The first triplets born at Sacred Heart Hospital not only beat the odds against survival as infants, but are still going strong at 70.
Ray and Ron Schmitt and Arlene (Schmitt) Mowatt celebrated their birthday in Cheney Saturday afternoon.
“To make it to 70 when some of us probably shouldn’t have made it past birth, yeah, we’re pretty lucky,” Ray Schmitt said.
The triplets were born to Otto and Agnes Schmitt on July 8, 1941, a time when multiple births were infrequent and often fatal. Although born a month premature, the three were healthy, all weighing in at more than 5 pounds. They were delivered naturally in less than an hour at Sacred Heart, which was constructed 57 years earlier and is now Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“It went well,” Ray Schmitt said. “(Mom) was very fortunate. It was hotter than hell that summer, and she did great. Mom was tough. God, she was tough.”
The triplets’ maternal grandmother had triplets of her own in the 1800s, but they died within two days. That likely explains why Agnes Schmitt cried when she learned she was carrying three babies, the siblings said.
“I suppose she was scared,” Mowatt said.
The blue-eyed babies were somewhat famous locally. They were named Baby Spokane in 1942, in a contest held by the Spokane Daily Chronicle.
Carnation delivered free milk in exchange for the triplets appearing in its advertisements. They also appeared in diaper advertisements for Sears, which held a promotional event in which the public could catch a glimpse of the Schmitt babies.
“These beautiful babies are certain to thrill the hearts of many Inland Empire mothers, and it’s a rare treat we can assure you to see such good looking, healthy babies,” an advertisement promoting the event read. “And especially outstanding is the fact that they are triplets.”
And thrill the hearts of many they did. People would even knock on the door wanting to see the babies, “like we were different than any other babies,” Mowatt said. “Mother said people would just drive up – complete strangers – and say they wanted to see the triplets.”
The Cheney High School graduates have all remained in the area. Mowatt retired from Eastern Washington University, where she worked as a librarian. Ron Schmitt worked as a farmer on their original homestead in the Lance Hills just outside Cheney, and Ray Schmitt farmed in Sprague.
The three were raised with no electricity or running water, along with a sister, a half sister and a half brother. Times were tough and money was short, said the triplets’ half brother, Bob Danforth, 81, who was a boy when his father – Agnes Schmitt’s first husband – died of a heart attack.
“It was a tough go, but the kids survived pretty well,” Danforth said. “We were just barely getting by.”
The siblings have 10 children and 19 grandchildren – no multiple births, but Danforth has two sets of twin grandchildren. Most of the family reside in the Spokane area.
“It’s fun,” Mowatt said. “We’ve never gotten too far away. We’re pretty close.”