A Solid Family UnitJanuary 11, 2019
Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Nic Antaya
Steve and Conrad Blessinger Jr. get up early every weekday morning to get ready for work.
Steve is up first, at 4:30 a.m., and is done with breakfast before Conrad Jr. wakes up. Though the two share a room in their home, they manage to give each other the space needed to get ready for the day.
Twenty minutes after Conrad Jr. is up, Steve is out the door, heading to his factory job in Jasper. By 6 a.m., Conrad Jr. is out the door, on his way to work in Huntingburg.
Lisa and Dana Blessinger wake up later in the morning. Dana takes care of outdoor chores — collecting eggs from the chickens, feeding the dogs and cats. Lisa takes care of the indoor duties like laundry, cleaning and cooking, including making sure there’s dinner for Steve and Conrad Jr. when they get home.
This sounds like the typical nuclear family. Except, it isn’t.
Steve, Dana, Lisa and Conrad Jr. are siblings. And they have lived together all their lives, on the same land in rural Huntingburg where they grew up.
“We get along pretty well,” Lisa said. “It works for us.”
The others agreed. “I’ve heard other people complain about their living arrangements, and about trying to get along with their sisters and brothers,” Steve said. “But that’s never been a problem for us. We’re to the point that we make it work.”
It helps that they were always close, even as kids.
“We grew up poor,” Conrad Jr. said. “So we appreciated everything we got from Mom and Dad.”
Their father, Conrad Sr., worked, and their mother, Mary Lou, stayed at home with the kids. “Dad worked two jobs to support us,” Conrad Jr. said. “That just made us really appreciate what we had. And it helped us to be close to each other, even the ones who are married. All nine of us are close.”
The quad’s five other siblings are Randy, who lives in Evansville; Dean, who lives in Ferdinand; Tammy Wahl, who lives in Seymour; and Gina Jochem and Eric, who live in St. Anthony. Their brother Michael was stillborn.
All but the four eventually moved out of the house. They have their own families now. But Steve, Dana, Lisa and Conrad Jr. never left the nest.
As a family unit taking care of a household, each person has their role. Lisa, 58, is the homemaker. Dana, 61, has his jobs around the house. Steve, 64, and Conrad Jr., 52, earn the money to pay the bills. Dana also volunteers at St. Vincent dePaul and bowls for Special Olympics.
“I never had any notion of getting married anyhow,” Lisa said. “I had boyfriends, yeah, but I didn’t think about moving out.”
Steve said the same. “I never had the urge to get married, though I did date every now and then,” he said. “I think I take after Dad’s one brother, who was my godfather. He was an old bachelor. And my godmother was Mom’s sister, and she was an old maid. So I think the influence was there.”
“I guess we never figured that we would end up doing this,” Conrad Jr. added. “It’s just the way it happened. And it’s a good thing, because we were here to support Mom.”
Their parents were fine with them staying home.
“Mom or Dad never pushed the issue as far as forcing us to move out,” Steve said, “as long as we were helping out moneywise, so long as we held our ends up.”
Their dad died in 1995. Their mom lived at the homeplace with them until July, when she had to move to a nursing home for health reasons. For the time she was in nursing homes, the last being the St. Charles Health Campus, they visited her every night. “She really liked that,” Dana said.
While she was still at home, Lisa saw to it that she was cared for, including making sure she got dressed, ate and took her medicine.
“We owe Lisa a lot,” Steve acknowledges. “She really took care of Mom.”
Per their mother’s request, the family moved to a new home that was built behind the original home. An Owensboro company did the construction.
“Once we got the ball rolling on it, and I got the guys out here doing the leveling off, that’s when we had the problem,” Steve said. “We had to have two or three trees cut.”
That did not sit well with Mom. “She was so mad at you for a while,” Lisa told Steve.
He remembered: “Man I felt her wrath.”
But it smoothed over when they all went together to pick out the features of the home’s interior.
“They started asking her how she wanted this and how she wanted that. Then she was happy,” Conrad Jr. said. “She enjoyed that. I think that’s when she started realizing that it was going to happen.”
They moved into the new house in 2015.
“Mom lived here (in the new house) for almost three years, but she enjoyed her time here,” Lisa said.
The old house is being used for storage. “We promised Mom that we would keep it up for as long as she was alive,” Lisa said.
Mary Lou died in mid-October, and that has changed the family dynamic a little. “It a lot harder now, not having her here,” Lisa said. “Sometimes I want to go make sure she’s gotten her medicine, and then I remember. It’s been a hard adjustment.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, eyes downcast.
As equal siblings, they all share in the decisions of the house. And they have their disagreements now and then.
“Sometime you feel like wringing someone’s neck,” Lisa said. “And sometimes, if I want to make sure they hear me, I will yell. But for the most part, we get along.”
“We’re like other families. We’ll have our differences and arguments here and there,” Conrad Jr. said. “But, still, growing up poor, that made us that closer.”
And because of that closeness, “we make it work,” Steve said.
But their relationship goes beyond happenstance and duty. They really like being together. That is evident in the extracurricular activities they do as a unit: cruising on a Sunday afternoon, having ice cream at Dairy Queen on Fridays, going out to dinner on Saturdays.
Any given day in the summer, the four can be found at League Stadium cheering on the Dubois County Bombers. They have season tickets, and are part of the popular and fun-loving group, the Third Base Deadbeats.
Steve works the scoreboard during games as well. He and a partner are known to dance with the crowd, especially when they play the Curly Shuffle. Steve’s nickname is Moe, because “he loved watching those movies as a kid,” Lisa said. “He’s got a Three Stooges calendar hanging in his bedroom.”
Between them and the Deadbeats, they are all rocking to other popular songs: “YMCA,” “Cotton-Eye Joe” and “Rocky Top.”
“We have season tickets,” Lisa said, “So we go as much as we can, which is most of the time.”
Their sister Gina’s family was a host family to one of the players this past year, so they were at the games as well. “And Mom always went, unless it was too hot,” Conrad Jr. said. “So it’s a family thing there.”
They do things apart. They have their own friends they socialize with. Lisa and Dana go with their sister Gina to indoor flea markets, leaving Steve and Conrad Jr. at home watching sports.
Conrad and Steve leave Dana and Lisa at home to attend Forest Park football and basketball games. They all go to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, but they sit in different places, partly because of preference and partly because of duties. Conrad Jr. and Steve serve as eucharistic ministers, and Steve works as an usher and van driver.
They all go together, as a family, to visit their parents each week in St. Mary’s cemetery, taking flowers to decorate their graves.
Life has changed since their mom passed. But one thing that hasn’t changed is their devotion to take care of each other as they grieve and continue on with their lives as a family unit at the homeplace.
“We enjoy being together. So living together is easy for us to do,” Lisa said. “It just seems natural for us.”
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