Together again: Cedar Rapids' Mead Triplets, now 83, returning for Franklin High School reunion

Walter, Wayne and Warne were born in 1934, graduated in 1952

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One is a Vietnam veteran, one served in the battle for civil rights, the third owned and operated a well-known Cedar Rapids business.

And when triplets Walter, Wayne and Warne Mead were born on May 25, 1934, in Cedar Rapids, they were the talk of the town as multiple births weren’t common at the time.

The Gazette covered their birth and followed them over the years, documenting their first birthday, second Christmas, what life was like for their sister Miriam, when they earned their Eagle Scout badges, their selection to Boys State, their graduation and their 50th high school reunion.

Now, the Mead boys, age 83, are returning to Cedar Rapids once again and say they are looking forward to the 65th reunion of Franklin High School’s Class of 1952 this weekend.

“I’m particularly interested in the rebuilding from the flood,” said Warne Mead, who now lives in Fayetteville, N.C. “That was just massive.”

Walter Mead, who now lives near Peoria, Ill., said he’s looking forward to seeing good friends.

“I enjoy the people I know that come back. A number of people have been with me and my brothers all the way from kindergarten through high school.”

Most classmates knew about Walter, Wayne and Warne Mead.

“It was a big deal when they were born,” said classmate Denny Hanson of Coralville. “They were featured a few times in The Gazette during their upbringing.”

Hanson, who is helping organize the reunion, expects about 50 people, including spouses, to attend. He said the graduating class numbered 156.

What’s in a name?

Otis and Emma Mead named their sons for the doctors who assisted in their delivery.

“Mother decided that each of us would be named after a doctor who helped in the birth,” said Warne Mead. “There was a Dr. Warren, and she decided that all three would start with a ‘w’ and have five letters. I was a senior citizen before people actually spelled my name right.”

Walter’s birth name actually was Waldo. He legally changed his first name in the early 1970s.

“Some people at the reunion may call me that, and I don’t mind,” he said. “But when it came time to publish books, I didn’t want to put that on the cover page.”

All three triplets surviving to 83 is noteworthy. Three sisters from New York born in August 1920 are believed to be the oldest living triplets in the country.

“Good strong genes,” said Warne Mead.

Older sister Miriam also survives, in Berkeley, Calif.

“She’s the unsung hero,” said Walter Mead. “Can you imagine an only child at the age of six, suddenly with all the sibling rivalry and people saying, ‘Oh, you’re the sister of the Mead triplets?’ We didn’t appreciate it then, but we do now.”

“She was instrumental in getting us grown up right,” agreed Warne Mead. “She was incredible.”

Life at home

Miriam Mead’s supervision of her younger brothers was a big help during the regular absences of their father. Otis Mead’s job working aboard baggage and express cars on Rock Island Railroad passenger trains took him away for days at a time.

“He was gone two or three days,” Warne Mead said. “He’d be on a run up to Sioux Falls, S.D., and he’d come back and be off a couple of days.”

“Mom was, with triplets, a very busy person,” said Warne Mead. “Outside the home, she served as a substitute schoolteacher.”

The Meads lived on 28th Street NE.

“It was very carefree,” Walter Mead said. “My folks locked the door to the house, but they left the key hanging on a nail next to the door.”

“The majority of us never knew we were poor,” said Warne Mead. “We had a big garden at the house.”

Wayne and Warne are identical triplets. Walter is the fraternal triplet, which had its advantages.

“It was hard enough to be referred to as one of the Mead triplets, but I was glad to be somewhat more distinguishable,” he said. “A teacher thinking Wayne was Warne would grab onto him and have him stay after school.”

School and jobs

The Meads attended Arthur Elementary School, still in operation at 2630 B Ave. NE. Franklin High School, 300 20th St. NE, is now a middle school but looks much as it did when the Class of ’52 graduated.

Graduation that year didn’t come off without a hitch: in the days before commencement the bust of namesake Benjamin Franklin disappeared from the school’s lobby as part of a class prank. Only after it reappeared a few days later were the chief suspects allowed to join their classmates.

“I don’t admit it much, but oh yes,” said Warne Mead. “Heavily involved.”

“It wasn’t just the three of us,” added Walter Mead. “There were a couple others.”

After high school, Warne Mead attended Iowa State University, but for only a couple semesters.

“Playing too much, I guess, and they decided that the school and myself should part,” he said. “I had received an appointment to West Point, so I knew I was all right.”

Walter Mead graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., then from Yale Divinity School. Ordained as a Methodist minister, he briefly served a congregation before earning his master’s degree and doctorate in political science from Duke University.

Wayne Mead earned a degree in business administration from the University of Iowa, where he participated in the Army ROTC program. After active duty he returned to Cedar Rapids and went to work at the Ogden & Adams Lumber, where he’d started as a janitor at age 12.

Owner Denver Adams and his wife were longtime family friends, and Wayne Mead worked his way up to manage, then own, the business.

“Except for the Army, it was the only employer I ever had,” Wayne Mead wrote in an email.

Wayne Mead sold the business and retired in 1996. He now lives on Marco Island, Fla., returning late last week after the island was evacuated for Hurricane Irma.

Warne Mead served two tours in Vietnam, teaching at West Point in between.

“Learning experiences, I think I had my best ones in Vietnam,” he said. He retired from the Army in 1981.

Walter Mead became involved in the civil rights movement while at Duke.

“I ended up working on a chain gang in North Carolina for participating in a (lunch counter) sit-in,” he said.

Walter Mead spent 50 years teaching political science, mostly at Illinois State University. He’s currently writing a book on political philosophy.

“My brothers and I were born in the midst of the Depression, but we as kids didn’t feel the pain that some people did,” he said. “But we did learn frugality.”

The Franklin High class of ’52 gathers for a social on Friday evening at Elmcrest Country Club, 1 Zach Johnson Dr. NE, and for a dinner Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Marriott Hotel on Collins Road NE.

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