By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Large families run in the family for Kathy Oja of Delano.
She and her husband, Karl, have nine children, ages 2 to 17.
“I came from a family of 14 kids, so I’m used to a big family,” Kathy said.
Twelve of the 14 live within a 30-mile radius of Delano.
Kathy’s brother, Tom Ylitalo and his wife have 12 children. The family lives in Delano, and was featured in the Oct. 5, 2009 issue of the Delano Herald Journal. Another brother, Bruce Ylitalo of Cokato, also has a family with 12 children.
“We’re next in line with nine,” Kathy said.
Families of this size make for interesting Christmas get-togethers.
Almost 100 people show up for the party every year.
“We go to a gym,” Kathy laughed. “We wouldn’t really fit into a house.”
Celebrating at a gym also allows the cousins to play floor hockey, basketball, and volleyball with each other.
“It’s a blast,” Kathy said. “We have a big family network, and we’re very close.”
For Kathy, the decision to have a large family of her own was easy.
“It’s really rewarding raising kids,” she said. “I definitely wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Kathy’s mother, Lil Ylitalo, recently moved to Delano from Minnetonka.
“She’s a big part of our lives,” Kathy said. “She lives right in the middle of everything.”
A fun upbringing inspired Kathy to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
“I loved growing up in a big family,” she said. “There was just so much to do and so much love.”
Karl’s parents had five children. Karl works at Protomold in Maple Plain during the day, and then comes home to help take the children to sport practices and other activities.
“We have a 12-passenger van,” Kathy said. “We joke that it’s a shuttle bus.”
Kurt, Kara, Justin, Chad, Ross, Linnea, and Trevor go to school in Delano. Jake, 4, and Connor, 2, will also attend school there when they are older.
Five of the children are involved in hockey.
“We make a rink in our backyard,” Kathy said. “They are out there all the time.”
In the summer, the kids love swimming in the family’s above-ground pool.
“It’s fun to watch the children in the pool or playing hockey,” Kathy said. “Those two are the lifesavers. Otherwise you might go a little crazy.”
The Ojas live on one acre of land a few miles from Delano. The space allows them to have a volleyball net and a place to play baseball, as well.
The family’s four-bedroom house is “plenty, but it’s not huge,” according to Kathy.
In order to keep the house clean and organized, each child helps out.
“The kids usually do one little job a night,” Kathy said, explaining that she keeps a rotating list. “That helps it flow a lot easier, and it’s no big deal for them to do a five-minute job.”
The Ojas take plenty of time to have fun, too.
“We have simple fun,” Kathy said. They don’t go out to eat very often, but Kathy does a lot of cooking and baking. Some of the family’s favorite dishes include calzone, pasti (a main dish with pie crust, ground beef, rutabaga, and other ingredients), and a sweet bread called nissu.
“My kids are great eaters,” she said. “I’m fortunate when I make something, they eat it.”
Friday nights are always pizza and pop night.
“That’s what we did growing up, and it’s become our tradition,” Kathy said.
“The kids don’t let me forget about it,” she added, laughing.
Kara, 15, said she’s enjoyed growing up in a large family.
“I love it,” she said. “It never gets boring. We have little fights now and then, but it’s never lasting.”
After high school, Kara plans to go to college for elementary teaching or nursing. Someday, she’d like to have a large family of her own, she added.
Kathy and Karl met through gatherings at First Apostolic Church in Medina. Kathy is originally from Minnetonka, and Karl grew up near Park Rapids.
The Ojas had lived in Brooklyn Park for awhile, but moved to Delano because they wanted a smaller town with good schools.
“We’ve been here 12 years and loved every minute of it,” Kathy said. “It’s a great place to raise the kids.”