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At the Karrow house, 15 is not a crowd

Woman’s dream was to become a mom

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/
Janice Karrow and her husband, Tommy, have 15 children, born between 1969 and 1995. In the late 1980s, 14 of their children lived in their house on Knief Road in rural Rock Falls.
(Photo submitted)
In 2008, Tommy and Janice Karrow celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and had the family's photo taken. In the front row are (from left) Kala Karrow, 19; Lakin Karrow, 17; and Jena Karrow, 25. In the second row (from left) are Evan Karrow, 30; Tommy Karrow, 65; Janice Karrow, 61; and Jordan Karrow, 21. In the third row (from left) are Terry Karrow, 37; Leah Maldonado, 39; Jamie Karrow, 34; and Julie Duerst, 33. In the fourth row (from left) are Mark Karrow, 40; Katie White, 27; Cliff Karrow, 31; Tammy Morse, 42; David Karrow, 43; and Keith Karrow, 35.

ROCK FALLS – Tommy and Janice Karrow used to buy up to 25 gallons of milk a week, which they stored in one of their two refrigerators.

A lot of milk? Sure, but not so much when you consider they had 15 children.

Between 1969 and 1995, the Karrows had eight girls and seven boys, now ages 17 to 43.

In the late 1980s, 14 of their children lived in their house on Knief Road in rural Rock Falls. At one point, six of them attended Montmorency School.

These days, 11 of the children are in the Sauk Valley, while the others live in Springfield, Peoria, a suburb of Rockford, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The Karrows have 22 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In a pre-Mother’s Day interview, Janice said she had always wanted to be a mother and became one a year after she married Tommy in 1969.

“It was my dream,” Janice, 61, said.

She remembers her children’s birthdays and their phone numbers. (She doesn’t use a cellphone.)

The family house has two bathrooms and five bedrooms – two in the basement and three on the ground floor. For many years, the boys stayed in the basement, which Janice called the “zoo,” while the girls stayed on the ground floor. Bedrooms had up to four children each.

Having 15 children meant little sleep for Janice. But she said she is getting more rest now.

What about the bathrooms in the morning?

Everyone had to be quick, and if they weren’t, they suffered consequences.

As a prank, 25-year-old Jena Karrow recalls, her siblings threw icewater on her when she showered for too long.

“You didn’t get to lock the bathroom door because someone always needed to come in,” she said.

So how do they keep up with each other these days?

“My mom knows everything about everybody all the time,” Jena said. “She lets me know.”

Plus, they hold family reunions at Woodcote in Dixon’s Lowell Park every year. Over a 3-day weekend, they spend $1,000 on food.

The Karrow children remember neighborhood kids hanging out at their house. One was an only child who they considered spoiled, but he enjoyed the action of the large family.

“People wanted to hang out at our house. Why come here? It’s nuts,” Jena joked.

Janice and Tommy, 65, who works at Rock River Tool & Die, moved to his parents’ old house north of Sterling a couple of years ago, but they still consider their home to be on Knief Road. Three of their children still live there.

Four of Janice’s children – Jena, Katie White, 27, Evan Karrow, 30, and Cliff Karrow, 31 – joined Janice for an interview with Sauk Valley Media. They are clearly close, often finishing each other’s sentences.

“We’re more than family,” Evan said. “We’re best friends.”

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