Tiffany Gee Lewis: 7 kids, 7 missions, one college, no debt,
Gee Lewis, For
the Deseret News, Published: Wednesday, May 6 2015 5:00 a.m. MDT
family, one college, all returned missionaries and a debt-free
graduation: there was something to celebrate when the Shauna and
Merrill Gee family watched their youngest two children walk across
the Brigham Young University stage last week, the last in a 17-year
span of having a child in college.
I am blessed with many
fantastic relatives, but the cousins in this particular family have
always amazed me. Their track record of hard work, service and
cheerful well-being is something Ifve watched my entire life. I
wanted to know their secret, so I called up two of my cousins and
grilled them with questions.
How, for instance, did
each one of the Gees' seven children manage to graduate from college
My cousin Andrew, who
just graduated from BYU with a degree in math education, told me
that growing up, he knew two things: he would go to college and he
would pay for it all on his own.
When each child was
born they received a bank account. They alone were expected to fill
it, and they did, from the time they were very young. They did
enormous paper routes. The older kids delivered the Salt Lake
Tribune in the morning, while the younger kids delivered the
afternoon Deseret News. They picked up odd jobs from neighbors and
worked concessions at Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City.
Andrew collected and saved his coins like they were gold doubloons.
My cousin Natasha, now
a wife and mother of three young boys, kept a thriving baby-sitting
business from the time she was 8 years old.
gI look at that now
and think, eI would never let an 8-year-old kid baby sit my kids,f h
she said, gbut thatfs exactly what I did.h
accounts grow became somewhat of a family game. When the monthly
statement arrived in the mail, the siblings would have a
competition. They never revealed how much they
had saved, but they loved to compare the interest on their savings.
Coupled with a sense
of hard work, the Gee children were taught to serve. They had
several elderly neighbors and their mom constantly made them aware
of people in need.
driveways. We cleaned out the cabinets of older neighbors who
couldnft bend over easily,h Natasha said. gMom was always pushing us
out the door to serve. I donft think I would have been aware of that
on my own.h
They didnft always go
willingly. Andrew said he remembers a specific time when his mom was
having him help a homeless man at an apartment complex in their
neighborhood. He didn't want to do it. In fact, he was really upset
he had to help.
gBut that memory stuck
with me,h he said. gIn fact, that apartment complex is now one of my
It was that service
piece that eventually led all seven kids to serve full-time missions
for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to Italy,
Germany, Uruguay, Peru, Washington state, Wisconsin and Kirtland,
Though both of her
parents served missions, Natasha said a mission was never on her
radar. Her parents certainly never pressured her in that direction.
But when the time came, she felt like she had been too blessed in
her own life not to give back to the Lord.
Because of its low
tuition, BYU was an obvious choice for most of the Gee kids. Plus,
there was an ingrained love for their parentsf alma mater. Many of
the family vacations as children involved driving from Salt Lake to
the BYU campus for a day to explore the Monte L. Bean Life Science
Museum and the Cougareat.
Even so, as BYU became
more competitive, it wasnft easy for all the kids to get accepted.
Andrew was rejected on his first application, but his mom encouraged
him to apply again. And again.
On his third try, he
gMy mom was very
strict,h Natasha said. gShe pushed us to do hard things and she
wouldnft let us quit.h Whether that was piano lessons or working as
a night aide for an old woman in the neighborhood, that
stick-to-itiveness taught the Gee children to keep moving forward.
Once at BYU, they took
their hard-earned savings and frugal minds with them.
showing up to her freshman apartment with two kitchen utensils: a
plastic fork and bowl she got from a Wendyfs restaurant. When her
parents came to visit and saw her roommatefs matching dinnerware,
they were appalled.
But Natasha just
laughed. gIt was no big deal,h she said. gI used that plastic bowl
for an entire semester!h And while she watched her roommates
retaking classes and complaining about the demands on their time,
she buckled down and got to work.
(financial help) from my parents was a blessing. It was my money, my
education, and I was paying for it,h she said.
She graduated in three
years with a degree in math education. After working a year, she was
able to help support her husbandfs degree in optometry with the
$60,000 she had saved while
Because they are my
cousins and I spent countless happy summers at their home, I can
tell you something else about the Gee family: They are some of the
nicest, happiest, content people you will ever meet. I felt that as
a child, and I see it now, watching them grow their own families.
In an era of
youth-entitlement and self-centered living, this family stands out.
They are a reminder to me of the influence that parents can have to
teach hard work and service.
They also remind me
that happiness almost never comes from the acquisition of material
goods, but in looking outward. That is the best kind of debt-free