How a West Virginia mother of 15 started Grandparents Day

By Susan Johnson,

“There once was a woman who lived in a shoe.  She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.”  

Marian McQuade had so many children—15 total—but the founder of Grandparents Day knew exactly what to do.  She and her husband Joe, a coal operator, built a charming, sturdy, functional home in Richwood that housed Shirley, Dona Jo, Joel, Danny, Charles, Patricia, Tommy, Robby, David, Ruth, Mary, George, Margaret, Mike, and Kathleen.  (12 of the 15 are still living: Joel, Rob and Patricia are deceased.)  

The eight-bedroom home built for the family in 1964 was equipped to run pretty much like a boarding house.  “We had a drinking fountain and a milk machine in the middle of the downstairs,” 9th child David said. “I remember standing up on my toy tractor and getting a drink of milk.”  He said it was only a local legend that they had a pay phone.

On the ground floor, a large master with an ensuite was the retreat for the busy parents.  On the other side, three bedrooms and a full bath served the seven girls.  “We boys were strictly forbidden to enter the girls’ area,” David recalled.  

Other areas were off limits to the children as well: a small office for Joe, a formal sitting room, and a “collector’s” room for Marian.  All the boys slept upstairs in three adjoining bedrooms.  “Dad never let us have bunkbeds,” David said.  “He knew we’d kill ourselves.”  He made no bones about how ornery they sometimes were.  “We used to go out on the roof and jump off into the snow,” he laughed. To feed that many children, Marian had to be resourceful.  “On Monday she made a pot of beans,” David said. “Then chili on Tuesday from those beans.  Spaghetti on Wednesday from the leftover chili.”  He said she saved every scrap of bread and froze it.  “When she had enough, she would make bread pudding.”

Marian Lucille Herndon was born in Caperton,  Fayette County, in the height of the World War I.  She would always remember the care and devotion of her own grandparents in helping to raise her.  So when her 15 children were beginning to leave the nest, she started a campaign for West Virginia and later the nation to honor grandparents with their own special day. 

On May 27, 1973 Governor Arch Moore proclaimed that date to be set aside as Grandparents Day in West Virginia.  

But Marian kept up her cause until President Jimmy Carter called her on Labor Day of 1978 from the White House with the exciting news: He had signed a bill designating the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day beginning in 1979.  In 1989 the United States Postal Service issued a tenth anniversary commemorative envelope bearing the likeness of Marian McQuade in honor of National Grandparents Day.

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