Lou Ann Rieley is a businesswoman, a farmer, a teacher, a wife, a woman of faith and, perhaps most importantly, a mother. And, recently, Rieley was named Delaware Mother of the Year by the Delaware Association of American Mothers.
“Lou Ann — not only does she have 11 natural-born children and one that is adopted, she’s a foster mother and she homeschools. Her children have grown to be real productive citizens,” said Candy Abbott, president of the Delaware Association of American Mothers. “Her moral bounties are just tremendous.”
“It’s an honor,” said Rieley of the award, “but I know there are a lot of very worthy mothers that could just as well represent motherhood and Delaware. I’m proud to say a lot of them are my friends — ladies that have mothered many children, their own and adopted children, foster children.”
“She’s remarkable. There’s no question about it,” said John Rieley, Lou Ann’s husband. “She’s not only a good manager but she’s an excellent teacher. She’s firm, yet fair and compassionate. Nobody’s perfect, but she gets pretty close to it.
“It’s our life,” he continued. “At the end of the day, there’s really nothing that’s eternal except for your family. You can’t take land or your house, or anything else, with you. Our children will be with us for eternity — it doesn’t get more important than that.”
Along with her family’s 12 children, ranging in age from 31 to 11, Rieley and her husband, who have been married for 33 years, have been parents to numerous children in need.
“We’ve parented a lot more than that — probably round 30 —some for a week, some for months some for years. Only a very few came to us through the foster-care system. Older teenagers who were homeless or who needed a stopping place on their way to adulthood. Some of them who were kids whose parents couldn’t deal with them and brought them to us and said, ‘You take them.’ We’ve taken everyone that God has sent our way,” she said.
“We got our first foster child when our oldest son, who’s now 31, was 4 months old. We just decided we would like to be foster parents — six or eight through the foster-care system. The rest of them just found their way here, or hearing that the Rieleys would take them.”
“All the time there are kids coming up to our house. The situation at their house is not so great and they’re drawn — I think they’re more drawn to her than they are to me,” added John Rieley.
Lou Ann Rieley even joked that, at times, she wasn’t aware that she was parenting some of the children.
“We always had this big, big dorm. We had six boys, 16 to 25 living up there, because we had a business that employed a lot of them. We made a business for them. One boy was at dinner every night for three weeks, and I asked him, ‘Do you live here?’ and he said ‘Yeah, I moved in three weeks ago with the other guys.’”
Rieley’s eldest son, Shaun, said that he’s is proud of his mother and her new title.
“She’s a great mom. She certainly instilled good values and a strong work ethic,” he said. “I think she deserves it. I can’t think of anybody that’s more deserving. Not to say that there aren’t people that are also deserving, but I can’t think of anyone that is more deserving.”
Shaun Rieley, a combat veteran of the Iraq War now works in Washington, D.C., as deputy director of legislative affairs for the National American Legion.
“Growing up, I was always encouraged and pointed in that direction. My parents were pretty politically active, politically aware and astute. It has kind of come full circle,” he explained.
“When our oldest kids were little, when they were toddlers, we always took them every year to D.C. — not just to the museums, but to the Capital, to the White House, to the Supreme Court — and we told them from a very early age that ‘Someday, you’ll come back here and you’re going to make a difference in your nation.’ Now we have three in D.C., and they work in areas of influence. We set a vision of them,” explained Lou Ann Rieley.
“Why? It’s very normal to us to help set a vision. My job is not to say, ‘You have to do this.’ My job is to say, ‘I have to prepare you for whatever God calls you to do.’ That’s my goal. It’s my job to prepare them in every way — not just academically, but socially. All of those things that go into preparing a child for life.”
The Rieley children are homeschooled and work for the family’s four businesses.
“Everybody works. Everybody cooperates. Everybody helps. People say, ‘How do you do it all?’ I say, ‘I don’t. We all do.’ We delegate, we teach everybody to be somewhat self-sufficient. The older ones help take care of the younger ones, and everybody takes care of each other and everybody takes care of the business.”
Along with her family and business duties, Lou Ann Rieley was a founder and former board member of the Sussex Pregnancy Care Center in Georgetown.
“I was part of a prayer meeting at a friend’s house and was 21 at the time. We didn’t really know what abortion was. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would’ve said I was pro-choice, because I didn’t know what I was talking about,” recalled Rieley.
“A lady named Dr. Olga Fairfax came to the church we were attending, and she did a presentation on what abortion was, and we went, ‘Oh, my goodness — we didn’t know!’ From that, at the prayer meeting, we said, ‘Now that we do know, we’re responsible for doing something. How best can we serve women in crisis pregnancies, help them to keep their babies, and let them know they’re precious — not only the baby, but the mother too?’”
Rieley said the group of women learned about pregnancy care centers, took training classes and started the center.
“The first meetings were in our house, and at one point all the assets of the center fit in our dining room closet. Now it’s a multimillion-dollar facility with sonogram capability, ministering,” she said, adding that it has now served more than 23,000 women. “It is amazing that God can do that with a bunch of young mothers. We really didn’t know what we were doing; we just wanted to make a difference — to help other women find the joy of motherhood.”
During her tenure as Delaware Mother of the Year, Rieley said she hopes to be an advocate for motherhood and speak out in support of adoption.
“In 2009, we began a journey of adoption. We adopted a young man — he was 12 at the time and he’s 14 now — out of the foster-care system, and we began to be very vocal about the subject of adoption,” she said. ‘‘If all children are blessings of the Lord, let’s open our homes and receive these children — not just in a foster-care setting but those that would be available and up for adoption. Let’s encourage people to take them in on a permanent basis and give them a sense of identity and connection. We can’t preach it if we don’t do it, right?”
Rieley said she is proud to be a mother and believes that motherhood represents the future.
“My husband and I believe that one of the most important aspects of motherhood is setting a vision for the future, setting a vision for our children, and being an agent in their lives and giving them purpose and destiny; finding out who each child that God gives us to parent, who is this child, what is their calling and what is their destiny? How they can be a change agent for good?
“Each child that God has given us, no matter how they came to us, it’s like Christmas,” she said. “You don’t know what’s in this little package, but you know it’s going to be great. The joy of unwrapping that package of that little person that God sends and finding out the treasure that’s in there has been one of the most amazing honors that I’ve ever experienced in my life. That God would trust us — me and my husband — with eternal souls to shepherd them for a while... It’s about shepherding their heart for the time God gives us to do that.”
Rieley said there are many worthy mothers who could easily carry the title, and she hopes to be a good representative of all of them.
“My goal is to represent all of them and to restore value to being a mom in our society; to honor all of the women in each person’s life that have played that role, whether as a biological mother or someone who took you under their wing because you needed somebody there… to help restore the dignity and honor of being a mom.”