In her works, literary abstractionist Gertrude Stein
once wrote "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
But for Ed and Henrietta Heitzman, the adage would have to be revised to: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
Count them up and that's what they have - a dozen roses. Their 12 children have graduated from Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, over the past 19 years.
Every year at the Baccalaureate Mass at Notre Dame High School, it has been traditional for the graduates to present their parents with a silk rose. The final rose to complete the Heitzman dozen was given to them at the June 13 Baccalaureate Mass by David, their 12th and youngest child.
"It's the kind of thing where having that many children and going that many years, you think it will always be that way," said Mrs. Heitzman. While it's "sad" knowing David will be the last child to graduate from Notre Dame, "I'm excited at how well he's doing and how proud we are of him as we are of all of our kids."
And with good reason do the Heitzmans have a right to be proud.
For starters, David was salutatorian for his class at commencement exercises June 14. His accomplishments leading up to that distinction included earning many scholastic honors, awards and scholarships.
David was named a National Merit Commended Scholar and was recently named Highest Varsity Scorer in the Catholic School Math League for New York and New Jersey. He also represented the league in the New York State Mathematics League Tournament and was named Most Valuable Team Member in the event. He was also named a double Trenton Times Academic All-Star performer in Math and Science.
Mrs. Heitzman said she and her husband are both products of Catholic education and they never had any doubt their children were going to get a Catholic education.
Putting 12 children through Catholic schools, however, wasn't always easy, Mrs. Heitzman said, noting that up until three years ago she had stayed at home to raise her family.
"Sometimes we didn't think we were going to manage, but we always seemed to have the money for tuition. I think the Lord helps you out... I know the Lord helps you out," she said, adding that her husband is an automotive engineer with an office and lab set up in their home.
"We found it easier to raise the children" by sending them to Catholic schools because the schools offered the same values and demanded the discipline and respect that "we expected from them at home."
The Heitzman clan attended St. Paul's School, Princeton. At Notre Dame all 12 were in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes. Seven, including David, had been ranked among the top ten students academically.
It was understood that their childrens' education would not stop after high school, Mrs. Heitzman said.
"We encouraged our kids to go on to college" and each chose his or her own occupation, she said. Two are currently in college; nine have graduated from college; two hold master's degrees, and two are enrolled in doctoral programs.
At Notre Dame, David was a member of the football team and was named a Scholar Athlete for the NJSIAA and the National Football Hall of Fame, Delaware Valley Chapter.
It could be considered an accomplishment in and of itself that David actually played football, let alone earn any distinguished recognition in the sport.
David played center and "was very fortunate to have had an older brother play football," said Mrs. Heitzman, referring to John who graduated in 1991.
Another brother, Tim, who graduated in 1987, was not permitted to play football for fear of getting hurt, she said.
Mrs. Heitzman's views on football might have changed when Tim and Joe ('89) joined the track team only to participate in the pole vaulting event.
"When I saw pole vaulting ... I thought maybe football isn't so bad!" she said, admitting that even with two sons on the team, her understanding of football was lacking.
David plans to start at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall to pursue studies in computer engineering. Most of his brothers and sisters remain fairly close to home: Mary ('95) is a student at Lehigh University; Anne ('97) is a student at Ithaca College; Chris ('92) is in medical school.
John ('91) is married and living in Ithaca; Joe ('89) works in Ewing; Tim ('87) is pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology in Rhode Island; Kate ('86) is married and living in California; Claire ('84) is married and living in Idaho; Eric ('83) works in Princeton; Theresa ('81) is a physical therapist in Newtown; Ed('79) works in West Trenton.
The Heitzmans well remember the day David was born, and there are a number of teachers and staff members at Notre Dame who can also recall the day, said Mrs. Heitzman. The occasion was announced over the school's public address system as a way to inform the siblings that they had a new, baby brother.
In raising 12 children, Mrs. Heitzman said she hopes she and her husband have instilled values in their children such as putting God first in their lives, recognizing the importance of family and pursuing goals to the best of their ability.
"What's good about being part of a big family is that the kids learn to wait for things," she said.
Her kids have also "learned from each other," she added.
While David will spend his summer working as a lifeguard at the Quarry Swim Club in Hopewell, a place where he said that many of his brothers and sisters have worked at one time or another, it's just a matter of a couple of months before he'll be packing his bags and heading off to college.
And his mother now wonders what it's going to be like just "to cook dinner for two."