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Public recognition for one kind of mom's private work

Helen Bean, who raised 10 children of her own and seven more, shares what's behind a national mother of the year.

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In between the endless loads of laundry, the preparation for and cleanup after supper, the caravaning from gymnastics meets to piano lessons and baseball practice, Helen Bean bore 11 children, took in seven foster children, and cared for her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law's spinster aunt.

It was a full-time career, without vacation.

But now she's being recognized for her efforts - and not with just a card or flowers. Last week American Mothers Inc. honored Mrs. Bean by naming her the 2005 National Mother of the Year at its annual conference in Houston. Bean, for her part, isn't so sure she deserves the recognition. After all, insists the woman who can add "grandmother of 39" to her list of titles, "I just did the best I could do."

As "mother of the year," the modest Mrs. Bean will deliver dozens of speeches and act as political liaison for the nonprofit, interfaith organization, whose top priority is "to strengthen the moral and spiritual foundations of the family and home." Having devoted most of her life to the art of homemaking, Bean knows she faces a steep learning curve.

"I didn't want to win," she admits in her home in this quiet Portland suburb, her soft voice interrupted by the excited giggles of her youngest son, an adult with Down syndrome, watching TV in the next room.

But she believes so strongly in the organization's mission that she is willing to accept the drastic changes that are about to take over her life. She considers her new role as part of a larger service - both to her God (Bean and her husband Jim are devout Mormons) and to her country. As a woman who decided at a young age "to have as many children as God planned for me," and to raise seven more beyond her own, the idea of sacrifice is nothing new.

"Moms need to be honored, they need to be recognized for all the good things they do," says Raelene Hill, the organization's first vice president who organized the awards ceremony in Houston. "Helen is very low-key and unassuming; she sees herself as a mom who loves and supports her children. She's not dynamic or a great public speaker, but a good, solid woman."

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