Twins honored at celebration in Wellsville

Celebrating a 100th birthday is a big deal, but it's even bigger when you get to do it with your twin.
Identical twins Vivian Updyke and Violet Lehman celebrated their 100th birthday on Dec. 15, 2012, with an open house at the Wellsville United Methodist-Presbyterian Church. As children, the duo was known as the Strank twins. On Dec. 5, they earned a new title (per a website listing of oldest living identical twins) as the 10th oldest living set in the United States and the 22nd oldest in the world. Per statisticians, the odds of identical twins living to be 100 is one in 700 million.
"It was fantastic," Violet said as she spoke about the gathering.
"Simply beautiful," Vivian chimed in.
Family and friends hosted the birthday reception held Saturday. The twins received proclamations and special recognitions from the mayors of Wellsville and Atchinson, Kan., from state and national legislators and President Barack Obama. A blanket was even made in the lady's honor with a photograph of their homestead that still stands in all its glory on the outskirts of Wellsville. Photos of the girls as babies and young adults were also displayed.
The ladies were born in Middletown, daughters of Ben and Lillie Strank, who moved to Wellsville when the girls were six years old. At first glance, the two well-dressed women with the striking white hair seem as indistinguishable as identical twins should be.
Both are spunky and have a zest for life. Violet, the oldest of the two, is very outspoken, loves laughter and sharing her million dollar smile. Vivian also has an exuberant personality, but she seems a little more shy and laid back than her sister. The two had a younger brother, Gale, who is deceased, but best remembered as an accomplished soloist and member of many quartets.
The twins enrolled in William Woods University during the 1930s when the school was known as a sort of finishing school for girls. Vivian completed the two-year course, and following her marriage to Allen Updyke she returned to Wellsville, where she continues to live. She has always loved music and for many years taught piano to area students, officially retiring in 2001. Vivian served as pianist/organist for the Wellsville United Methodist-Presbyterian Church for 78 years in addition to helping with piano accomplishments for high school choirs and groups. Until her recent move to a local nursing facility, she had lived in the family's East Hudson Street home.
Violet stayed at William Woods an additional year and went on to attend the University of Missouri, where she earned her degree in education. She taught in Centralia until she met her husband in 1938 and the two moved to Atchinson, Kan., where she continues to live an active life in her community.
Six years ago, during Alumni Weekend at William Woods, the alumni board dedicated a room in the Mildred Fox Fairchild Alumni House to the twins. In addition, Violet and Vivian announced that they had donated $10,000 to the university to endow a student scholarship.
Both ladies are world travelers. As young women, they traveled to New York. The two entered a "Make The Most Of Yourself" contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine and won a six-week complete make-over, which included spa treatments, new clothing, make-up advice and a feature in the magazine, called the "Twinderella Story."
That would be the beginning of many travels the two would make to all parts of the country. They've even been on an African safari and to every continent except Australia.
The secret to their longevity, both twins agree, is that they chose to "live life."
"I guess you could say we were born with good genes," Vivian said. As young children, the twins recall walking a great distance to get back and forth.
"We walked a mile each way, and did that three times a day," Violet said. "So, I guess that combined with good living, we've enjoyed whatever we've done in life. We love life, and we have been fortunate to afford world travel."
They also enjoy a good bridge game every now and then.
Vivian said "being 100 is phenomenal. We never thought we'd live to be here." Violet backed her up, saying "Our next challenge is to make it to Heaven."
The extended family remains close and seems to take pride in their lineage. Vivian has three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and Violet has one daughter. From the youngest to the oldest, each knows the Strank legacy.