By DAVID GREEN
A generation ago, the birth of twins often came as a surprise. There was no such thing as a sonogram showing the grainy photo of the developing child—or two. Often it was just the astonishment of hearing the doctor say, “There’s another one coming!”
“We’d look at the birth announcements in the newspapers,” said Shirley Fritz of Bryan, a charter member of the Bryan Mothers of Twins Club. “We’d send a note or go visit them in the hospital to invite them to join the club.”
The Twins Club organized in 1958 at the home of Wanda Harrison.
“That was the year my twins were born,” Shirley said. “She came to the hospital and asked me to join. I figured I needed all the help I could get.”
There were 21 members that inaugural year—sisters Hutoka “Tokie” Opdycke and Fern Merillat are the other two charter members still involved—and they met monthly in the Girl Scout room in Bryan during the school year. Rent for the room cost $3 a month.
“Those old rickety steps,” recalls Judy Moore of Bryan.
“They shut the heat off and the meeting ended,” added Mardine Towne of Morenci.
“Twice Blessed Ever Friends” was the club motto and the purpose was listed as promoting interest in and supplying information about twins.
“We covered quite an area,” noted Barbara Dennis of Wauseon.
The club name says Bryan, but before long the majority of members were from other communities throughout Northwest Ohio, plus Mardine from Morenci.
“After a while we decided it wasn’t fair to make people like Mardine drive all that way,” Shirley said.
Meetings then moved to members’ homes, and that could be an ordeal for the hostess. Membership peaked at 25 in the 1982-83 year.
Eventually, membership dwindled as twins grew up and new mothers were too busy to join.
A dozen or so members still meet twice a year for lunch at the Barn restaurant near Archbold, but the agenda is little more than a meal and a get-together.
It wasn’t always that way.
A busy group
Minutes from meetings past show programs such as Dr. Mayberry speaking about childhood diseases, Cloyce Storrer talking about wills, Dr. Cameron talking about menopause and John Winzeler discussing education for elementary age children.
There were a lot of trips to restaurants because these mothers needed a break from preparing the meal.
“It was our night out,” Judy said.
Snippets from the club history include: “Ate at Elders Restaurant.” “May meeting at Beck’s Restaurant.” “Ate at Harbaugh’s Restaurant in Fayette.” “Husband’s Night at Hughs Restaurant.”
Husbands were invited once a year and many of them became good friends. 1959: “Husband’s Night at LaMar’s dining room. Played Cootie. Husbands designed dress for wife from newspaper.”
The twins mothers made sure the group had some fun, such as in 1967 when they “had a backward meeting, wore clothes backward.”
Club members were also serious about helping others. To this day, members still sell washcloths, paring knives and kitchen choppers to raise money for others in need.
“We had garage sales,” said Donna Lingvai of Edgerton.
“We had garage sales before anyone knew what a garage sale was,” Mardine added.
The club traveled to one of the cottages at the state mental hospital in Toledo every year for a party with residents. They brought refreshments and played Bingo for prizes.
Mental health was a state-wide goal for Ohio’s collection of twins clubs.
“Each individual club would do something in the mental health field to earn points,” Shirley said.
Club members planned special events such as a style show at Zone school—it was fun, but not a financial success.
“The people we brought weren’t flush with cash,” Shirley explained.
The fund-raising allowed the club to buy graduation presents for twins leaving high school and gifts for baby showers. Various service organizations also asked for donations.
“They all had our address,” Mardine said.
“$50 here, $50 there,” said Shirley.
The club paid for its Mother of the Year to attend the state Twins Club convention and there was often someone attending the annual festival in Twinsburg, Ohio.
One year Tokie went and won the prize for having the twins living the farthest apart—one in Alaska and one back in Northwest Ohio.
A source of help
The core purpose of the club—helping other mothers raise their twins—remained at the forefront.
“I joined in order to get help raising my twins,” Donna said. “It really helped out.”
Potty training two children at once.
Jealousy issues, such as when one child developed faster than the other.
Should twins be separated at school?
One child with athletic ability; the other twin without.
“If someone had a question, everyone would chip in with an answer,” Shirley said.
“I had lots of questions,” Donna recalls.
She said her husband still has trouble telling their twins apart.
There was also the issue of clothing. Grandparents enjoyed buying matching clothes for the twins; Shirley remembers deliberately buying clothing that was different.
“My boys never wanted to dress alike,” Barbara said.
“The Twins Club is where God chooses the members,” Mardine said, echoing the slogan of the club, but the twins didn’t all arrive in the expected way.
Judy’s were adopted, but just like a mother of the times, she wasn’t expecting twins. She remembers the day a woman from the adoption agency arrived.
“She looked at me and said ‘I have one for you.’ Then she looked at my husband and said ‘And I’ve got one for you.’”
Just like that, she was eligible for club membership.
That story reminded Louise Keiser of her twins’ arrival.
“I didn’t know until I got to the hospital,” she said. “They told me I had too many arms and legs kicking.”
Former member June Franks of Fayette was the only mother in the club with two sets of twins.
Those with identical twins always have stories to tell. Tokie recalls putting the names of her sons on their shirts to help the teachers tell one from the other, but the boys changed shirts. When they were older, they once changed girlfriends, and that didn’t go over too well with their dates.
“I’m still hearing stories,” Tokie said.
Those stories have been told over five decades, although now it’s only updates on how families are doing.
“We don’t have problems with our kids anymore,” Mardine said.
“But we still talk about them,” Shirley said.
Officially, the club still has officers and Fern gets the president-for-life honor.
“When no else wanted to take it, we always said that Fern will do it,” Mardine explained.
As president, Fern doesn’t have much work to do.
“Our business now is just getting together,” Shirley said.
“As you can see, we’re not as quick as we were when we joined the club,” said Judy as she walked into the Barn last week. “But we’re still good friends after all these years.”
Friendship is what keeps the club going, so long after the twins have left home.
“We’ve always just enjoyed being friends,” said Mardine.