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Last of family's 14 children preparing to graduate from Baldwin High

| Thursday, March 17, 2016, 9:24 a.m.
Mother Mimi Gruber, 60, (middle) sits for a photo with seven of her 14 children — (from left) Jacob Gruber, 20; Brother Peter Gruber, 26; Anna Maleski, 35; the Rev. Frederick Gruber, 32; Tim Gruber, 30; Anthony Gruber, 18; and Emily Gruber, 24 — inside Baldwin High School on Thursday, March 3, 2016.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Mother Mimi Gruber, 60, (middle) sits for a photo with seven of her 14 children — (from left) Jacob Gruber, 20; Brother Peter Gruber, 26; Anna Maleski, 35; the Rev. Frederick Gruber, 32; Tim Gruber, 30; Anthony Gruber, 18; and Emily Gruber, 24 — inside Baldwin High School on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

Mimi Gruber never planned on having 14 children.

“I always said, I would take as many as God would give us,” said Mimi, 60, of Whitehall, the youngest of four in her family. “He blessed us.”

Fourteen times the Grubers were blessed with a baby. That meant thousands of diapers and school papers to proof, because Mom read each and every one, even at 2 in the morning.

Fourteen children also came with 23 years of having a high schooler, all of which is about to come to an end as the youngest Gruber, Tony, graduates from Baldwin High School this year.

“I'm glad to be done selling hoagies,” Mimi said. “It's bittersweet. I'm not very good at saying goodbye.”

Life in the Gruber home was structured, far from chaotic, the siblings said, as they laughed amongst themselves, recalling memories of their childhood.

All 14 Gruber children attended St. Sylvester Elementary School in Brentwood, while growing up in a three-bedroom home in Whitehall. In 1995, the family home was nearly doubled in size to add three additional bedrooms.

“At one point we had seven boys in one room. Three sets of bunk beds and a crib,” Mimi said.

The Grubers said they didn't mind, though. They liked having lots of siblings.

The oldest was Tom, born in 1979. Tony was born in 1997.

“I loved all of the babies,” said Anna Maleski, the second oldest. “There were always babies for so long and it was always wonderful.”

“There was always someone you could hang out with, whether it was playing video games or going outside to catch,” Tony added.

Mimi did everything for the children. Dinners were always ready and Mom was there waiting with a load of laundry and an open ear at the end of the school day to hear each child's tales.

“My mom was very good about not wanting to put too much pressure on us,” Anna said. “We didn't feel the burden of a large family.”

Their father, Tom, worked as an electrician, always taking overtime shifts and doing whatever he could so that Mimi could be home with the children, Anna said.

“He has always been an excellent provider for our family and that allowed our mom to be the stability in our home,” Anna said.

The Grubers said their life was nothing like that of large families portrayed on television — think “Cheaper by the Dozen” or “19 Kids and Counting.”

“We're not a TV family,” Tim Gruber said. “I've watched the Duggars and I'm like, ‘Wow. It's so weird how they do that.'”

Their childhood was filled with baseball and softball and two sets of chores each day.

All of the Grubers went to Baldwin High School, where Tom, the son, graduated in 1997.

At Baldwin, many of the Grubers participated in event management for the Special Olympics club, others did speech and debate, math league or tennis, and 10 of them were in the marching band.

Lisa Klein, who teaches AP literature and composition at Baldwin, taught six of the Grubers.

“They all had very unique personalities, some were quieter than others, but they were extremely bright, extremely hard working and extremely dedicated,” Klein said. “Their reputation was always stellar.”

The Grubers were known at Baldwin to excel in academics.

“Some older siblings created a higher standard, so when we came to high school, we were expected to do well,” Peter Gruber said.

“Our parents were not the kind to pressure us unduly about grades. We all knew that we were supposed to do the best we could do,” Anna said.

At Baldwin, teachers would go through a list of which Grubers they had taught, Jacob Gruber said. Sometimes, they'd forget and confuse the siblings, which often was a compliment.

“The question people would get the first day would be, ‘How many more are there after you?'” Emily Gruber said.

Having a sibling at school with them was comforting, the Grubers said.

“It was at least good to know that our siblings went through it before us,” Emily said.

“There was never a feeling of being alone here,” the Rev. Frederick Gruber said.

Their Catholic faith was important to the family.

Sunday Mass was non-negotiable and home life was filled with nightly prayers, praying before meals and Bible readings.

Three of the Grubers have entered religious life.

Frederick is a priest at four churches in the West End with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Brother Peter is a part of the Pittsburgh Oratory in Oakland. Jacob is attending St. Paul's Seminary.

Joseph is the only Gruber who no longer lives in Pittsburgh.

“We see each other a lot,” Anna said.

Birthday and graduation parties and get-togethers are common.

For Tony, life in the Gruber household has been a little different than for everyone else.

Almost every year, for the last 23 years, one of his siblings left home.

But he makes sure to keep in touch with everyone, calling them for “any little reason.”

“It's hard to relate to other people who don't have large families,” Tony said. When he graduates, Tony said, he's not sure about his plans, but he's not going to commute.

Mimi said she could cry just at the thought of saying goodbye. But she stays a part of her children's lives — now, she's the “traveling grandma,” with 20 grandchildren. She stays in touch with all of the children.

“It's a joy to be a part of their world,” Mimi said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5818. or shacke@tribweb.com.

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