116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LaVona and LaVelda Rowe of Iowa City were identical twins — and also “mirror” twins, meaning they “matched” when they looked at each other, as if they were looking in a mirror.
Born Nov. 15, 1933, LaVona was six minutes older than her sister. By the time they were 13, it was difficult to tell them apart unless you knew LaVelda was left-handed and LaVona was right-handed.
The two were uncannily in tune with each other and able to finish each other’s sentences
“In high school,” LaVona said, “we once were accused of cheating because we gave identical answers in tests. They put us in different rooms. We still had the same answers.”
In 1955, the Rowe twins organized the Hawkeye Twin Club while they were students at the University of Iowa. It was not recognized as a university sanctioned club because its focus was social rather than academic. But that lack of official acknowledgment didn’t bother the twins because they still could use university facilities for meetings and parties.
The club grew to 12 sets of twins in six months. Four years later, the organization had 800 sets of twins and was part of the International Twins Association.
The Rowe twins’ lives were off and running.
In 1958, they were declared the most identical set of twins of the 5,000 sets in the International Twins Association. Dr. Philip Clark of Michigan State University, an authority on twins, declared the Rowes were “the most identical set of twins I have encountered anywhere.”
Hawaii native Alice Okuhama, a third-grade teacher at Noelridge Elementary in Cedar Rapids, taught the Rowe twins how to dance the hula so they could perform at the International Twins convention in 1959.
The twins were so much alike that people wondered if their fingerprints were the same. The FBI checked and reported, “Their fingerprints have a similarity of pattern, but they are not identical.”
‘What’s My Line?’
Before they attended the 26th International Twins Association convention in St. Louis in 1960, the Rowe twins traveled to New York City to appear on the “What’s My Line” television show’s Twins Night. The panelists had to guess the twins’ occupation — freelance news and portrait photographers.
LaVona once had tried to take a photograph of panelist Bennett Cerf when he was at a University of Iowa event, but the light on her camera broke and Cerf joked with her about it. He didn’t know then she was a twin. Program officials invited the twins to appear on the program in an attempt to fool Cerf.
Their careers as news photographers began in college, where they were stringers for wire services. They then worked for a broadcast station, opened their own commercial photo studio business and eventually became the first female photographers for the Chicago Daily News in 1963.
The confectioners’ industry sponsored them as “The Candy Twins,” and they also appeared on the TV shows “Who Do You Trust?” and “Play Your Hunch.”
In 1963, the twins were sick and unable to spend their birthday with their parents, Robert and Velda Runyon Rowe. Instead, each one sent flowers to their parents.
LaVona’s came with the message, “Thank you for Nov. 15, 1933, Twin No. 1.” LaVelda’s flowers carried the same message, except it was signed “Twin No. 2.” It began a tradition, with the twins sending flowers to their parents every Nov. 15.
By 1970, the twins headed the Chicagoland Twins Chapter, but they remained co-vice presidents of the Hawkeye Twin Chapter. They represented Chicago at the international convention.
In Chicago, their careers revolved around modeling, dancing and acting as well as doing trade shows and commercials, TV shows and radio. They also continued to be involved in genetics research and twin symposiums.
The twins began dating a pair of mirror twins from Aurora, Ill., in September 1975. They’d met Arthur and Alwin Richmond at a twins convention in Atlanta, Ga.
They were married June 5, 1976, at Iowa City’s First Baptist Church — Arthur to LaVelda and Alwin to LaVona. The couples bought a big house in Aurora, Ill., and moved in together. Neither couple had children.
In 1990, LaVona and LaVelda were the subject of a story on TV’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” In the 1950s, when the twins were 19, LaVelda was in a car accident. LaVona, who was at home at the time, was able to describe what was happening to her twin at the time.
In 1991, LaVelda, LaVona and Alwin returned to Iowa City — Arthur, LaVelda’s husband, had died a few years before — for a special service at First Baptist honoring those who had been married or baptized at the church. The twins’ double wedding was probably the most famous of the events.
The twins and Alwin returned to Iowa City in 1997 for the 40th state convention of the Hawkeye Twins Club that the sisters had started as UI students.
Back to Iowa
In 2002, the twins and Alwin moved to North English, about 30 miles southwest of Iowa City. Four years later, Alwin died. He was buried beside his brother in Aurora.
LaVelda, the youngest Rowe twin, died Oct. 15, 2009. LaVona would live 10 more years, dying Nov. 25, 2019, in Williamsburg at age 86. She was buried beside her sister in the North English Cemetery.