McDonnell twins celebrate 99 years

Ninety-nine times two ... Tom, left, and his twin brother, Vern, now both reside at the health care facility in Philip. Father Ron Garry, Philip, was one of many friends and family members helping the brothers celebrate their May 15 birthday.

Family and friends celebrated Tom and Francis "Vern" McDonnell's 99th birthdays Saturday, May 15, at the Philip Nursing Home.

The McDonnell twins were born May 15, 1911, on their parents' homestead north of Quinn. Dodging the question, Tom said, "Vern says that he can't remember who is older. I know that I came here 99 years ago with nothing, and I still have it."

Vern has been in the Philip nursing home for a few years now. Tom has just moved into the health care facility.

Tom thought the birthday party was good, but, "Any good whiskey would give it a boost."

"There's always some of those good old stories you gotta tell," said Tom. He should know. Two weeks before his birthday, and only two days before moving into Philip, Tom worked three hours driving a D-8 Caterpillar. Two years ago, he used earthmoving equipment to single-handedly build an earthen dam just south of Cottonwood. For years, he would drive himself, on a very frequent basis, from Wall to Philip in order to visit with Vern.

Earthmoving work was done by both men once upon a time. In 1936, Vern and Rich Smith hauled out the old Quinn main street and brought in gravel to make the street new again.

Born to Frank and Ida McDonnell, who had homesteaded their land, the boys spent much of their lives on that farm. They first used horses for the work, as well as for buggy transportation. When cars began to be common in the area, they first bought a used Star, later trading it for a 1929 Chevy. Their first tractor was a Fordson, and later a 1020 McCormick. Those earlier days were also the advent of electric power in the region.

Surviving off of milk cows, chickens and a garden, their family made it through the Great Depression fairly well, even though during one year they could not raise any kind of farm crop at all.

Those were the days of self-created entertainment, such as dances at the Cottonwood Hall. Vern met his wife-to-be, Beaulah Ruland, at one of those dances. They married in 1935. Vern's only son, Steve, and his family currently operate the place, often, at least until recently, with the help of Tom.

Vern was drafted in 1942, even though he was 31-years-old, to serve in World War II. He was in the 95th Division of the 320 Engineers, which served in Germany, France, Belgium and Holland.

Tom married Rose Melvin in 1945. They had no children. Vern has one son, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Both men are now widowers.

A number of years back, Vern survived a heart attack, and since has been living in the Philip Nursing Home. He still does some things with his brother. In 2007, the two men were co-marshalls for Wall's centennial parade.

Though still living a life full of old and new stories, Tom said, "Ain't no use trying to get out of dying. It'll happen to everyone some day." He thinks that he'll probably be still saying that after his and Vern's next birthday.