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Mom to Rob, Gordie Jr., Chris, Dan and Glenn Gronkowski enjoys looking back, living in SW Florida

By Craig Handel, The News-Press

Diane Gronkowski-Walters ran one of the best teams in the country.

Her five sons.

And her sons’ friends. And even her sons’ friends’ friends.

Walters, who lives in a Fort Myers gated community, often toiled in obscurity, but the last name of the boys she raised has become famous.

Gordie Jr., Dan, Chris, Rob and Glenn. The Gronkowskis. They literally were a handful. They played baseball, football, basketball and hockey, but they also skied, had paper routes, fought like bear cubs and ate like them, too.

“When you see someone raising one kid, you wonder, how could you possibly raise five animals?,” Chris said. “She had no help. No one wanted to watch us. We had one baby sitter, a couple times. Then she was out. Then another. It was like a revolving door until we ran out of them.

“It took a lot of patience and love.”

Glenn said, “It had to be absolutely insane.”

Rob, the New England Patriots star tight end who is a social media and Internet magnet, was born on Mother’s Day 1989. He’ll spend Mother’s Day this year with her in Southwest Florida.

“Growing up as a kid, you really don’t know all the stuff that moms put up with,” Rob said. “But we definitely drove her crazy. But how we were, keeping her busy, it had to be an awesome ride. What wasn’t enjoyable was all our fighting and yelling. If we could’ve knocked that off, it would’ve been 100 percent good.”

Thanks to Walters’ loving, nurturing, chauffeuring, caring, feeding and scheduling, each son became a pro athlete. With Glenn signing a free-agent contract with his hometown Buffalo Bills last weekend, the boys are 5-for-5 — four football players and Gordie, who played baseball. All of the brothers were present to celebrate Glenn’s signing.

Rob and Glenn are the sole active athletes still competing.

When Walters had three of her sons playing in the NFL, a researcher from Yale put the odds at one in 31 million.

“Their success is my success,” Walters said. “Having one (in the pros) is way out there. Five boys in pro sports. I guess I should’ve won the lottery like 40 times by now.

“But I guess, you gotta play, right?”

Mother’s Day, mother’s way

Sunday is Mother’s Day. From child psychologists and psychiatrists to fathers who stay home when mothers are gone for a few hours, they’ll all tell you that it’s the toughest job on earth.

Walters is a champion of stay-at-home mothers. She feels they don’t get enough praise and that women have to be professionals in the workplace to earn that respect.

“We don’t get a paycheck,” she said. “But I also shoveled snow, cut the grass, did the flower beds, did the bills, cooked and helped with their homework. There’s so many moms who do all this stuff.”

While she often got four hours of sleep at night, Walters and her boys accumulated some jaw-dropping stats.

Over 20 years, Walters:

Took her sons and neighbor kids to about 18,000 practices and games in a conversion van. Because her boys played three or four sports, she often made three trips a day or more. “And she always had food in the car,” Rob said. “PB&J and fruit were ready to go.”

Oversaw her sons playing on as many as 13 house, travel, tournament and all-star baseball teams during some summers. “The fields were set up pretty well so I’d pick out a spot where I could see all of them batting,” she said.

Had a couple of her sons’ friends live with the family. Other friends were often regular dinner visitors. “We all had a buddy who lived with us for a while,” Chris said. “One guy we adopted we said we gotta give him a Polish name. So we called him Doboski.”

Bought about $312,000 in food for her sons and their buddies while they grew from tykes to teens. She had two freezers and two refrigerators. Rarely did she buy pizza or fast food. “It was a treat to go out to eat,” Chris said. “Denny’s had a $1.99 special where you could eat out of your mind. But we’d often get in a fight and the car would turn around. If we did make it, she’d put us in a corner booth. We’d steal each other’s food and orange juice.”

Baked pies and cookies, made her own jam and cooked almost all of the boys’ meals. “People sometimes asked me if I was shopping for a group home,” she said.

Sometimes wished she had bought a small ranch. She bought the equivalent of about 30 heads of cattle. “I’d buy half a cow about every nine months,” she said.

