Rick Weirich couldn’t see through the viewfinder of his video camera because of the tears in his eyes. But he kept the camera pointed at his two sons on the field. His sons were standing by the pole vault venue with their arms around each other, the younger one comforting his older brother. Moments before, they had been competing against each other in the pole vault at a regional track and field meet in Texas to decide who would go on to the state championships. The brothers had had big plans. They wanted to place first and second in regionals and go to state together. Chris had broken his pole on his first try, and, on his final try with his backup pole, he was eliminated when he didn’t clear the height.
Before younger brother Matt set up for his next attempt, he stopped. He had something more important to do. He needed to see if his brother was all right. He needed to say some reassuring words to Chris. For a moment these two brothers, who had been competitors, stood together, sharing the burden of disappointment.
The parents, Rick and Brenda, didn’t need videotape to record the scene. It was being recorded in their hearts. What they saw wasn’t failure but a huge success. Their sons cared more about each other than they did about winning.
The Weirich family is from Fredericksburg, Texas, a small town about 60 miles northeast of San Antonio. Rick and Brenda Weirich have two daughters and seven sons. With five teenagers, the Weirichs make a mark in the community and especially in their branch. But most of all, they have learned to pull together and support each other in everything they do. This feeling of togetherness permeates their home, their branch, and every part of their lives.
For example, preparing, blessing, and passing the sacrament every Sunday involves four Weirich brothers. Because the branch is small, these young men handle most of the Aaronic Priesthood duties. And they like it. “It’s kind of a family unity thing,” says 18-year-old Chris. “You know that each one of your brothers is worthy, and you also feel their spirits. Just being up there is uplifting.”
Matt, 17, adds, “It’s fun because we have four brothers taking care of the branch and making sure everything’s okay.”
The boys also look up to their dad as their branch president and admire the way he cares for the members of the branch. And with three more Weirich brothers growing up, there will be four brothers handling priesthood duties for years to come.
Kimberly and Erica are vastly outnumbered in the girl-to-boy ratio in their family, but it doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage. Erica, 20, the oldest, has some mental challenges. Her brothers watch out for her. Matt says, “She’s got a special heart. I have a picture on my wall she colored for me that says, ‘To Matt—Love Erica.’ There’s nothing around it. People who go into my room look at it and ask, ‘Why do you have that picture hanging up?’ I tell them that this was my sister who did this, and it really means something to me. It’s just like her special little spirit right there.”
Kimberly, 15, keeps up with her brothers. She plays touch football on the lawn and can tease them as much as they tease her. As Kimberly approaches her 16th birthday, she is getting lots of advice from her older siblings. They warn her which boys to stay away from and have threatened to chaperon her first dates. If any boy starts to bother her, her friends tell him that he better stop because she has too many brothers.
Kimberly has been following the example set for her. “My brothers have a reputation for leadership and always being kind to everyone. I try to be the same.”
Whenever Kimberly’s friends phone her to see what she’s doing, she tells them what she’s doing with her little brothers or her older brothers. As Kimberly tells it, “They say, ‘You’re always doing something with them, and it sounds really fun.’ My friends think it’s cool I have so many brothers.”
Because they make up the majority of youth in the branch, the Weirichs have learned responsibility. But their family encourages reliability in other ways as well. They raise pedigreed basset hounds, and the family members each have a female dog they are responsible for. That includes keeping it bathed, fed, and groomed. And if their dog gets sick, they have to pay the vet bills. They are also responsible for their dog’s puppies.
“My dog is named Myrtle. She has four puppies, and she’s such a good mom. I try not to get too attached to them because I really hate it whenever they go,” Kimberly says as she cuddles a handful of cute, squirming puppies. “But I think I get too attached.”
When the puppies are sold, the money goes into a bank account to be used for missions and education. In the meantime, everyone gets plenty of chances to play with and take care of some great dogs.
Other animals also demand their daily attention. The chickens have to be fed, and the eggs gathered. The goats and cows have to be fed and watered. But there are a lot of helping hands to take turns and to keep everything around home running smoothly.
Brenda Weirich has a philosophy that she teaches her children. She tells them, “When you’re in school, you’ll have a set of friends. You’ll go to college where you’ll likely have other friends. You’ll get married and have a whole new set of friends. But one thing that will not change is your family. You will always have the same brothers and sisters and parents.”
Rick says, “They have their squabbles like all children do, but as time goes on, it’s decreasing. I think they see other families where the kids are not united and close, and they don’t want that. They want family to give them a safe haven.”
To work on having family unity, they all try to attend every game or concert or event any one of them is participating in. Sometimes that gets difficult, but since they live in a small town they can go to half a game for one person, then race over and see the other half of someone else’s game. It also helps that two boys are old enough to drive and help out with taking the younger children to the places they need to go.
Chris is keenly aware that, as the oldest, he is setting an example for his six young brothers. He has been offered scholarships to play football at several big-name universities. But they want him to commit to at least one year of college before leaving on his mission. Since Chris turns 19 soon after he would start college, he refuses to postpone his mission and has turned down the scholarships. He has faith that he’ll be able to regain a scholarship when he gets back. His parents were introduced to the gospel by missionaries when he was a baby, and his entire life he has anxiously looked forward to serving.
That interest and excitement about missionary work has spread. Victor, 12, is, all the brothers admit, the best baseball player, and he loves the game. His parents started getting calls from the local baseball coaches asking why Victor had not signed up to play baseball during the summer. “When I asked Victor,” says Rick, “he said he wanted to spend as much time as possible with Chris during the summer before he went on his mission. I just said, ‘Wow, Victor, you’d do that for your brother?’”
With so many boys in the family, the competition was sometimes less than brotherly. Chris and Matt, being close in age, suffered from it for a while. Anything Chris did, Matt tried to do better. It caused contention. Chris says, “Mom knew best. She had a talk with me. She said that God gave us all talents, and we can’t be better than someone else at everything. Then I realized that Matt has something in him that makes him better at some things. He has his talents, and I have mine. We need to share them and gain from each other and really enjoy watching each other do whatever. It might be soccer, band, sports, being outdoors, or giving service.”
When Chris watched Matt compete at state in the pole vault, the sport he had taught his younger brother, the disappointment at not being there himself lessened. He felt calm. “I was glad one of us made it and that it could be my brother.”
Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Chris received his mission call and is serving in the Lithuania Vilnius Mission.