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Together again: Siblings make new home at Ecumen Meadows

Childhood memories equal happy golden days for siblings LaDonne Christians and Gerald Mulder.

Gerald Mulder became a new resident of Ecumen Meadows, and ended up with a room directly across the hall from his sister, LaDonne Christians.
Gerald Mulder became a new resident of Ecumen Meadows, and ended up with a room directly across the hall from his sister, LaDonne Christians.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — When LaDonne Christians moved to Ecumen Meadows last September, she was delighted with her two-bedroom, main floor apartment that has a terrific southern exposure looking out on a fresh community garden.

But imagine her surprise when, one month later, the vacant apartment across the hall attracted a new tenant — Christians’ older brother, Gerald Mulder.

“I’d had no idea LaDonne and Gerald were siblings,” said Denise Erwin, sales and marketing manager at the local senior living center.

Because the 90-year-old Mulder had faithfully visited his wife Verna, a former Meadows resident, on a daily basis until she passed in October 2020, Erwin was already well acquainted with him.

As Mulder was considering making the Meadows his new home, he requested a tour of the available apartment. That same afternoon, Christians, 86, mentioned to Erwin, “I heard my brother is coming to visit.”

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Today, the siblings are both comfortably settled and enjoying their proximity to one another, as it affords them plenty of opportunity to reminisce about their childhoods.

And there’s never a shortage of topics to discuss, since the two are among four surviving offspring of the late John and Fanny Mulder’s 15 children.

As the third (Christians) and fifth (Mulder) from the youngest, the siblings shared a good portion of their youth. Their youngest brother lives in Oregon while one older sister, Joyce Rust, resides at the nearby Homestead Cooperative.

“Joyce has lived the longest of all our siblings (so far),” said Mulder. “She’s 95, and several of our siblings died at age 92 or younger.”

Separate paths

As adults, Mulder and Christians spent time in the workforce and raising their respective families. After serving in the military from 1952-54 during the Korean War, Mulder returned to Minnesota. In September 1956 he married Verna, who was a founder of the LPN program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College (then Worthington Junior College) and a nursing instructor there. Together they raised four children — three sons and one daughter. Today, Mulder has seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

In addition to farming in the Rushmore area, Mulder served on the Nobles County Board of Commissioners from 1982-86. He was also a full-time USDA meat inspector for over 30 years, working at five different packing houses in the area, including in Worthington, Butterfield, Luverne and Marshall.

“I loved farming,” said Mulder. “Rushmore was a good place to farm and raise children.”

Christians, meanwhile, graduated from Worthington High School in 1954 (“Half of my classmates are here,” she joked about her peers at the Meadows).

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She married Merle Christians in June 1956 and the couple lived in Sioux City, Iowa, where Merle was an engineer. In 1971, the couple bought a farm near Lake Wilson and moved their family of three children there.

“We farmed until Merle had a stroke in 1995,” said Christians, who worked for Investors Diversified Services (now Ameriprise Financial) in Sioux City when she was first married and later, was a Community Action employee in Minnesota. Merle died in 2005.

Christians enjoys planting and arranging flowers, volunteering at church and has a flair for decorating, although she protests, “I do a little bit of everything and not anything real good.”

Christians’ three sons live in Lynd, Chandler and Chanhassen; she also has four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Two of 15

Christians and Mulder have uniformly fond memories of growing up in such a large family, though life could not have always been easy. They are proud of their Dutch heritage and the healthy examples each of their parents set.

“Our grandmother came from Holland in the early 1900s with nine children when our dad John was four years old,” said Christians. “She had family by Buffalo Center, Iowa, and that’s how she came to America because you had to have a sponsor.”

Mulder was born in Lismore Township. By the time Christians was born a few years later, the family had relocated to Rushmore, where they continued to farm.

A deep Christian faith kept the family grounded.

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“We had a very good Christian family, and a lot of the stories we heard were of how the Lord provided for them, always,” said Christians. “They went through the Depression and all those hard times but they always survived.”

Christians remembers her dad saying, “The Lord always gave me enough to provide for my children and enough to give away.”

With 15 children, obviously there were age gaps between the youngest and the oldest. Christians explained that when she was born, her oldest sister was also expecting — so their mother and sister gave birth within two weeks of each other.

And how did they feed a family of over a dozen kids? Homegrown vegetables, eggs from their own chickens — and a plethora of pancakes, according to Mulder and Christians.

“Almost all of our food came from the farm,” said Mulder. “We had plenty of chickens, lots of vegetables, and meat and milk from our farm.”

He recalls eating pancakes every morning, a main meal at noon and scrambled eggs and fried potatoes in the evening.

“Mom made a big stack of pancakes for breakfast,” said Christians. “We went to country school, and the superintendent came and taught us about the four food groups.

“Gerald told him, ‘Well, we get pancakes every morning and we’re never sick.’ That’s the way we grew up.”

Harmony was also the rule rather than the exception for the Mulders.

“There isn’t anyone in our family that doesn’t get along,” said Christians. “That’s just the way it is; we were a very unusual family.”

She credits their mother, who died of a heart attack at age 63 after having never really been sick, for her fortitude, patience and industriousness.

“Mom had five boys in the service — three overseas at one time — and she never lost a night’s sleep,” said Christians. “That was the type of mother we had; she was very calm.

“There weren’t too many women like her. When she died, the Rushmore paper gave her a real tribute and said the community had lost someone really special.”

The Mulders’ father, John, lived to be nearly 90.

Life at the Meadows

Now, Mulder and Christians visit with each other daily.

“We chat a lot, about everything and anything,” said Christians.

They also see their sister Joyce frequently and talk to her on the phone “all the time.”

Seeing the siblings’ friendship and support for one another is gratifying to Erwin, who helped both get situated in their respective apartments last fall.

“I love my job so much,” said Erwin. “I have the honor of becoming new residents’ first official friend here and I help them through the entire process — from the first phone call inquiring about life at the Meadows to helping them get acclimated in their new home after moving in.

“We form a bond of friendship and it’s so fulfilling. Our residents, like Gerald and LaDonne, are so interesting, and I go home each day with a heart that’s full.”

And Erwin’s enthusiasm spills over to the residents, according to Mulder.

“This is a great place to be,” said Mulder. “They offer great service, and I know a lot of the people here.”

Christians agrees.

“You still have your freedom as far as coming and going,” said Christians. “I have my car and am independent, yet if you need more services, they’re here — and that’s a big thing, really comforting to know.

“And the staff are very friendly — everybody is.”

Having a good-natured sibling right across the hall doesn’t hurt either.

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