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 Rose and Dale Lavigne, center front, of Osburn, spend most of the summer at a family camp that has expanded over the years along with their family.    Behind them are six of their seven children, from left, Ron, Joe, Michelle Kilbourne, Cindy Martinez, Dave and Mike. Their youngest, Dan, of South Carolina,     is not pictured. At far right, is Father Jerome Montez, OSB, the family’s priest and pastor at St. Rita’s Parish based in Kellogg. (ICR photo/Gene Fadness)



Over the hills and up the river to grandmother's 'house' the Lavignes go

By Gene Fadness

NORTH FORK OF COEUR D’ALENE RIVER – For perhaps too many families, there is not a lot of excitement from children about going to see grandparents or great-grandparents nearing 90 years old. Of course, they are loved but, for many younger people, going to a tiny, overheated 800-square foot home with grandma and grandpa in their easy chairs listening to FOX News with the volume cranked as high it will go is not a favorite get-away.

The experience is different in Dale and Rose Lavigne’s family of 7 children, 20 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. In the Lavigne (pronounced La-VEEN) family, going to see grandpa and grandma means “going to the river,” and the river comes equipped with places to swim and to fish, to listen to music and dance around the fire pit, and to watch movies on a large screen with popcorn popped in a nearby machine. And when it is time to turn in for the night, it’s not to a tent, but to a nearby travel trailer – plumbing and electricity included – or to a sleeping cabin for the younger boys.

Hence, visits to see the grandparents are more than welcome -- and they are lengthy, some families staying up to two months at Camp Lavigne on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

Dale and Rose Lavigne, 89 and 86 respectively, are the patriarch and matriarch of this family where siblings and cousins spend weeks and months together, creating lifelong memories.

Matt Kilbourne, a 32-year-old grandson, says he’s never known anything else for summertime activity than spending as much time as possible “up the river,” with family. “That property has been in my family for 80 years. It is an incredible place to grow up.”

The best thing about it for Kilbourne? “I feel so lucky and so blessed that all my best friends are my cousins.” Six of the eight groomsmen at his wedding were cousins, the other two a brother and a brother-in-law.

Now, all the cousins are young adults and nearly all are making sure that the tradition of summer at the river continues. Kilbourne’s son, only 2½, already asks his parents when they are going to go to the river. For some cousins, the journey to the river is a short one. Kilbourne lives just over the Idaho border in Liberty Lake, Wash., but one of his sister’s lives in Savannah, Ga. Nevertheless, she was there, spending her final weeks of summer before returning to Georgia to teach school.

More than memories are passed from generation to generation. Faith is as well. Dale and Rose Lavigne have been faithful members of St. Alphonsus Parish in Wallace and are not shy about passing along the faith to their children and grandchildren.

“My mother is Saint Rose, a very devout Catholic,” says her oldest son, Ron Lavigne. “Rose is the real matriarch of the faith,” said Tom Kilbourne, Matt’s father and Dale and Rose’s son-in-law. “She was a very strong force in the children’s upbringing. She made sure the kids attended Catholic grade school when they had the opportunity.” Michelle, Tom’s wife and the second oldest of the seven children, attended St. Alphonsus Catholic School in Wallace through the seventh grade before the school closed.

The Lavignes passed along their faith in ways other than attending Mass, Tom Kilbourne said. “It wasn’t just their faithfulness in attending church, but throughout their marriage they have modeled how important a strong faith is to having a good family.”

Some of the grandchildren and great-great children may take it more seriously than others, but all know how important being Catholic is to Dale and Rose Lavigne. It certainly rubbed off on their daughter, Michelle and her husband, Tom, who will be ordained a deacon in October. (Tom’s son, Matt and his wife, Kate – named their second son, now 5 months old, Deacon.) “Dad becoming a deacon is fantastic for the family,” and especially for his grandparents who lived just down the road in Osburn from Tom and Michelle. “It’s been a long journey to ordination, but it is exciting to see him being so on fire with the faith,” Matt Kilbourne said. “He was always taking care of us and making sacrifices for us and now he has an opportunity for him to widen his family.”

Even though they live several miles away in Osburn, Dale and Rose make it a point to be at the family camp for as much of the summer as possible. They nearly always get back into town on the weekend for Mass. On rare occasions, Mass comes to the river. Father Tom Loucks has celebrated Mass there, as has Father Jerome Montez, their current pastor. Father Montez, a fan of camp cooking and a favorite for the children, is a fixture at the camp on weekend nights and sometimes during the week.

