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In This Family, Kids Come First

Tue., Feb. 21, 1995

They don’t give medals for what Ed and Kathryn Parry have done, and that’s a shame. This Spokane couple deserve some kind of award or at least a paid vacation.

Next time you’re balancing your checkbook and feel sorry for yourself, consider this: The Parrys just put their 12th and final kid through college.

Mary Elizabeth Parry, 22, will graduate in the spring from Gonzaga University with a degree in business administration.

“I think the people at the college are probably sorry we don’t have any more kids,” says Ed with a chuckle.

No kidding. Having the Parry kids around must have seemed like an automatic endowment program.

The good Jesuits at Gonzaga hit the jackpot by getting to educate 11 Parrys. The University of Idaho got one Parry - John, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1982.

When I heard about this family, I called Ed to congratulate him. He did his best to go through the lineup. “Let’s see, I’ve got four engineers, two CPAs, a bookkeeper, one has a master’s in French, two business school grads. Wait a minute. I’m leaving somebody out. Let me think again.”

Who could blame him for being perplexed? Even by today’s high educational standards, the Parrys’ accomplishment is extraordinary.

In Spokane County, roughly half the adult population ever has started college and only 21 percent has finished with a bachelor’s degree.

But in the Parry household, studying hard was a part of the daily regimen.

“It’s something we always told the kids, that homework came first,” says Kathryn. “They learned early on that school was their career.”

How much it cost is one mystery Ed doesn’t want solved. “I don’t even want to begin to calculate it.”

It’s not hard to use your imagination. GU’s annual tuition is $13,000, not including books or food.

But that’s only part of it. The Parrys, who are Catholics, also sent all of their kids to parochial schools. At one point, Ed says, they had four at the university, four at Gonzaga Prep and four at St. Al’s grammar school.

A ton of tuition.

“We kept wondering if they were going to give us a free one, but they never did,” he says.

Ed is an attorney and no doubt makes a comfortable income. Even so, paying this kind of educational tab takes organization and discipline.

Raising eight girls and four boys is not recommended for the weak-willed either.

The Parrys live in a big yellow house on the South Hill. A selling point when they bought the place was a cavernous bathroom with four sinks, two toilets and a walk-in shower with three shower heads.

The older kids were expected to help out. Each year, the senior in high school was responsible for driving the others to school in the Parrys’ old red station wagon.

“They called it the `Parry school bus,”’ says Kathryn. “We ought to have it enshrined.”

Dinners, she says, always were entertaining. “We thought it was important for them to learn how to run a household. We rotated chores. Everyone helped out.”

Kathryn and Ed can’t fully explain why they decided to have such a huge family. Each came from families of only three children. “We just like kids,” he says.

The Parrys met in the second grade in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t love at first sight. Ed moved away and then returned as an eighth-grader. He was “a very gentlemanly boy,” recalls Kathryn, not as “rough-andtumble as the others.”

During World War II, Ed and Kathryn worked as assistant air-raid wardens, walking the streets to make sure houses were dark in case any Japanese bombers flew over.

Somewhere during their times together, they fell in love and decided to raise one whale of a family of welleducated kids.

“I don’t want a medal,” says Kathryn. “I just wish more parents understood the importance of their children - that they come first.”

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