Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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She's my sister

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    Dorpha Bok, Delpha Hoffman, and Donelda McWilliams of Defiance.

    lisa dutton / blade

  • She-s-my-sister

    Theresa Lagger, left, and her sister, Linda Bourgeois, toured the Toledo Museum of Art's Van Gogh exhibit.

    lisa dutton / blade

  • She-s-my-sister-3

    Barbara Selvey, left, and her sister, Cecelia Peters.


Theresa Lagger, left, and her sister, Linda Bourgeois, toured the Toledo Museum of Art's Van Gogh exhibit.

lisa dutton / blade Enlarge

They may live thousands of miles from each other, or just a block away; they may be years apart, or close in age. Regardless, sisters share relationships unlike any other, bonds that last from childhood to old age. Women who are biological sisters spoke recently of the strong ties that have bound them since childhood.

Linda Bourgeois, 46, of Toledo, and only sister Theresa Lagger, 38, of Lake Township, grew up in a household with parents Melvin and Kathleen Sulewski, and three brothers, Dennis, Mark, and Scott.

The sisters said that while their age difference, some eight years, was significant in their youth, it now has no bearing on their relationship. In fact, the sisters agree that they are closer now than ever before and describe one another as “best friends.”

On this day Mrs. Bourgeois and Mrs. Lagger sit close together on a bench inside the Toledo Museum of Art after viewing the Van Gogh exhibit on their lunch break, and reminisce of their days growing up together.

"Linda always had the hottest clothes. I remember she had this gold jumpsuit with pink stripes --- it was the '70s, and it looked so good on her.

I was always sneaking it on, and thinking 'some day I might be able to wear this'," said Mrs. Lagger, who is the youngest of all her siblings.

Mrs. Bourgeois' memory is quite different from her sister's: "She would always tell me that I dressed too old," said the Teledyne employee.

The sisters said they shared a 9-by-9-foot room throughout their youth, until Mrs. Bourgeois and her husband, Tom, married when she was in her early 20s. Mrs. Lagger was about 15 years old at the time. Today, the Bourgeois couple have been married 24 years and are parents to two sons in college, Clint, 22, and Alex, who turns 19 tomorrow.

“I remember when my sister was pregnant with Clint, there wasn't anybody who didn't know. I was so excited when he was born. Later, I even went to [Parent Teacher Association] meetings with her,” said Mrs. Lagger, who said her sister was her confirmation sponsor at church.

“We always include each other in everything we do. Our [circles of friends] have meshed, and we talk on the phone about every single event,” said Mrs. Lagger, who has been married to husband Jim for 15 years. Jim is the best friend of the brother of Mrs. Bourgeois' husband.

The two are adamant that they learned how to be close sisters from their mother and their aunt, the late Corrine Reineke of Fostoria, who died this month.

“Because of our mother and her sister . . .” said Mrs. Bourgeois. "They showed us how to be sisters," said Mrs. Lagger, finishing her sister's sentence.

Linda Whittington-Clark, a local psychologist, said the special bond between sisters has much to do with traits inherent in women.

“What appears to happen between biological sisters versus biological brothers, is that women in general tend to be the carriers of culture, so they are the teachers of not only their children, but the cousins, and nieces and nephews. And as women age, we take on more responsibility as the matriarchs in the family,” said Dr. Whittington-Clark, who heads Avenues to Healing (Center for Families and Women), and Whittington-Clark and Associates in Toledo.

“Since women tend to be the culture centers, they also are the hub of information.

“As their mother ages and is unable to carry that [responsibility] on, sisters tend to fill that role, and take on the sharing of information between each other, and taking care of the aging parent, and the nurturing in the family,” the psychologist added.


Sisters Dorpha Bok, 81, Delpha Hoffman, 81, and Donelda McWilliams, 78, who live about seven miles apart in their native Defiance, said they have remained close throughout more than seven decades of life. The three have 30 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren among them


Dorpha Bok, Delpha Hoffman, and Donelda McWilliams of Defiance.

lisa dutton / blade Enlarge

“We've always been close, and we did everything together growing up. We even triple-dated. We get along very well, and sometimes we have our differences but we forget about it and move on. There's a real special bond between sisters, I think because we as women are all emotional," said Mrs. Bok, who is the twin sister of Ms. Hoffman. The three sisters' older brother, Floyd Hickok, died recently. He was 95.

Ms. Hoffman said she's so close to her sisters that she seems to always know when one of them is sick and when each was about to have her children.

“I don't know what it would be like not to have one of them. They share not only the sorrows but the good times, and we share our families," said Ms. Hoffman, who mentors youths and takes arts and crafts classes with her sister, Ms. McWilliams. The two are widows; Mrs. Bok is married to husband Joe.

Ms. McWilliams said after living some 38 years in northern Michigan, she moved back to Defiance to be closer to her sisters.

“It was the best move I ever made, to move back here. My sister Delpha and I are taking basket-weaving classes right now. It keeps us out of mischief,” she said.


Sisters Hazel and Barbara Selvey, both in their late 50s, and older sister Cecelia Peters, in her early 60s, all agree that they can't understand how siblings allow disagreements to ruin their relationships permanently.


Barbara Selvey, left, and her sister, Cecelia Peters.


“I didn't realize that my relationship with my sisters and brothers was so special until I would hear about other people's conflicts with their family. My parents emphasized family so much that I couldn't comprehend not speaking to my sisters. Sometimes we get teased and people call us `The Waltons' because they think our closeness can't be real, but it is,” said Ms. Selvey, an art instructor at Woodward High School.

Ms. Selvey's sister Hazel, the youngest of all her siblings, calls her around 9 a.m. every Sunday to wake her for worship service at Third Baptist Church, the family's home church. The three sisters say they are equally close to their two brothers, Edward, Jr., of St. Louis, Mo., and Robert, who lives in Toledo.

“Sometimes my sister is already awake, but I just [instinctively] call her each Sunday, and we'll ride together to church. Because of our closeness in age, our mother even used to dress us alike,” said Hazel Selvey, a tax specialist for H & R Block.

Older sister Cecelia Peters, a local pediatrician, said although she spent most of her school years living away from her siblings - she resided with an aunt in St. Louis during her early school years and attended college and medical school at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington - their relationship as adults is special.

“As we got older, we really enjoy each other. It's a close-knit family; we're even close to our cousins. I can't even recall since we've been grown, even a bad argument. This has made me think that I need to get my sisters together again,” said Mrs. Peters, who enjoys shopping trips and museum exhibits with her siblings.

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