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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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For 97 birthdays, twins have been inseparable

Twins Kathleen and Ethlyn DeCamp blow out 97 candles during their birthday party at Anthony's restaurant Thursday afternoon. The sisters  still live together. 
 (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)
Twins Kathleen and Ethlyn DeCamp blow out 97 candles during their birthday party at Anthony's restaurant Thursday afternoon. The sisters still live together. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

Identical twins Ethlyn and Kathleen DeCamp, who turn 97 today, say the secret to their long life has been sharing it.

Since the womb, the sisters have been inseparable. They never married. They’ve always lived together. After their retirement, they shared the joy of traveling the world: Japan, Spain, Morocco, France, Mexico. When their parents died, they shared the sadness and introspection.

They even shared blowing out nearly 100 candles that lighted up two identical strawberry cheesecakes at their early birthday celebration Thursday. Friends and four generations of relatives gathered to mark the occasion.

The sisters don’t worry about death; they dread being alone.

“I was worried more than anything else that I’d go first or she’d go first and we’d leave each other,” said Kathleen, the younger of the two by half an hour. “We’ve been together so long.”

They’ve lived through 18 presidents, and their life can be measured by the terms of those men.

The DeCamps were born in Spokane in 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. They laughed as they recalled life before electricity, cars and washing machines – when gasoline lamps, horses and buggies, and scrubbing laundry by hand were the norm.

They poke fun at the excitement people felt when the radio made its debut and the accomplishment of tuning into a broadcasting station from the East.

Their father was an engineer, and the family moved around a lot. But they made their way back to Spokane and the girls graduated from North Central High School in 1926, when Coolidge was in office.

After attending Washington State College – as WSU was called then – for one year, the twins quit to take jobs. Ethlyn worked for the Federal Land Bank, and Kathleen worked in lumber company offices. They retired during the Ford administration.

They were avid golfers, swimmers, knitters and anglers. They remember fondly how their younger brother – Thomas Warren DeCamp, who died 15 years ago at age 80 – used to steal their catch when they waded in Twin Lakes, Idaho.

The twins started cutting down on their physical activity a few years ago.

“They’ve had some 97-year-old body problems,” said JoAnne McMath, whose mother was the twins’ cousin.

Both women have had hip replacements, wear hearing aids and sport artificial upper teeth. Ethlyn had a heart valve replaced 20 years ago – during Reagan’s second term – and Kathleen had an operation to treat colon cancer 10 years ago, when Clinton was president.

“But we both survived,” Ethlyn said.

The women still walk unaided – Ethlyn is using a walker this week, after her hip slipped out of its socket again – and clean their own apartment in a retirement village. They play cards and do the newspaper crossword puzzle daily.

“Sometimes you feel young and sometimes not so young,” Ethlyn said. “When my shoulder hurts, I feel old.”

Kathleen chimed in, “As far as I’m concerned, I can do what I want to do. I don’t feel old. I know that I’m not young, but I feel all right.”

A few years ago – recently enough that George W. Bush was president – Ethlyn went down a pool slide.

“The kids were so surprised,” Ethlyn said with a laugh. “The rest of them were doing it, so I thought I would, too.”

Bonnie Mahoney, 52, McMath’s daughter, said the sisters are fiercely independent and yet responsible: They willingly gave up driving at age 90. “If I gotta live that long, I want to live like them,” Mahoney said.

Lee Herling, 74, another distant cousin, is amazed by the sisters’ interaction. “They always seem to know what the other is thinking,” Herling said.

Kathleen DeCamp said they’ve been lucky to have each other. Ethlyn reminds her of things she forgets. Kathleen does the bookkeeping.

Teachers in grade school disapproved of their closeness, the women remember.

“They thought we were together too much” and tried to separate them, said Ethlyn. “I don’t know, maybe we were, but I wouldn’t want to change it. It’s wonderful always having someone there.”

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