Zion on Zoar Road

In a family of 13, sharing is a survival tactic. But it is also a prime source of joy

Thousands of years ago, glaciers pulverized rocks and scooped through the landscape outside what is now Buffalo, New York. The ice rivers left behind a series of soft-shouldered mounds called drumlins, hills that are today rich in foliage and equally rich in memories. It was in one such hill many miles to the east, Cumorah, that Moroni buried the plates of gold. It was in 1820, in a grove surrounded by drumlins, that Joseph Smith kneeled in prayer.

It was also in these hills that members of the Iroquois confederacy—the Cayugas and the Senecas, the Mohawks and the Tuscaroras, the Oneidas and the Onondagas—once hunted and fished and dwelled as part of nature. It was here these Indians joined in council as they ruled a vast region, including the upper Mississippi.

Now it is January in the land of the drumlins. On one of the highest hills, at the top of a country lane called Zoar Road, whitewashed rocks mark a dirt driveway leading to the home of a modern-day Indian family, the Monty Campbell family. Normally at this time of year, snow is so deep that drifts cling to barns and smother trees. But this year, snowfall has been negligible. In fact, this morning is like a spring morning, even though it’s the middle of winter. And that’s fine with Phil Campbell, 17, and his younger brother, Joe, 13. They’ve got chores to do before school, and it’s easier to do them when the weather’s warm.

A casual observer watching them would be impressed to see other children joining them in their farm tasks. Jabez, age 7, and Nicholas, 6, for example, help mix slop for the pig. Christine, 16, Lynn, 11, and Julie, 10, are glad to feed the horse or keep a lookout for the school bus that only stops once on its way to Gowanda, the nearest town.

It isn’t until Sister Campbell steps to the door and calls everyone inside for prayers that the visitor would suddenly realize that all those children loving each other and working together aren’t just neighborhood acquaintances. They are brothers and sisters, part of a family of 11 brothers and sisters. With mom and dad, that means 13 Campbells under the same roof. And the Campbells are a family proud of being a family, proud of their Lamanite heritage, proud of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the joy that comes from living Christian principles. They are a family that knows what a deep experience sharing can be.

A few years ago, the Campbells lived on Chestnut Street in town. Their home was spacious and it had a swimming pool. The Campbells had two sons, but were told by doctors that because of medical complications it was unlikely Sister Campbell would have any more children. So the parents decided to continue their family anyway—by adopting.

“We feel as though we’ve always been a family,” Phil said. “Some of us just took a little longer to get here. First came Mike (who is 19 and currently serving in the Washington Seattle Mission), then myself. Then we adopted Lynn. Then we decided Lynn needed a sister, and Julie was adopted. Then the agency called and asked if we would like another girl, and Christine joined us. Then we wanted Jabez (“J.J.”) to even up the boy-girl ratio.

“Dad and mom prayed and prayed about having another child of their own but had nearly abandoned hope, even though they felt the Lord would bless them. Then miraculously Sam was born without any problems. It surprised everyone, since we had figured J. J. was the caboose! Then when Joe (“Little Bear”) was adopted, he filled in the space between Christine and Lynn. Then we wanted another girl, but Monty Jr. (“June Bug”) needed a home, and we all fell in love with him.

“We thought that was it, but then the agency called and asked mom and dad if they wanted two more!” So Nicholas and Doug joined the family. Now the roll call at the dinner table reads like this: Mike (he’s always remembered, and sometimes his letters are read aloud), Phillip, Christine, Joe, Lynn, Julie, Jabez, Nicholas, Sammy (5), Doug (4), and Monty Jr. (2). “That makes 11,” Sister Campbell said, smiling. “And now we figure one more would be perfect.”

Sister Campbell explained that she and her husband are the only Indians listed with the adoption agency, and that because they have such a positive record, the local magistrate (himself one of 11 children) is eager to help. “It’s our experience in family court that we don’t find too many happy occasions such as this,” Judge Victor E. Manz said. “At a time when people say the family is falling apart, this family is a true inspiration.” Although the children come from various tribes, they are all adopted into the Cayuga tribe when they join the family.

“Kids at school ask me how big my family is, and when I say 11 kids, they say ‘Wow!’” Lynn said. “They want to know if it takes two cars to get us around.”

“People are surprised that we left a newly remodeled home and moved into a house that’s cold in the morning and that we’re improving on our own. They wonder why we gave up what we had, when with fewer people we could have more money,” Phillip said. “I tell them we’re richer now because we have more brothers and sisters. And I think maybe we’re closer to the Lord, too, because we’ve had to sacrifice to be together.”

