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Mother's Numbers Tell Her Story: 21 Children, 4.0 GPA

Published: 6-1-2010 11:15 am

Terssa Markworth
Terssa Markworth
As Mother's Day approached, Terssa Markworth of Jackson, graduated from Wayne State College on May 8 with a 4.0 GPA. Other WSC students earned 4.0 GPAs, however she's the only graduate who did so while balancing commitments as a parent to more children than a varsity lineup roster. Her entire team showed up for commencement.

"Yes, I have 21 children, but most people think that means chaos...not true," Markworth said. "Organization is one of my strengths. About 10 years ago, I completed a Gallup survey. It told me something to the effect of, 'Should I be given a small country to run with changes every day, I would thrive.' I think they were right on. I have a very high-energy personality, my favorite"

Ask her how she does what she does, she'll tell you each of her children has his or her own story. She doesn't give a method, a list, a time management program. She tells about her children and talks of helping them through the world.

"The world is not always kind to children," Markworth said. "I may not have birthed each one of these children, but they are my children just the same. As adopted children, including many who have been able to stay together as siblings in the same home, they have been given a gift. It wasn't wrapped, and they may not even recognize it until they are older and look back at their lives, but it is a gift with great value."

One thing that she and her husband, Doug, have done through their 24 years of marriage is try to adopt siblings and keep families together.

"People think nothing of the money that they would spend on a new car. If they only realized how many lives they could touch with that same amount," she said.
Many children go through the foster care system in Nebraska. Currently, there are 463,000 children in the U.S. foster care system and 123,000 of these children are waiting for families to adopt them, according to a national public service announcement campaign with the AD Council.

"I do public speaking about adoption because that is where my heart lies," Markworth said. "I see the potential in these kids. How would any of us react or get through life if we were reminded of a list of what we have done wrong in life?"

Markworth sees what children can do right. She tries to find their passion and what they like to be involved with.

One of her children was eight when she adopted him. He will graduate fourth in his class. She talks with obvious pride about him rather than her own accomplishments. A public speaker, photographer, philosopher and many other hats are worn by a woman who still makes time for putting others first.

"I try to be approachable enough that I can speak almost anywhere," Markworth said. "My children have not always been perfect, we all make mistakes. We love them through everything and try to grow them into civic leaders, compassionate people and faithful friends. I hope to inspire someone else to change their corner of the world."

The Markworths' world seemed larger when their son in the Air Force, Douglas, was stationed first in Quatar, Iraq, and then Japan. He made the trip to Wayne for his mother's graduation. His adopted and biological parents were also in the Air Force.

"Douglas in Japan is far easier for me to rationalize because he doesn't seem to be in harm's way every day," Markworth said. "Douglas has served his country for three and a half years. He has been married for almost 3 years and has a 2-year-old daughter and a baby boy on the way.  He is a wonderful father with an amazing wife.  Of course, Lizzy (our first grandchild) is a beautiful light in our life."

This semester Markworth came across something that her 18-year-old son published on the Internet that she said made her feel humble, "I came to the realization that Markworth is not just a last name. Throughout my entire life, I have been taught to be a Markworth.  I have been taught that Markworths never quit.  Markworths are tied by a deep sense of family, because in the end that is all you have! Being a Markworth means working toward the top, never cheating, lying or stealing to get there. Being a Markworth means noble, honest, and true. I have been taught...through experience, through mistakes, through pain, through comfort, but above all I was taught to be a Markworth by Markworths who feel the same, live the same, and who continually stand by their beliefs."

"These are some of the things we have tried to teach our children," Markworth said. "You know as a parent there are no awards for parenting. Sometimes we think we are not getting through to our children...and then we read something like this." 

As she walks through the Wayne State campus, she recognizes other students and asks them about their lives and their friends. She is other-centered.

"I feel Wayne State College should capitalize on how they already help non-traditional older students achieve a degree," she said. "Faculty members here go out of their way to help students with families be successful. When my youngest child Leo turned 12, I looked into finishing my bachelor's degree. Wayne State College was the perfect choice! I have had wonderful professors who listened to my goals and encouraged me to reach each goal and try for more. Professors Ron and Deb Whitt and Rich Murphy have been very encouraging. Talk with your professors."

Listed on the dean's list and as a member of Lambda Pi Eta National Communication Honor Society, Markworth's natural abilities have been channeled into a communication studies and organizational leadership major at Wayne State College. After her program completion at WSC, she will begin studies in the graduate studies program at the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion.

"I interviewed for graduate teaching assistant position on April 12. I received a confirmation e-mail on April 23 that I am a new teaching assistant at USD in Speech Communication," she said. "I have delayed finishing my bachelor's degree for nearly 20 years. I wanted to spend all my time and energy on my children."

Her family members including her biological and adopted children are: Douglas (son stationed in Japan with the Armed Forces), 23; William, 21; Nathan, 20; student at USD; DeAnna, 19; Gary, 19, employed with Pepsi; Jeff, 19, employed with Stream and enrolled at Northeast Community College, Joel, 18, senior at Ponca; Eli, 17, senior at Ponca; Luke, 17, junior at Ponca; Vasean, 18, junior at Ponca; Josh, 18, junior at Ponca; John, 16, sophomore at Ponca; Brittney, 16, freshman at Ponca; Alex, 16, freshman at Ponca; Heather, 15, freshman at Ponca; Alexis, 15, 8th grade at Ponca; Jason, 15, in 8th grade at Ponca; Jose, 14, in 8th grade at Ponca; Jordan, 13, in 7th grade at Ponca; Mario, 13 in 7th grade at Ponca; and Leo, 12, in the 6th grade at Ponca.

"My husband works for State Farm in Sioux City, Iowa. We operate Missouri Valley Honey, my business. I usually need a project and it takes a lot of milk, bread and eggs to feed the family," she said.

Born in California and raised in the Midwest, Markworth said she most admires Mother Teresa.

"She sacrificed her life to love other people that most of the world would have deemed unlovable! I will never reach her status, but I believe when one pours themselves out for other people the reward will be great," Markworth said. "We decided to adopt in 1994 when we found out how many boys were staying in foster care and not getting healthy homes, notice I didn't say perfect homes. We adopted only sibling groups so most of our children entered our family in groups of 3, 4, 5 and that makes a parent grow, change and adapt very quickly, it's like having triplets only they are older and faster."

"I have wanted to finish my bachelor's degree for 20 years," Markworth said. "It is the biggest burning in my stomach that can't quite be put into words. I have been willing to work long hours and get up early."

"If the timing is right and the drive is there I think a lot of non-traditional students could do this. I am most surprised by moms my age who call me courageous, I look at them and say, 'You can do this, too.' and they respond, 'No' or 'I'm not that smart.' Hard work beats smart every day. My advice to others is 'Use your brain, but don't expect because one is intelligent that the work comes easy,'" Marksworth said. "Education is so vital. Teachers know how important it is. Parents know how important it is. I know how important it is especially when I waited so long to finish."

Markworth and her family knew she would not be at all events, however she found professors at Wayne State College that understood the importance of family.

"I don't want the credit for my degree, my husband has sacrificed for this time to give me what I want," Markworth said. "My children have had to sacrifice. When our sons played in the state football tournament, my professors were the heroes. They let me do work and presentations in advance so I wouldn't miss a game!"

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