For many extended families, gathering together involves vacation time, airplane tickets and cross-country travels. for one group of southeastern Minnesota women, it’s not that complicated. Getting four generations in one place is as simple as a short car ride.
Jean Whiting, her daughter Lori McConnell, granddaughter Lindsey Rippentrop and great-granddaughter Layla Rippentrop all live within an hour of one another. Jean’s in Hayfield; Lori lives in Lake City, and Lindsey and Layla live in Rochester.
“We get together as often as we can,” says Lori. “We make it a priority, especially at those times when we really want to be with family, like holidays and birthdays—and we’re there for the tough times too.”
Although they enjoy close proximity now, the family hasn’t always been near one another. Born and raised in Illinois, Lori and her husband, Dave, lived in Denver when their children were young. Lori’s four sisters also moved away from their hometown.
“My husband and I still lived in Illinois, but the five girls were all married and gone. Most of our grandchildren were also in college or married,” says Jean. “Our youngest, Nicole, had moved to Rochester. She still had young children, and we decided we wanted to be near them as they were growing up.”
In 1990 those family ties, along with the stable economy, enticed Lori and Dave to relocate to southeastern Minnesota. “We made a deliberate decision to move back to the Midwest to be with family,” says Lori.
When they moved, Lindsey was 10, the same age Layla is now. Lindsey’s grateful to have grown up with a close extended family, and she’s committed to helping her daughter make those enduring connections too.
“I depend on my family for support. They have always welcomed me with open arms, no matter what,” says Lindsey. “Friends may come and go, but family is forever. I want Layla to know how important that is.”
The desire to keep family ties strong extends throughout the generations. Jean cherishes the time she spends with her five children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Being part of Layla’s life is a true pleasure for her.
“I remember vividly the day Layla was born. I’ve watched her grow, and now she’s such a lovely young lady,” says Jean. “We’re lucky enough to be able to get together and have fun. She is just a joy.”
“Having the two of them spend time together is a blessing,” says Lindsey. “Not many kids get a chance to know their great-grandparents. Now, at her age, Layla will never forget her great-grandmother.”
Lunches and brunches out, birthday celebrations, kids’ activities and holiday gatherings are often the occasions that bring the women together. But the circumstances that draw them close aren’t always fun. They also know the benefit of togetherness through challenges. Nursing home visits, doctors’ appointments and health concerns are all part of the family’s connections.
“In tough situations, everyone pitches in. Whether it’s driving someone to the doctor or being that listening ear to just be there,” says Lori. “Everyone is busy, but we work it out to make sure that loving, caring circle is continuous. Wanting to be there to keep in contact and to help in difficult times makes the difference.”
As Lindsey, Lori and Jean have gotten older, their understanding of one another has grown, and their appreciation for each other and their family has deepened. The years have increased the value of lessons learned.
“Saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ using common courtesy and being nice to others—that was always instilled in us,” says Lori. “Those important lessons last. I’m 56 years old and Mom’s 83, but I still know not to talk back to her.”
Lindsey agrees. “Growing up, I learned so many good lessons from my mom. As a mom myself now, I see all she did for me as a kid and all she taught me. I also see my daughter doing the same things I did and wonder, ‘What in the world was I thinking?’ Mom just laughs at that.”
For Jean, watching her family grow and being an active part of their lives brings a special satisfaction. “It’s wonderful to see how they have become such lovely, responsible people,” she says. “I don’t know what I would do without them. I am the most blessed grandmother in Minnesota, anywhere else for that matter.”
Tracy Will is a freelance writer who lives and works in Rochester.