Sacrifices have included major efforts, like selling cows to pay for a trip to Disneyworld to see Mike perform with BYU’s Lamanite Generation, or like all chipping in to help run the farm and save money when dad hurt his back at work early one year. But smaller sacrifices are also evident every day.

“We have to take shifts at everything,” Christine explained. “Seven of us play the piano, so we have to schedule time carefully to be able to practice.”

“The piano seems to be going all the time—in fact when Nicholas first came into the family, he wanted to know, ‘When does the piano stop?’” Sister Campbell said.

Sharing, Campbell style, includes such things as washing up—since there’s only one bathroom, the girls shower at night and the boys in the morning. Sharing includes sleeping facilities—brothers with brothers, sisters with sisters, mostly three to a room. And it includes work—virtually everyone helps with everything.

“We’re a team,” Julie said. “If we don’t all help, we won’t make it.”

“I never have to ask the older children to help the younger ones,” Sister Campbell explained. “I just know they will, because they have it in their hearts. They know that’s how we operate.”

Brother Campbell, a maintenance supervisor at a local foundry, is an elder and is Young Men president in the ward. Sister Campbell, who is a registered nurse, is ward music director and Relief Society Spiritual Living instructor. Joe is deacons quorum president, Sunday School class president, and at school, a member of the band. Chris is Laurel class president, Junior Sunday School chorister, and sings in the ward choir. At school, she’s in chorus and band. And the other children look forward to assuming responsibilities as they grow older.

But it is perhaps Phil who is busiest of all. Besides “splitting” with the full-time missionaries, serving as ward organist, assistant to the president of the priests quorum, and seminary class representative to the stake, he also organizes dances for Super Saturdays and studies seminary lessons. He organized his own dance band at school, with 15 singers and six musicians, and he plays in the school band. He helped organize a blood drive and is president of the school chorus. He has won the John Phillip Sousa Award, the National Choral Association and National Band Association awards, and the U.S. Marine Corps Award, all for musical excellence. But one of his biggest thrills was being elected student-body president.

“I ran because I wanted to help the school,” he said. “There was a problem with drugs, and I wanted to help people get out of that and give them something better.” As a result of his campaign, Gowanda Central High now has a class about drugs and alcoholism that not only educates students but refers those with problems to counselors and agencies who can help.

“It’s hard to find time for everything,” Phil admitted. “You just have to keep pushing. When you want to lie in bed, you have to get up anyway. But doing chores for so many years has taught me how to get up, get organized, and work hard.”

Phil does find some time to be by himself, too. When he does, he usually rides his horse out into the solitude of the woods surrounding the farm. He thinks of the Sacred Grove; he looks at the stream bank to see where it’s eroded with the winter runoff; he looks to see which trees have fallen from age. He thinks back to his ancestors and wonders what it would have been like to roam free through the hills with the animals and trees as brothers. And he looks forward and wonders what life will be like when he enters college at BYU in the fall.

“I’m scared most by the thought of being away from my family,” he said. “But I enjoy challenges, and I’ll go at it with all I’ve got.”

Phil’s successes are all the more impressive for the fact that he’s a hemophiliac. “I’ve learned to look at it as a blessing to me,” Phil said. “It’s a mechanism the Lord uses to humble me.” Because of the illness, Phil has attended special camps for the handicapped, an experience that has helped him gain sympathy for other people’s problems. He tells of making friends with one fellow named Frank, who didn’t seem to be handicapped at all—in fact, Frank won the camp wrestling contest. Then one night as they were getting ready for bed, Phil discovered that his friend had wooden arms and wooden legs. “He had so much self-esteem that it really lifted me above my own problems,” Phil said. Phil also noted that his illness has provided him with an opportunity to witness the power of the priesthood through blessings and anointings during particularly trying times.

Music has always been a part of the Campbell household. Sister Campbell’s grandfather once won the Western New York Fiddling Contest, and her father played in a circus band. Perhaps they set a precedent. Sister Campbell grew up with a love for music and has fostered the same love in her children. Everyone in the family plays at least one instrument (including piano, violin, flute, oboe, trumpet, saxophone, or drums) and all of them sing (several are taking voice lessons). The family presents programs for wards, stakes, companies, and schools, and the children often perform at piano recitals. Several of the children specialize in Indian dancing as well, including June Bug, who at 2 has already mastered a simple version of the hoop dance.

“For about four years, Phil asked me once a week if he could quit music lessons,” Sister Campbell said.

“Mom enforces the rules about practicing until we finally learn to appreciate and enjoy it,” Phil responded. “And I learned from Mike’s example. When I saw what he was accomplishing through music, I knew I wanted to keep practicing. It’s funny, people come up after a show and say, ‘I wish I could play like you.’ To a certain extent that’s not true. Anybody can play if they practice two hours a day.”

