From triplets to “The Wilson Twelve”
You may remember the front page story in The Clarion written by the late Sam Roberts about the birth of Hancock County native, Shannon Vandgrift’s, triplets in 1995. He wrote their birth at Owensboro-Daviess County Hospital on Sunday, July 23rd, 1995, “may well have contributed to local history.”
We reached out to Shannon, 46 now, and she and her husband, Jamie Wilson (47), are both pharmacists and missionaries. They refer to their family as “The Wilson Twelve.” They have grown their family and are blessed with 12 children altogether: the triplets, Zachary, Merideth and Madeleine, 27-years-old now, as well as their “singlets” as they affectionately call them, Evelyn (19), Graham (20) and Griffin (15), 3 adopted from Ethiopia ten years ago, siblings, Meron (17), Abe (22) and Yohannes (13); 2 from Korea, Song (28) and Youngmin (29); and Firfirey (27), from Ethiopia.
The triplets graduated high school in 2013 and are all married now. Meredith is a nurse. She and her husband, Dave Friesen live in Memphis, TN. He works for FEIC from home. Their son, Wesley, is almost 15-months-old and their second child is on the way. Zachary’s wife, Margaret, is from Paducah, where they’ve made their home. They were high school sweethearts and have been married for 4 years. Madeleine “Maddie” met her husband, Joshua, while doing mission work in Mexico. She just completed the Physician Assistant Program at University of Evansville. Joshua is a computer engineer and does IT work for Toyota. They live in Evansville, and their daughter, Millie, is 9-months-old.
Shannon’s parents are Darla & James Vandgrift. “My dad’s wife (Jimmylou) still lives in the county. He has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home in Tell City. My mom lives in Philpot with her husband (David Rhodes).” Shannon’s sister, Carrie, and her husband Jeremy McManaway also live in the county. They have three adult children.
She graduated from Hancock County High School in 1994 and attended Kentucky Wesleyan College. The triplets were born in between her freshman and sophomore year. She graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biology. Shannon and the triplets’ dad (James Morris, from Hawesville) married when the babies were 5-months-old, but separated after her graduation.
She moved to Lexington with the triplets and started pharmacy school at University of Kentucky in 1998. She managed school, work and parenting “by the grace of God,” she said, “and lots of prayer.” The triplets went to daycare while she was in school. “I stayed up really late at night and studied. My parents were really wonderful helpers. Once a month, they would meet me and take the triplets for that weekend so I could take my exams. That was huge. The father’s parents were super supportive too. They were really supportive of what I was doing. I started working part-time at CVS, just a little bit (while in school). I had friends that would help out watching the triplets,” she said.
She met her husband in pharmacy school and they’ve been happily married for 21 years. “We got married and had our first baby together right before I graduated from pharmacy school. I had Graham in March and graduated in May of 2002,” she said. “My triplets were in first grade.”
They moved to Paducah that June. Jamie got the opportunity to work at an independent pharmacy in Mayfield, where he grew up, and Shannon started part-time at an independent pharmacy in Paducah. “We’ve been living here since then,” she said. “We want to be missionaries when we grow up. That’s our dream. We recently started a nonprofit to take mission teams to do mission work locally and around the world.”
Their nonprofit is GIF – Gratia Infinita Foundation (‘endless grace’ in Latin) and their mission statement is: “Because of God’s ENDLESS GRACE our mission is to restore, rebuild, and redeem lives by serving on mission teams to spread the love of Jesus Christ through building, feeding, and nurturing His creation.” The website is: http://gratiainfinita.org/
Jamie has been the president of a nonprofit in El Salvador for several years. “The missionary there is a good friend of ours,” Shannon said. “We have been on a lot of mission trips. We’ve been doing mission work in Central America for about 11 years. My first trip was in 2011. We take our kids so it’s a lot of fun and we are actually in our ninth year of homeschooling our children too.”
Abe, their oldest son from Ethiopia (near the Somalian border), is now working on barges and wants to be a boat captain. “Now we only have 3 at home (Griffin, Johannes and Meron), so we feel like we have an empty house practically,” Shannon said. Evelyn just started at Eastern Kentucky University this year. Graham is in his third year studying mechanical engineering at University of Alabama, and just finished a co-op with an aerospace company in Huntsville. Song, from Korea, recently married her husband, David.
Shannon said she and Jamie ultimately want to do mission work in other countries. “We have a dream with our in-laws who live in Mexico, we would love to expand the mission that they’re doing there. They are working with the Aztecs who live on the mountain in their community (in Orizaba). They are very poor, mainly women and children. They need everything – health care, everything. My daughter is a PA and so we have dreams of building a mission house there, a home for us so that we can go back and forth.” She said they plan to continue their work in El Salvador as well.
Online donation is not yet set-up on their mission website. Donations can be mailed to their address: 280 Spring Valley Drive, Paducah, KY 42003. Checks can be made out to Gratia Infinita Foundation and will be deposited into a special account at Paducah Bank to be used toward missions.
By Jennifer Wimmer