It’s probably no shock that Millsboro native Lou Ann Rieley would be chosen as Delaware’s Mother of the Year.
After all, giving birth to 11 children, adopting a 12th, and over the years acting as a foster parent to another 20 – while homeschooling most of them – is certainly deserving of an award.
But it might come as a surprise to learn that the woman who has dedicated her life to nurturing children has never met her own mother.
“I was adopted by Edward and Louise Dorey when I was just nine days old, and I grew up knowing that,” Rieley said this week. “If my birth family showed up today, I would be thrilled to meet them, but to be honest I’ve been so busy, happy and content in my life that I’ve never felt the need to go looking for them.”
Having grown up as a “chosen child” in a loving family, Rieley said her drive to provide the same experience for other children was partially shaped by the story of her adopted grandfather, an orphaned child who was shuffled from family to family as a low-paid farm hand.
“He never had a loving family and he didn’t even know his own name,” she said. “He died before I was born, but when I heard his story as a 10-year-old girl, I decided at that moment I would welcome in each and every child I could as a blessing and gift from God.”
While living in Washington, D.C., Lou Ann met and married her husband John, who today is the president-elect of the Sussex County Republican Committee. The couple moved to Millsboro in 1978 to begin raising their children, who are now between the ages of 10 and 31.
Three of the couple’s eight boys and four girls are veterans or active military personal. Three are working in the health care industry. Two are entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, six – including their adopted 14-year-old son – are living at home, where Rieley home-schooled 11 of her own kids, as well as several of her foster children.
“Home schooling my children wasn’t a statement against the public schools or anything like that,” said Rieley, a local pioneer of the home-schooling movement. “I really just enjoyed spending quality time with each one and experiencing that moment when it clicks and they get something. We also wanted to be the socializing agent for our own children and to set a vision for their lives. Not planning their future, but giving them something to strive for.”
The Rieleys’ decision to have such a large family has not escaped occasional derision or unwelcome attention, however.
“I have been stopped on the street by strangers who were appalled that I have so many children,” she said. “I think people are taught in today’s society that children are there for the parents’ benefit and to fulfill a need in their lives, instead of the other way around.”
In contrast, the Rieleys, both founding member of Abundant Life Church in Georgetown, have made Psalm 127, Verse 3 a central tenant of their life: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”
“I try to tell young mothers facing a crisis pregnancy that we all make mistakes, but God doesn’t,” said Rieley, who also co-founded the Sussex Pregnancy Care Center in Georgetown. “All children are a gift from God, regardless of the circumstances of their conception. You have to look beyond your personal conflicts in favor of what is in the best interests of your children.”
Rieley said it’s that kind of selflessness and higher purpose that makes motherhood so rewarding.
“We all have trying moments when we look at the big pile of diapers, and I’ve changed thousands, or we see the mountain of laundry and dirty dishes,” she said. “You have to remember that those moments will pass, but helping your children find their true purpose and destiny in life is what is eternal.”
MORE ABOUT MOTHER OF THE YEAR
Lou Ann Rieley is one of two Sussex County residents to be honored by the Delaware Association of American Mothers this year.
Milford resident Kim Hoey Stevenson, a freelance journalist and former teacher in Sussex County, was named Delaware’s 2013 Young Mother of the Year.
The association also awarded its first-ever Mother of Achievement Award to Jane Lough Schneider of Townsend.
All three women will be officially installed into their respective roles by Gov. Jack Markell during a ceremony at Woodburn in Dover in mid-April.
The Delaware Mothers of the Year then will be heading to the national convention of American Mothers Inc. at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City from April 25 to April 28.