The father figure in TLC’s “Little People, Big World” has taught us that what your parents pass on to you lives generation to generation.
Matt Roloff, 52, of “Little People, Big World” spoke at the 50th annual Penn State Summer Leadership Conference Tuesday, Aug. 5.
Roloff is the patriarch on the featured reality-TV show which showcases every day life “on the Roloff farm” in Oregon. Together Roloff and his wife Amy have four children: twins Jeremy and Zach, Molly, and Jacob. While both Matt and Amy are diagnosed with dwarfism, only one of their children, Zach, was born with the same condition.
Battling the challenges of dwarfism has molded Roloff into the man, and leader, he is today. During his lecture to PSU students represented from all campuses, he shared stories of how he crafted himself as a leader even with his shortened height.
Limited by his small stature and physical disability, Roloff could not ride bicycle and play sports with other kids his age, but those initial setbacks encountered early on in life did not damper his drive for life.
His early years were spent in and out of the hospital; he had numerous surgeries, spent time in the iron lung and a body cast. But Roloff now credits these once horrific experiences as the basics of his communication skills. All the years in the hospital built up character that was beneficial as Roloff learned how to talk to adults through interactions with the nurses and doctors. Building and constructing structures, forts, and go-karts was how he spent his time as a teenager, perhaps it served as a therapeutic way to control of his surroundings.
“I didn’t feel sorry for myself,” he said, but rather his difficulties drove his determination.
As a young child he spent three straight days and nights constructing an inverse fort making a giant hole in the ground. His get-a-away camp out generated interest of other children throughout the neighborhood, which was his first recollection of when he became a leader.
Around age 14, Roloff developed an interest in snow skiing, so to earn money for the equipment he took on a paper route.
By “taking proactive action” he built an automatic paper folder by dismantling his mother’s sewing machine to make labor easier. When the other paper routers failed to do their collections, Roloff quickly jumped on the opportunity to assist them, racking up their tips along the way. He eventually made it to ski in the Special Olympics, he followed through and met his goal. Roloff’s actions built habits that are still with him today, but it was a “learned skill, it wasn’t automatic.”
Even as a child he focused on taking on challenges. Venturing outside of his comfort zone has proved to be successful for Roloff and his family.
“When people don’t believe in you, you can’t fold. Build strength and resilience to punch through those differences,” Roloff said.
Growing up with a father in the military, Roloff moved around a lot but did not dread the move as most other children might.
With the philosophy of “we’re moving? Oh great! I get to meet new people and make new friends,” Roloff saw new opportunities open. Roloff says his father was very joyous, always saw the good in every situation. This sense of character was instilled in Roloff at an early age.
“[My father] always said walk up to someone you would typically ignore, pull them from the back corners of the room and include them.” This is the character Roloff hopes to pass along to his own children and to the attendees of his lectures.
With over 300 episodes under their belt, The Roloffs will return to The Learning Channel with new episodes of “Little People, Big World” 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2.