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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Then and Now: The nine Mendenhall siblings

Wayne and Paula Mendenhall were Republicans. The two Catholic converts, born in 1929 and 1932, respectively, had nine children over a 12-year period and went to John Birch Society meetings. Wayne drove a truck for The Spokesman-Review, distributing newspapers around the region.

When Paula Mendenhall saw that Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater was coming to Spokane, the mother dressed her nine children in matching white sweatshirts bearing red felt letters of the candidate’s name. The kids wore the dark skirts and pants of their Catholic school uniforms. They piled into the family’s blue station wagon and went downtown for Goldwater’s Spokane campaign stop.

Because the kids were young, most can’t remember Oct. 10, 1964. They remember that a news photographer snapped their photo, capturing a row of blank stares from kids who didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. They’ve been told that the candidate noticed their unique display, but no one remembers the details.

On Aug. 20, the nine siblings gathered for the first time in more than 40 years, partly because sister Colleen Pietri, third from the youngest, has lived in Africa for many years.

The siblings came together for one last visit with their uncle, Jim Cook, who is in hospice care.

None of the kids, now in their 50s and 60s, remembers political talk from their mother around the dinner table, though both parents worked at the polls each election cycle. “As far as her impassioning us, I don’t think so,” said Dan Mendenhall, fourth from the oldest, who admits to being the most political in the family. “I’m a peace protester now,” he said, “against the Iraq and Afghanistan stuff.”

The siblings are split on their political views, so when the nine recreated the 1964 photo last week, they wore letters spelling out the family name.

“I think we avoid talking about our political views, particularly now,” said Merrian Smith, third from the oldest.

Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson, 38 percent to 61 percent, and carried only six states.

Wayne Mendenhall died in 1997, Paula Mendenhall in 2001.

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