large garden where they grow a multitude of vegetables that are all used in their kitchen.
The property is also utilized to allow the children ways to make money. Shortly after moving to Folsom they built a chicken coop and now have nearly 50 chickens. Luke operates his own business with the chickens by selling eggs, while breeding more little chicks. A few of the older hens that stop laying make their way to the dinner table, although Anna made it clear “there are three chickens we call the ‘originals.’ And they are like pets so we are keeping them.”
Lydia and Ann are milking the three goats and starting a business to make goat soap.
Rebecca is the horse lover in the family and there are two horses that she takes care of, while she also learned to train horses and makes money working for other horse owners.
Nathan was no different in that the parents had him finding a job when he became a teenager since Brad and Kelly made all the children save their money as they got older, enabling Nathan, Rebecca and Luke to each buy their own car and pay for their own insurance. Luke, at 16, has already purchased a car even though he hasn’t been allowed to get his driver’s license yet.
The principles of raising the children come straight from the Bible, the couple said. They attend Church of the King in Mandeville and are heavily involved in ministries there. Brad said their family prayer each night ends with “Let our family be known as a team who loves God and serves others.”
Kelly was raised in a Christian home in Metairie and attended 1st Assembly of God School, while Brad was raised in a Baptist home. When the couple got together they quickly agreed about the way to raise their children.
“It all starts with teaching respect for their parents,” Kelly said. “Too many parents today want to be a friend to their children. You have to be the parent first and you have to immediately train them when you see any signs of disrespect. We addressed that from the early ages and it helped them all grow to be really good kids.
“Believe me, we are far from perfect, but we can say that we have seven really good kids, and they are a joy to have around,” she added. “Now that Rebecca is older she is my best friend, not to mention she has always been my right hand person and helper with the young ones.”
Brad was originally from Wetumpka, Ala., but said he moved a lot since his father was a Michelin Tire district manager. As he headed off to the University of Alabama with intentions to be an attorney, his life changed when he met Kelly and they were married a year later. He ended up in New Orleans after working in the automobile industry and getting transferred south.
Kelly also decided against college and was working as a legal secretary, then a hairdresser, along with waiting tables at Copeland’s when Brad walked in one night with some buddies.
“I always had a rule against dating the customers,” Kelly said. “But there was something different about Brad when he asked for my phone number.”
Kelly must have really liked him as the couple laughed in both remembering very clearly that she gave him four different phone numbers to call her. But the first date wasn’t as magical as either had hoped, and the two were sure they were not a match.
“We went out and didn’t click. We both knew it,” Kelly said.
But six months later a friend of Brads went to get his hair cut and came back to talk about “this good looking hairstylist” who Brad quickly identified as Kelly.
He called her a second time for a date, but she said no. He called back and asked again, getting told “no” one more time. Not giving up, he called a third time and said he had “tickets to see Cats,” only to hear Kelly say she already had a date that night.
Brad decided to show up 30 minutes before her other date and for some reason Kelly decided to go out with the man whom she did not click with the first time.
“All of a sudden it was different,” she recalled. “We had a great date, went out after the show and that was it. Six months later we were engaged and six months later we were married—now 24 years ago.”
As the children began arriving they decided to homeschool since Brad’s sister had done it with her five kids. “They were such great kids, so respectful and happy. They all got along so well and we wanted that,” Kelly recalled.
Kelly said they never imagined she would be homeschooling seven children all the way to graduation, but one year turned into two, then on-and-on.
“I just love sitting here with my children at the house, teaching them,” she noted. “It was about teaching them the Godly principles we believe, and we have been blessed in a great way with these children.”
Nathan still lives at home and pays $200 a month rent, still deciding what his future will be. Rebecca is also finished with high school and has a steady boyfriend, but is saving her money for cosmetology school. Luke, still a sophomore in high school, has a great interest in computers and is a straight ‘A’ student who plans to go into the computer programming field.
When asked the down side to so many people in the house, there was some pretty interesting comments.
“It’s about getting the good food that we bring home from the grocery store,” Rebecca said. “By the time you go to get it someone has eaten it.”
Kelly said it’s not unusual for the best snacks or food to be hidden.
“That’s how you get what you want,” she said with a laugh.
The monthly grocery bill is $1,400, although their garden and animals at the house help with that, but the family has survived on Brad’s one income. He worked various jobs before getting hired as a branch manager of a Chase bank, which led to becoming a commercial lender now at Metairie Bank.
A typical day starts with coffee, many in the family agreed.
“Luke has the coffee ready to come on at 6:30,” Kelly said. “Then everyone does their part to get through the day. The tricky part is that as a mom there are always interruptions and things you don’t expect.
“The mom is always needed for something,” she added. “Someone may need to talk to me, or a little one needs help in the bathroom or I hear someone yell, ‘mom, the dog has a chicken in its mouth.’ It’s always something here, but I love it.”
The result is that the oldest children are becoming adults now and talk about their mom and dad with the respect every parent wants to hear.
“My mom and I are best friends,” Rebecca said. “I can tell her anything.”
Nathan said “I admire my dad for his integrity and the way he treats my mom. I want to model that 100 percent. I appreciate their love for God and when I have tough times, he is the one I want to talk to.”
Brad, well known in the Covington business circles for his wit and jokes as president of the CBA, said “my favorite thing to do is be a dad although that’s also the most humbling thing.”
But he acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead as his children become adults.
“I know the importance of setting an example for my daughters, showing and modeling what they should expect in a man. It’s extremely humbling to think that my daughters are watching me to see what should be normal for a how a husband or dad should act. I can hardly think of a greater responsibility,” he added.
Brad is also on the board of directors for the Covington Boys & Girls Club, a member of the Professional Services Committee for Covington and former board member and graduate from Leadership St. Tammany.