published Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Gracious Duggar family inspires hundreds in Chattanooga area

Jim Bob Duggar, right, carries daughter Josie, and is followed by his wife, Michelle, and Jordyn and 17 of their 20 children Monday as they descend on Barnes and Noble at Hamilton Place for a song and a book signing event.
Jim Bob Duggar, right, carries daughter Josie, and is followed by his wife, Michelle, and Jordyn and 17 of their 20 children Monday as they descend on Barnes and Noble at Hamilton Place for a song and a book signing event.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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Do the Duggars have too many children?
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    Mitsie Craig, left, and Brittany Cobb, holding her daughter, Delilah, takes phone photographs as the Duggar family sing a song at the outset of their book signing Monday at Barnes and Noble at Hamilton Place.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

It was fitting that the Faulk family was first in line.

The Rossville family has eight children, including two sets of twins.

But even their larger-than-average group was dwarfed by the size of the Duggar family, which was welcomed with rock star-like treatment at Hamilton Place mall on Monday. The Duggars, of Arkansas, have become household names thanks to TLC's "19 Kids and Counting," which has for seven seasons chronicled life with 19 children, all of whom mom Michelle, 47, has birthed naturally.

The family stopped in Chattanooga as part of a 10-day book tour promoting "Growing up Duggar," which was penned by the eldest Duggar daughters Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger (all the siblings' names start with the letter J).

The family's TLC series brings to life the most mundane events like dinner or dentist visits and shows how they can be complicated yet gracefully maneuvered by such an oversized family.

"I get a lot of ideas from them," said Jennifer Faulk, whose mom had been waiting at the Hamilton Place Barnes and Noble since 2:30 p.m. for the evening event.

But it's not just the spectacle of the prodigious family that has kept people watching. The family is deeply religious and their Christian faith plays a central role in their lives, and thus the show.

"Just the wholesomeness, they're inspiring to watch," said Nikki Brewer, of Hixson. "They have such a close family unity."

Brewer and her 13-year-old daughter have been following the Duggars since they had 14 kids. They admire how close the family is -- from the youngest (age 4) to the oldest (age 26). On Monday afternoon, they spotted an oversize RV in the parking lot of the mall and wondered if it was that of the Duggar clan. A quick search online confirmed it must be theirs.

"Here they are!" Callie screamed.

Then, Duggars started shuffling down the steps of the motor home.

"They're older than I expected," Nikki Brewer said, realizing the lag of reality TV filming and airing.

Only 17 of the family's 19 offspring were in attendance Monday, as two of the oldest had other plans.

"This is pretty good to have this many of us here," said Jim Bob before the family sang the religious song, "Standing on the Solid Rock," to the crowd of hundreds of people who snaked through the aisles of the book store.

The Duggars have become popular icons to Christians everywhere. Amidst a reality TV lineup of bickering housewives and worldly Kardashians, fans view the Duggars as examples of honorable living for families of all sizes.

After watching them for years, Dana Hanning, of Harrison, said she felt like part of the Duggar family. They are just as nice and gracious in person, she said. But most importantly, they are living examples of faith.

"It's not easy in this world, to be honest with you," Hanning said. "Most people are against the grain."

Hanning, who has one daughter, said she would "absolutely not" ever want as many children as the Duggars. But she's still inspired by the family.

"They continue to do God's work," she said. "They're living their faith, not just talking it."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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