Thursday, July 31, 2014
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With 59 great-grandkids and counting, matriarch Peggy Koller still going strong

Peggy Koller (family portrait)
Peggy Koller (family portrait)
Peggy Koller (family portrait) Gallery: With 59 great-grandkids and counting, matriarch Peggy Koller still going strong

It might not be unusual that Peggy Koller is living a full, active life into her 90s. But she might be considered out of the ordinary when it comes to family.

The 91-year-old Blue Bell resident has grandchildren by the dozens: 56 in all. They are, of course, from her own 11 offspring - so her children had an average of five children each. That’s at a time when the national average is 2.1 births per woman, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And the Koller family shows no signs of slowing down.

Koller’s grandchildren are having babies of their own - lots of them. To date, there are 59 great-grandchildren. Six grandchildren are pregnant, meaning more great-grandkids are on the way.

That’s 126 descendants, spouses not counted, ready to gather for a single family gathering.

What’s more unusual: The modest matriarch of the sprawling clan was once ready to become a nun.

A majority of Koller’s family still remains in the Philadelphia area. She says that makes keeping track of everyone a little easier. Despite the large group, she knows all of her grandchildren by name and stays up to date with each of them.

Why such a big family? Koller was raised in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon section as an only child. She describes the experience as "awful" and set out to make sure any child she had would have at least one brother or sister.

While still in her youth, Koller had been accepted into a convent. Instead, she met William Koller, a Manayunk native and St. Joe’s Prep alum, and the two fell in love. They married in 1942 before William enlisted to serve in the Navy in World War II. He served for three years as a pharmacist’s mate.

They had their first child when William returned. Peggy expected to stop there, choosing her two favorite names for her new baby girl, Mary Therese. But then they had another. And another. And another, reaching eight children before deciding to take a break. Then, they had three more. Though big families were more common at the time, the average family was producing about four children by comparison.

Before their family grew, William started his own business in Philadelphia, the Koller Funeral Home in 1946. Peggy, while juggling a huge household, helped her husband with the business. She admits that, in the beginning, it was difficult to manage both the family and business. But, in the end, she said, it was family that kept them going.

William Koller died in 2008 at the age of 88. Koller Funeral Home has been around for 65 years and remains in the family.  It is now run by William P. Koller Jr. and Betty Koller Flamm.

Koller says she is thankful to have such a large family that always keeps her busy. While Koller’s family continues to grow, she still manages to stay connected with them all, and even has their cell phone numbers memorized.

“She can almost always tell you a specific fact about each of them or a milestone they have just made,” said Koller’s granddaughter-in-law, Katie Palopoli.

Koller has attended many weddings, including one in Italy, and has even made it to two weddings in one day. She was in the delivery room for the birth of her 50th grandchild in July of 2012. And she attends several baby showers, holiday get-togethers, family vacations, and “more graduations than anyone” each year.

The dark-haired Koller still enters walk-a-thons and remains active. She performs exercises every morning. Koller, who lives by herself, said she is “constantly at someone’s house for dinner” and sometimes gets several invites for events the same day.

“We always say, ‘You need to reserve grandmom,’ ” said granddaughter Lauren Naldzin.

With so many grandchildren, Koller gets some help from her daughters, who have developed a system so she can keep track of and send out birthday cards on time with a “message from grandmom.” She even remembers to send everyone a check.

“I love them,” said Koller. “It’s as simple as that.”

Madison Moore For Philly.com
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