Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president, once said, “It’s not the years in your life; it’s the life in your years.” Anticipating their 90th birthdays today, identical twins Hank and Ed White look back on a lifetime full of “life in their years.”
The twins believe they lived apart for only a year and a half since 1917. They have remained close through the death of their father, World War II, and a successful business venture, White Block Co.
“He’s never learned he could whip me,” Hank laughs, revealing the secret to their close relationship. “And I could whip him, so it balanced out.”
Born in Anaconda, Mont., it has always been difficult to tell the White boys apart. Hank believes there may be some discrepancy as to whether he is truly Hank or Ed.
“Really they don’t know,” Hank, the oldest of the twins, said. “When we were babies they changed the diaper and would forget who jumped out of which diaper. He might be me and I might be him two or three times over, and that’s the truth.”
Hank took full advantage of being a twin while growing up. Attending elementary school in a small schoolhouse in Priest River, Idaho, Ed often wound up punished for Hank’s hijinks.
“I was a nice little kid, but the teacher always accused me of stuff and say ‘You’re staying in tonight,’ ” Hank laughs. “When the bell rang, I would take off. She’d grab Ed and make him stay.”
The Depression brought its share of hardship to their family’s farm in Priest River. Their father died in 1926, leaving their mom with five children to raise. The brothers stepped in and did what they could to help the family survive.
“We would watch the wagons go down the road,” Hank recalls. “If it had a load of wood, we would follow it and see if we could get some money to put it in their basement or pile it for them.”
Their mother remarried in 1927 and their stepfather believed education was secondary to work. The twins left school after finishing the eighth grade. Trading books for logging equipment, the boys spent hours sawing and hauling logs.
In 1935, they joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and worked around Priest Lake for a year. The camps closed and they worked at Fort George Wright for another year.
Soon afterward, their younger sister, Clara, introduced both men to their future wives, Ruth and Abbie. Both couples wed in Sandpoint in 1937. Hank and Abbie were wed on May 29; Ed and Ruth on July 17.
“I figured if he could support a woman on cutting a few logs in the woods and eating peanut butter sandwiches I guess I could, too,” Ed laughs.
After their weddings, the two couples lived together along with their older brother Bill for a year in a two-bedroom log cabin.
“You had to get by,” Ed said of the living arrangements. “When things started picking up, Ruth and I moved to Priest River.”
Both marriages stood the test of time. Ed and Ruth will celebrate their 70th anniversary July 17. They have two children, Gail Corigliano and Mike White.
Hank and Abbie spent 66 years together; Abbie died one day after their 66th wedding anniversary on May 30, 2003. They had two children, Lyle White, who died eight years ago, and Wayne White.
In their mid-20s, Ed and Hank traveled to Alaska together to work on the Alaska Highway, leaving their wives behind. After two winters, Ed quit and returned home.
At 27, World War II called the twins to duty. When Hank received his draft notice, Ed volunteered so they could serve together. The Army assigned the twins to Company K, 136th Infantry 33rd Division in the Pacific with the promise of keeping them together.
Even so, they found themselves separated on three occasions. Each time the brothers sought out the chaplain to have their orders changed.
After returning from the war, Hank and Ed founded White Block Co. in 1947 on East Trent. They originally hoped to start a heavy-duty truck shop. However, the equipment they needed was in short supply because of the war.
“A friend of ours had an old block machine,” Ed remembers. “We would pile our blocks out by the road and put a sprinkler on them. People came along and started buying them, so we decided that is something we have to go into.”
Now in its third generation of family ownership, Hank and Ed retired from the company in 1977. However, retirement did not mean they stopped working.
“The grandkids had jobs to do,” Ed said. “I kept just about as busy as I was before.”
“They are always willing to help,” Bruce Corigliano, Hank White’s grandson, said. “They would sacrifice what they were doing because you were important.”
Hank currently lives at Orchard Crest. Ed and Ruth are residents of Holman Gardens in the Valley. Hank has five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Ed has five grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.
“There have been so many good things that have happened, not so many bad ones,” Hank said of the past 90 years.
Looking forward he added, “We’re pretty healthy. Maybe we’ll make 100.”