By Barb Arland-Fye
LECLAIRE — When it comes to family, Frank and Joni Sue Dohmen and their five children are now internationally acclaimed. The Dohmens, of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, have been selected as fourth runner-up in the Knights of Columbus International Family of the Year competition.
Earlier this spring the Dohmens were chosen Iowa Family of the Year, which made them eligible for the international honor. With more than 1.8 million members, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic lay organization. It provides members and their families with volunteer opportunities in service to the Catholic Church, the community, families and young people.
“Every jurisdiction has the opportunity to forward a Family of the Year, among other categories, to the Supreme Council,” said Mike Gaspers, the Iowa KCs’ publicity chairman. The Dohmens, he added, exemplify the values the KCs seek as role models for marriage and family.
“To have an International Family of the Year fourth runner-up from LeClaire, Iowa, is just awesome,” said Wiley Plummer, district deputy of KCs District 34, which covers LeClaire, Clinton, DeWitt and Long Grove. “The significance for Our Lady of the River and the Davenport Diocese is that we have people who are of the caliber to become Grand Knight of the Year (Jim Puck of Our Lady of the River in 2009) and Family of the Year for the whole state of Iowa.”
“I think it’s wonderful for the church,” Joni Sue said of the latest honor, but she and Frank don’t think they’ve done anything special to be singled out. The parish respectfully disagrees. “These two parents are raising children of the highest caliber,” Our Lady of the River KC Council 13084 wrote in nominating the family for the state award. “Joni Sue has been seen at the lectern telling us about the need and joy of foster care. Lexi (one of four children the Dohmens adopted) followed that up with her own presentation.”
All of the children — Phillip, 18; Hannah, 13-1/2; Alexis, 13; Kilee, 10; and Jada, 4 — pitch in with their parents on parish projects such as beautifying parish grounds, clearing trash from the roadway near church and serving meals to the homeless. Both parents have or are serving on the parish council. Frank is a KC and also volunteers at the parish’s sister parish in Grand Bois, Haiti. Both work full-time and Frank is a member of the Pleasant Valley Community School Board.
Their nominators for the state award referred to a statement the late Pope John Paul II made in 1980 on the four general tasks of the Christian family: to form a community of persons; to serve life; to participate in society’s development; and to share in the life and mission of the Church. “The Dohmen family exemplifies this identity and mission every day of their lives,” the nominators said.
After learning about the international honor, Joni Sue echoed a comment she made to The Catholic Messenger when the family learned it had received the state award. “When we first got the call … I asked, ‘are you sure you have the right family?’ We didn’t do this for an award. We didn’t even know there was an award for it …
“We have a family that is beyond what we expected, a family we didn’t think we’d have,” she said. As foster parents first, they knew that in adopting the children there could be some challenges with learning and behavior, but “you just go with the flow and meet the challenges,” Joni Sue added.