The first surviving triplets born west of the Mississippi celebrated their 90th birthday at an open house June 16, while dozens of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren smothered them with hugs and best wishes.
The threesome - Vinal Mauss, Velma Mauss Torp and Vilda Mauss Hughes - are the oldest living triplets in the United States today.Born on Oct. 16, 1900, in Murray, Utah, to Michael and Charlottie Mauss, they celebrated their birthday four months early because Vinal's son Gordon and his family will soon be leaving the area. He was recently called as mission president of the New York Rochester Mission.
Since their birth, the LDS triplets have been the recipients of frequent attention from crowds and media alike. For years, their father would take them to the Utah State Fair, where they were a regular attraction at 25 cents a look.
"If it hadn't been for me," said last-born Vilda with a twinkle in her eye, "you two would have only been twins. I'm the one who's really famous."
When they were growing up, frequently they were a bit of a handful. In a biographical sketch given at the open house, Vinal's granddaughter Susan Eliason wrote of one such instance:
"So tiny that they fit easily - and simultaneously - in a warming oven [a popular baby-warming device of the dayT, the Three Vs didn't take long to jettison the title of `neighborhood wimps.' Vinal scored points among his peers when, as a precocious and determined 3-year-old he commandeered an abandoned milk wagon, driving his team of horses down the street with the finesse of a seasoned dairyman."
Because of the triplets, their father once won a washing machine.
"A year or two after they were born, a new hand-crank washing machine had been invented," recounted Armand Mauss, Vinal's son and family historian. "The salesman was trying to draw a crowd, so he said he'd give it away to whoever had had the largest amount of children in the shortest period of time. Well, many started telling about their families, and then my grandfather said they'd had three children in 15 minutes. He won the machine."
The Mausses later had four more children. Those four, plus two born before the triplets, brought the total to nine. Five of the siblings have lived into their 90s. Although the triplets have lived in different places, they say they've always remained close and call each other "several times a week."
Vinal lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., with his daughter Peggy Eliason and her family, and is a member of the Walnut Creek 2nd Ward. Velma and Vilda have separate apartments near each other, and are members of the Murray Utah 1st Ward and Sandy Utah 29th Ward, respectively. Each of their spouses is deceased.
The first patriarch of the Walnut Creek Stake, Vinal was also a former missionary in Japan, and later returned to that country as mission president from 1949-53. All three say the Church has played a very important part in their lives.
"Everyone in Japan loves Pres. Mauss and his family because they're such dedicated Christians," said Toshiko Ohsiek, who knew the Mausses in Japan. "They're all such high-caliber people."
Between them, the triplets have a total of eight children, 36 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren. Peggy Eliason said the two sisters are "more like mothers than aunts," and cousins tend to share a rapport not unlike that of most siblings.
Still lively and full of spunk, the threesome is taking a trip to Hawaii in December - that is, if Vinal can figure out how he'll get Velma, who is afraid of flying and can't swim, over there. And plans are already under way, say family members, for their 100th birthday at the turn of the century.