Larry and Donna Hardersen of Hinton, Iowa, didn’t start their marriage planning to have eight kids. But after the sudden death of their second child, 2-year-old Kierian, in 1977, the Hardersens—Northwestern College’s Parents of the Year for 2009—found their perspective changing.
“The death of our son convinced me it wasn’t up to us to determine the number of children we should have or could afford,” says Donna. “Rather, the Lord desires to bless us with children, and while we had it in our power to refuse the blessing, our lives would be diminished by the refusal.”
The Hardersens went on to have five more children in addition to Kierian’s older and younger sisters, giving them a total of five daughters and three sons. Of the seven surviving Hardersen siblings, five attended Northwestern and four met their spouses at NWC.
Northwestern will recognize Larry and Donna at halftime of the Raiders’ football game against the University of Sioux Falls on Saturday, Oct. 31, as part of the college’s Fall Family Weekend. Married for 37 years, the couple met when they were students at Westmar College in Le Mars.
Their willingness to have a large family meant doing without at times. With their children involved in high school sports all four seasons of the year, Larry—who farms with his dad—and Donna—a stay-at-home mom—took on extra jobs to pay for admission and travel to games. She served as a chaperone for the girls’ basketball team, operated a daycare business in their home, and is the editor of the Hinton newspaper. He coached junior high basketball; she, volleyball; and they both worked as referees.
Delainye Woudstra, the Hardersen’s youngest child, nominated them for the award. Woudstra is a senior at Northwestern and an NAIA Scholar-Athlete in volleyball and track and field.
“They’re just so self-sacrificing,” she says of her mom and dad. “All of us have the gift from our parents of being able to listen and be there for people. They’ve just been really good about holding all their children accountable and instilling core values that we’re expected to live by.”
Donna jokes that their main occupation has been sitting on the bleachers at their kids’ athletic contests, but adds, “If I’m not their biggest cheerleader, who else will be? I know I’m partial, but I think they’re the greatest and want them to know it. If I don’t love them wholeheartedly, who will?”
Larry quotes advice his mother gave him: “I’d rather run with them than run after them,” which he translates as, “Better to do things with them than wonder what they’re doing.”
Just as the Hardersens are known for their large family, they’re known for the unique names they’ve given their kids. Donna found “Danica” in a book of baby names but changed the spelling to “Dannika” for their first-born. “We liked the idea of our kids being the only ones in their school with their names, unlike when we grew up with all the Anns and Marys, Johns and Jims,” she says.
Dannika and her brother Denairic aren’t Northwestern graduates, but their sisters and brother are: Kelana ’99, married to fellow Northwestern grad Aaron Groendyke ’98, Alton; Kyndara ’03, married to Brandon Woudstra ’03, Orange City; Mikyla ’05, married to Ryan Dittman ’04, Hospers; Kadrian ’08, Sioux Center; and Delainye, married to Brady Woudstra ’07, Orange City.
And as the Hardersen siblings have had children of their own, they—for the most part—have followed the family’s tradition of unusual names: Among Donna and Larry’s grandchildren are Dacey, Kiernan, Tayon, Trycen, Mielye and Jaelye.