Got a lot of help from Holstein cows. She figures they drank about 18,200 gallons of milk. “It doesn’t surprise me,” Rob said. That’s about 2½ gallons a day. “They’d just sit there, eat and drink glass after glass,” Walters said.

Recently, Walters combined the birth weight of her five sons. It came to 39 pounds, 14 ounces.

Now, she calculates they’re a combined 1,271 pounds. “Chris used to ask me why he’s so short,” Walters said. “But he’s 6-foot-3.”

As they grew, Chris and Rob remember testing their mother’s temper regularly.

“She had a plastic spoon. It was rock hard and she used to spank us with it,” Chris said. “As Rob got older, he laughed when he got spanked. He loved pain. Then he’d reach back, grab her hands and drive her crazy.

“One day the spoon disappeared. When we moved to a new house, it was hidden in the basement with all the old stuff. It finally reappeared after 10 years.”

Rob remembers his mom chasing Chris with a hockey stick when she got him mad. “She couldn’t catch Chris so she grabbed the hockey stick and Chris took off and she chased him into the house,” he said. “That was so funny. That was a hockey classic.”

On Christmas Eve, when they lived in Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, the boys were playing stick hockey when Glenn, then 4, got checked.

“I got in the way. They ran into me and I went flying,” he recalled. “They had carpet, but I landed on the one piece of cement.”

The check split Glenn’s chin wide open, which his mom saw. Off to the hospital. No church. Dinner delayed.

Tough and smart

The boys had brains as well as brawn. Dan could’ve been a Rhodes Scholar. Chris could’ve gone to Harvard. Rob plays for a coach — Bill Belichick — who won’t tolerate mental mistakes. Glenn has two degrees from Kansas State and had a 3.8 grade-point average.

“All the focus is on the fun we like to have,” Glenn said. “But work comes before fun. When the work is done, we do like to celebrate.”

Walters likes that they’ve gotten their degrees and are good citizens.

“They haven’t gotten in trouble with the law, not that I know of,” she said. “They don’t have tattoos or piercings.

“And people tell me, ‘They are so respectful.'”

Like their mom, the sons are organized and prompt. And they watch their money. They cut coupons, wait for the buy-one-get-one-free deals. In his book, Rob said he never has used his NFL contract money. He lives off his endorsements and TV commercials.

“Everyone thinks I have a busy schedule, but I’m not that busy if I’m organized,” Rob said. “My mom always had that calendar in the kitchen that listed where everyone had to go. She’s so well organized. She was always on top of it. And I have a calendar. It’s definitely a trait I learned. If you’re organized and on time, you always know what’s going on.”

With son Rob, Walters has seen the good and bad of the NFL’s best tight end who has become one of the country’s favorite pitch men. In Naples this spring, he did a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial with Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

Fans mystify Walters. First it was that thousands of fans would come to watch Rob play or that they’d buy replicas of his jersey.

Now, it’s that Buffalo fans booed Rob, despite the fact he took part in a celebrity home-run derby to raise money for charity.

“I sat there and thought, ‘You blanks,'” Walters said. “He was born and raised in Buffalo. … You boo him because the Bills didn’t draft him. They had a chance to pick him.”

Walters was such a good caretaker that even the pet goldfish lived 11 years.

With the boys on their own, Walters goes to games or visits. Half her weekends are on the road.

The boys like her visits, partly because she restocks their fridges.

This weekend, Rob is visiting. “I don’t know what we’ll do, but I like to go on the fly,” he said. “I’ll think of something.”

Not surprising, Walters’ first grandchild was a boy. When she isn’t traveling, Walters and husband Mike run a local company called Home Watch MD. He’s also a handyman. Walters and the boys’ father, Gordy, divorced in 2008.

Looking back, those days with the boys growing up went so quickly.

“Where did the time go? It seems like yesterday or last week,” she said. “One year slipped into the next. It’s hard to remember some of this stuff. Sometimes, I couldn’t remember if I took a shower in the morning. I had about two minutes. We were always running out the door. I tried to stay a step ahead.”

Regrets? She has none.

“Of course I’d do it over and over and over,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Yup, for sure.”

Written By

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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