Brother Campbell has taken the role of adviser and manager for the family performances. “I don’t say much,” he said, “but I watch the children and the progress they make.”

The Campbells attend church at the only LDS chapel east of the Mississippi River built on Indian Reservation land. The building was built entirely with labor furnished by tribal members, and the children remember selling corn soup and corn bread to raise construction funds. At Mutual activity nights Brother Campbell presides, Phil and Christine direct the music and play the piano, and Joe joins friends in the audience. One particular week, the missionaries were invited to present the Joseph Smith story, and Joe helped them set up the projector to show The First Vision. Everyone was excited because some investigators joined the group to see the film. After the discussion, the Campbells helped serve punch and cookies and talked about the upcoming regional conference, where Phil and his father would serve as ushers. On Sunday, the rest of the family joined with the growing congregation of the ward. “We’re back to the third partition now,” Brother Campbell said, “and we’re planning an addition.”

Sister Campbell can still remember when her family made up the largest percentage of the membership.

Joe said he enjoys church meetings because “we talk about things we’ll do at school or at home. You shouldn’t act differently—kids at school know if you are different at school than you are at home.”

Behind the chapel, also on Indian land, is the cemetery where the Campbell children’s grandfather is buried. Sometimes the family stops for a few moments there, to leave flowers and reminisce. “It’s good to know we’ll all be together again someday,” Christine said, “because we love grandpa as much as we love grandma.”

The love for grandma is evident constantly, for she is as much a part of the Campbell household as the other family members. Although she lives several miles away in her own home, grandmother visits at least once a week, and the children beg to see her every day. “I love her,” said Lynn. “We see her all the time. She stays overnight every Tuesday to iron all the white shirts for the boys to wear on Sunday. We go to her house for dinner on special occasions, and we play ‘hot potato.’” Hot potato is a game similar to musical chairs, and as each player is eliminated, he or she has to put on a coat and get ready to return home.

The Campbells use a lot of methods like that to avoid contention. Children are allowed to write each other tickets if they feel offended. The tickets are judged in family council meetings. There’s a standard 10-cent fee for name calling, for which Sister Campbell is the arbitrator. But getting along isn’t always easy, even in a family where love abounds. Sometimes there are quarrels and disagreements, but the Campbells have learned some lessons along the way.

“Never argue when mom’s home,” Joe observed, “because she’ll know. And never argue when she’s gone, because she’ll find out.” He also offered some advice on sharing: “You’re going to have to share anyway, so why not make it pleasant and do it willingly?”

Lynn said prayer helps. “We always thank Heavenly Father for our parents, and brothers, and sisters,” she said. She added that the priesthood influence in the home helps her feel secure. “It makes me feel closer to my Father in Heaven, because the priesthood is a gift from him. I bet he’s glad to know we have so many future missionaries!”

“I’ve always learned from the example of my older brother Mike,” Phillip said. “He’s been a good influence, something for me to live up to. I hope my younger brothers will feel the same way about me. He had a dream to go on a mission. Now that dream is my dream, and I have to pass it on to my younger brothers, too.”

“When I first came into the family, when I came home for the first time,” said Chris, “Lynn (who was then 4) put her arms around me and said, ‘Mom, thanks for my new sister.’ How could I not feel accepted? I think the biggest key to getting along is trying to understand how the other person feels.”

One other reason for success—time. Time spent together. “I like it when we’re all home together,” Chris said. “It’s nice to have company sometimes, but it’s nice to be alone as a family, too, especially on the nights dad doesn’t have to work.”

At home evening, the children play games while popcorn pops nearby in the kitchen. The family may discuss vacation plans, which almost always include a visit to a relative. Phil will discuss his goal of someday composing music for the Church, which Mike will conduct as an orchestra leader. Julie will read a story to the younger children, and Joe will lead J. J. and Nicholas in a report about a recent trip to Niagara Falls, only 55 miles away. Lynn and Chris will help Sister Campbell outline plans for painting the house. Then Brother Campbell will share his testimony and tell everyone that he knows the Church is true. He’ll mention what is now the biggest dream for the entire Campbell family—some day soon, dressed in white and kneeling together at an altar in the House of the Lord, those not yet sealed to the family will join their parents and brothers and sisters to be united for time and all eternity. That will likely be the happiest day in all of their lives.

Editor’s Note:

Since this story was written, the Campbells have achieved their “perfect dozen.” The newest family member is 18-year-old Henry (“Butch”), a foster son who, naturally, plays the piano and sings.

[photos] Photos by Richard M. Romney

[photo] Sammy and Phil

[photos] Doug; Mom and Christine

[photos] Joe; Julie

[photos] Nicholas; Lynn

[photos] Dad and Monty Jr.; Jabez