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Meet a cab driver who raised 7 children on his own. Six became Marines, one an engineering student

Mark Braudis poses with four of his kids, Stephen, Kelly, David, and Michael Braudis, in their Anchorage home. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

Mark Braudis lived in a shelter with his seven children, ages 7 to 15, after a car hit and killed his wife. He couldn't care for them and drive his cab enough hours to afford an apartment.

A year after the accident, a caseworker told him what to do.

"The lady said, 'Listen, Dad, you're putting your kids up for adoption and you're going back to work,' " Braudis recalls.

But Braudis said he would never do that.

"No, no, no, we're a team," he told me. "We're close. That never would have happened. We would be in the shelter, whatever, but I would die first. These are my children."

Ten years later, Braudis still lives in a dark, cramped apartment in East Anchorage and still drives a cab.

And his family is still a team.

Six of the children joined the U.S Marine Corps. Two have finished their service, three are serving now, and the youngest has taken her oath and will go in when she graduates from Bartlett High School next spring.

A son, David, could not join the Marines due to a health condition and is close to getting his degree as an electrical engineer from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

I sat at the kitchen table with four of these remarkable young people while their father hovered proudly. They are proud of his accomplishments, too.

"I actually think it is amazing," said Stephen, the oldest son.

"Or almost impossible," added David.

Their mother, Helen, was hit by a young driver in January 2007, when she stepped into Tudor Road wearing earbuds. She was dead when Mark got to the hospital.

"Then I had to deal with the kids," he said. "I wanted to get drunk. And all the kids were sitting around me and they were saying, 'Dad, we're hungry.' "

Braudis hitchhiked to Alaska in 1976 after getting out of the U.S. Navy. He has been a sailor or a driver all his life. He wears a "Marine Dad" dog tag and a crucifix over his leather vest.

He met his wife, Helen, a Yup'ik from Aleknagik, when she rode in his cab.

Mark leased a cab and a permit. To pay the lease and support the family, he had to drive 12 hours a day. But when Helen died, the elementary school kept calling, saying one of the boys was crying.

Braudis chose the children over work hours and they lost their home.

At one point, the family lived in a van. The kids remember playing in a park after school to wait for their dad. He would take them to the Alaska Club for swimming and showers, then pick up a grill from a storage unit to cook dinner at Potter Marsh.

They parked there overnight, keeping warm with the van's heater. Each kid still remembers his or her sleeping spot in the van. In the morning, they ate breakfast at McDonald's before school.

Mark Braudis holds a photograph of his children Kelly, Anthony, Stephen, Jared, Michael, Jennie and David Braudis and himself. The photo was taken when they were staying at the Salvation Army Shelter in 2008. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

St. Anthony Catholic Church got the family on its feet, helping Braudis raise $77,000 to buy his own taxi permit from the Municipality of Anchorage.

Braudis said he got $46,000 from a legal settlement and $15,000 from an anonymous donor at the church. St. Anthony's loaned the rest of the money against the family's anticipated Permanent Fund dividend checks.

With his own permit, Braudis kept his fares without paying a lease. A driver on the opposite shift paid him a lease. He got the apartment.

But disaster always remained a setback away. Braudis said he drove hungry. The church pitched in to cover rent when he got hurt.

The children slept in triple bunks. They woke up an hour and a half early for school to get everyone through the bathroom. Many mornings they went to church before school.

Kelly, the older daughter, now out of the Marines, said her dad always cooked, but a child would help him, another child washed the dishes, another dried, another cleaned and another did the laundry.

"Our dad talked to us all the time," she said.

"It's basically a life conversation. Or a life lecture," Stephen said.

"His favorite subject to talk about is always to do the right thing, even when no one is looking," Kelly said. "Because we're different, we always have to do the right thing."

The church helped raise the children, too. Bonnie Cler, a pastoral staff member, knew them intimately as a youth group leader.

Cler admires Braudis, but felt the children's world was too harsh and they needed to learn to think for themselves. And to grieve for their mother.

Anthony, the third son, told her the Marines couldn't be as tough as his upbringing.

Cler used grant funds to send each child to a two-summer spiritual program in Minnesota, so they could encounter the world outside their regimented family and their father's strict faith.

Mark Braudis raised seven kids in low-income housing and none ever got in trouble. None of the kids ever even missed the school bus. Now they have their own futures.

Mark Braudis sits in the driver’s seat of his cab as his kids Kelly, David, Stephen and Michael Braudis surround him. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

When Jennie leaves for basic training next spring, Braudis plans to leave Alaska, too.

He would have retired, leasing out his taxi permit for income. But since Anchorage issued more cab permits and the Alaska Legislature opened the state to Uber and Lyft, his income has dropped by a third. He expects his permit to be worthless.

Now he plans to move to San Diego, where the weather is warm, near the Marines base, and drive an Uber car.

Braudis said his success as a father is a miracle and credits God — and the church — for getting him through.

If God is love, I'd agree that's the source of this miracle. Knowing he could lose his children kept Braudis going.

"It scared me that was even an option," Braudis said. "These are my babies. And that's why they care the way they care. Because we had to get through this together.

"Together, they were strong," he said.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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