Twin Alumnae Celebrate 100th Birthday
|12/15/2012||Mary Ann Beahon|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||(573) 592-1127|
Dec. 15, at the Methodist Church in Wellsville, Mo., the "Strank twins" celebrated with friends, family and representatives of the college they attended 80 years ago, William Woods University.
Violet Strank Lehman came from her home in Atchison, Kan., and her daughter, Barbara Lehman, returned from Denmark.
Vivian Strank Updyke lives in Wellsville, but her daughter, Janice Harman O'Loughlin, traveled from Charlotte, S.C.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in attendance. Friends stood in a lengthy line to offer their good wishes.
They received a card from President Obama, resolutions from various elected officials and identical bouquets of pink roses from William Woods, along with duplicate photos taken on campus five years ago. Each photo contained 101 signatures from WWU faculty and staff.
Violet and Vivian. They tell people they’ve been called “Tempest” and “Sunshine.” At first glance these dignified, well-dressed women with the striking, white hair seem as indistinguishable as identical twins should be. Dig deeper and you discover the differences.
“The twins,” as they’re known on the William Woods University campus, returned to WWU in 2007 for their 75th class reunion. They were 94 at the time and had been returning annually for Alumni Weekend for as long as they could remember.
During that weekend, Violet and Vivian announced that they had donated $10,000 to WWU to endow a student scholarship. The alumni board dedicated a room in the Myldred Fox Fairchild Alumni House to the twins.
In 2007, the twins were in remarkably good shape. Both got around well without use of cane or walker. Neither wore glasses, except to watch TV across the room. They maintained an active lifestyle that included walking and playing bridge.
In the years since, age has taken its toll. Vivian uses oxygen and is moving into the Gamma Road Lodge, a nursing home in her home town. Violet no longer drives back to Wellsville to visit her twin (her daughter forbids it).
It was a friend from Wellsville who originally convinced the twins to attend William Woods.
“She came here and talked us into coming. That’s what you call salesmanship,” Violet said.
William Woods was “like a girls’ finishing school” in the 1930s, according to Vivian, the self-described shy twin.
Violet, the more talkative one, elaborated, “We dressed up in long dresses once a week and went to the rec hall upstairs in Jones and danced—just girls. And we always went to chapel during the week in Dulany, and on Sundays we walked downtown to the Christian Church, properly dressed, with gloves and everything.”
When it came time for dates, Violet said, “A chaperone, a teacher here, had to get in the taxi with you and your date. Then she would have to sit all evening at the dance, and became part of the wallpaper.”
Violet remembers fondly what it was like to attend an all-girls school.
“We were perfectly relaxed. There were no disruptions. Our social life didn’t interfere with college.”
Vivian was a music major, who especially enjoyed French and psychology. Violet was an education major—her favorite classes were history and psychology.
Despite their love for psychology, they didn’t really go to class as frequently as their teacher thought.
“My psych class met three times a week and the teacher told me I was coming too many times,” Vivian remembers. “She said, ‘This class meets three times a week, but you’ve been coming six times.’ You see, I went three days and Violet went three days and the teacher couldn’t tell us apart.”
Vivian only stayed at the two-year school for a year. She was married in the company of family and friends in the parlor of Jones Hall. Dr. Egbert Railey Cockrell, president of William Woods, performed the ceremony, and William Meldrum, her music teacher, played the white baby grand piano.
Her music lessons at WWU came in handy as she was the organist for her church and taught piano lessons for more than 75 years.
Violet, on the other hand, stayed at William Woods for another year. She was senior class president and valedictorian.
“I just like studies,” she said.
Violet went on to the University of Missouri to get an education degree and then taught in Centralia until she met her husband in 1938.
She may have been serious about her studies, but there was a mischievous streak to this twin.
“I remember being ‘campused’–that’s when you are restricted to campus and not allowed to go anywhere.”
She explained, “We were smoking down in the county courthouse. Why? Because we couldn’t smoke here. We were ‘campused’ for a month—one whole month.”
And she didn’t always follow the rules about chaperones either. As valedictorian, Violet gave the required graduation speech, but she didn’t stick around for the reception afterward.
“I slipped out the bathroom window of Cockrell to go on a date and landed in a spinach patch,” she said.
Vivian, who was married and living in Wellsville, was part of the plot. She had come to campus for graduation and switched places with her twin.
“Everyone congratulated me for a lovely speech and I just smiled and said ‘thank you.’”
Eighty years later, the women have neither lost their sense of humor, nor their love for William Woods.
“Memories make you want to come back. It was a fun school. My interest in William Woods has grown,” Violet said. “Since I was on the alumni board, it has become an important part of my later life. I’m proud of it.”
Vivian added, “I feel the same way. I’m very proud of William Woods.”
Members of the William Woods University Alumni Board, Cindy Logan (left) and Sally Frank, hold the signed photos given to the Strank twins, while Becky Stinson, alumni director, presents pink roses to Vivian Strank Updyke (left) and Violet Strank Lehman.
Violet Strank Lehman (left) and Vivian Strank Updyke.
Violet Strank Lehman (left) and Vivian Strank Updyke.
During their 100th birthday celebration, Violet Strank Lehman (left) and Vivian Strank Updyke stand before a blowup photo of their childhood home.
Vivian Strank Updyke (left) and Violet Strank Lehman wait to greet friends at their birthday party.