Georgia Mother Wins Breakfast by Emeril

Dee Wissing has nursed decades of bruised knees, runny noses and broken hearts. She has attended hundreds of parent-teacher conferences and dozens of first days of school and has logged hours upon hours in heart-to-heart talks.

With 17 children, the milestones were bound to add up.

Early this morning, Emeril Lagasse surprised Wissing by showing up at her Marietta, Ga., doorstep, ready to cook a delicious breakfast for this year's "Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed" winner.

This is the ninth year of Lagasse's breakfast-in-bed contest and "Good Morning America" received thousands and thousands of e-mails and letters, filled with stories of truly inspirational moms.

But Wissing's story stuck out as remarkable.


"She's the mother I want to be," daughter Jenny Murphy said.

Dee and Bill Wissing knew from the moment they married in 1954 that they wanted a large family. Through the 1960s and '70s, their family grew until it reached 17 -- without any multiple births, not even twins.

"I thought, 'Well, how can you remember all their names?'" said Wissing's friend Ann Tillery. "To every child, she was just so close to all of them."

Neighbor Connie Smith said, "We found out they were moving in down the street. I thought, 'Seventeen children … it's gonna be chaos around here.'"


But Wissing's organization made her household run smoothly.

"Every Saturday, she would make a list and write each person's name down and what your chore was," son James Wissing said.

There was more to Wissing's mothering than quantity. She taught her children the value of work and education, even though she dropped out of college to raise them.

With little money, Wissing took part-time jobs to make ends meet. She also retired from Macy's department store after working there for 10 years. Her husband, Bill, is a former district manager with Holiday Inn and they now jointly run their own food service design company.

"We never got new clothes. We wore hand-me-downs," daughter Becky Wissing said. "Whatever someone outgrew, went to the next person."

She had even greater challenges when the family's home burned to the ground in 1970. They lost everything and had to start over; insurance gave them nothing.

At the same time, Wissing was pregnant with her 14th child.

"Literally, we lost everything," daughter Debra Dahlin said. "We had no clothes; we had the clothes on our backs. She broke her rib that day, trying to get… the fire out and try to get everyone out of the house safely."

As a grandmother -- the Wissings have more than 40 grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren -- Wissing was again the rock for her brood. A couple of years ago, her grandsons Andrew and Jeff lost their mother to cancer. Andrew says that his grandma is a mother again, and that she is his hero.

"When it was kind of clear that my mom wasn't gonna make it, she and my mom had a private conversation and she always told me she promised my mom that she'd look out for us and she'd watch over us," Andrew said. "She really takes care of us and makes sure that we're OK."

Smith, her neighbor, said, "I'm not that sure she's ever had the pats on the back that she deserves. I don't know I've done it enough and I should have."

In 2004, Dee and Bill Wissing were recognized by Georgia's House of Representatives for celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Her children want to salute her this Mother's Day because they say she sacrificed so much of her life for them.

"I just want to thank her for everything that she's ever done … through our whole lives," son James Wissing said.