“I kind of feel sorry for Father when he comes because my nieces and nephews will corner him to talk about religion,” Ron Lavigne said. “I tell them, ‘Look, he’s just said three Masses. He wants to eat his dinner now.’ ”

“I came from what I considered to be a close-knit family, but the Lavigne family redefines close-knit,” said Tom Kilbourne, who also comes from a family of seven siblings. When he married Michelle Lavigne in 1979, he immediately felt a part of the family. “You don’t have to prove yourself, there’s no trial period. They are a typical, stereotype of a loving Italian family, very loving and welcoming. Everyone is immediately accepted.”

However, Ron Lavigne emphasizes, while the family is a loving one, it is not a perfect one. “When you spend that much time together, there are times when someone will get on someone else’s nerves, that’s just family,” he said. “But there is no place in our family for alienating one from another or not acting in kindness toward one another. I am the oldest, and they all know I will not tolerate any discord in the family. I tell them they can do anything they want up here, except for one thing: make your grandmother and grandfather angry. Then you’ve got me to deal with.”

“Everybody has good times and rough times,” Tom Kilbourne said, “but we all get together and work on projects together that help us bond. We’re honestly glad to be able to get together during the summer and to reconnect. It’s not total bliss, but the overall closeness of the family is just amazing.”

Working on projects together at the camp is part of what keeps the family close, and it has been that way for decades.

The first section of the camp was purchased by Dale’s father, a sawmill operator, and his brother. In the 1940s, Dale, his siblings and his cousins began spending time at the camp and hunting and fishing with Dale’s dad, an avid outdoorsman. In the 1960s, the camp expanded when neighboring owners sold another 200-feet of river frontage to Dale’s dad and uncle.

Dale and Rose met while both were students at the University of Montana. After they married, they moved to be near Dale’s home, establishing a drug store in Osburn. The business expanded to include three more stores in north Idaho and one in Montana.

While the family businesses kept them busy, they did not stop Dale and Rose from bringing their children to the river, as did an aunt and their two children and, more often than not, friends of the children as guests.

“Our grandparents would get us up at the crack of dawn,” Ron Lavigne said. “Grandma and my aunt would start cooking breakfast. We’d have 15 minutes to eat and then it was time to go to work, whether that was cribbing the river (to prevent flooding and erosion), digging the well or whatever my grandfather and uncle had lined up for the day. We were required to work until 2:30 and then we could go swimming or fishing or whatever we wanted after that.”

Once the cabin began to get crowded, Ron’s grandfather honed his skills as a sawmill operator to build a sleeping porch made to look like a log cabin. Boys slept on one side and girls on the other, while adults slept in the cabin.

After the size of the property expanded in the early 1960s, Ron’s grandfather and uncle decided to put in a well and build a septic system. A teenager by then, Lavigne appreciated not having to use an outhouse anymore.

Today a sewer system would not be allowed 350 feet from a river, Dale Lavigne said, but the family was very careful to install a septic tank with a drain field. “We are always sure that the trailers drain into the septic tank and that no sewage is going into the river,” he said.

In the 1980s, another adjoining property became available and the family purchased that as well, giving them about 450 feet of river frontage.

The property was not used as much during the 1980s, when Dale and Rose’s children were in college. Then, Ron’s brother, David and a friend decided to “resurrect it.” They removed 94 cottonwood trees that a logging company had offered to buy in order to level the ground for a much-needed expansion.

There were many times that the cabin and the sleeping porch were flooded, requiring hours of work to clean them out. The family decided to tear down one of the cabins and the sleeping porch and install cement pads for travel trailers. “They all needed water and power to them so we spent a good deal of time digging trenches,” said Ron Lavigne. The entire system was updated just this summer with the family pitching into to dig 380 feet of trenches for sewer and water lines and electricity. Now there are nine trailers, all with sewer, water and power. Two of the trailers are “guest trailers,” and the bunkhouse still sleeps up to 10.

At times, all that space is needed, especially on the weekends when the population of the camp swells.

Typically, there are about 30 people, but with nieces, nephews, and friends, that number can easily go up to as many as 45 on the weekends, Ron Lavigne said.

The cooking area, expanded in 2003, has restaurant-sized equipment including a 36-inch grill, a commercial-sized refrigerator and stainless steel cabinets with shelves that can hold 25-quart stock pans. The cabinets are carefully labeled and, “God help you if you put something away wrong,” Ron said.

Each family takes its turn planning the menu, shopping and cooking.

From about mid-June to early September, the camp is a beehive of activity, a longer-than-typical reunion, and a place of respite for family as well as friends, who grow in number with the family.

“Being around so many young people keeps us 9young,” says Rose Lavigne. It must work because both Rose and Dale are extremely attentive and active for their ages.

“The thing that pleases us the most,” Dale says, “is that our kids, grandkids and great-grandchildren want to come. We don’t have to call and ask them to come.”










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