Three sisters, all 90-plus, move in together in Logan

November 27, 2018

It’s been almost six months since sisters Shirley Olsen, 96, Ruby Haws, 94, and Dorthy Schvaneveldt, 91, moved into Williamsburg Retirement and Assisted Living together.

“It still seems unreal,” Haws said. “I think, what are we doing here?”

Haws and her sisters were born in North Carolina. Altogether, their parents had nine children — seven girls and two boys. After World War II ended, Olsen, Haws and Schvaneveldt moved from the east coast to Utah in the late 1940s.

According to Olsen’s daughter Marta Albee, her mother and aunts have always been the Three Musketeers.

“I’ll tell you how close we were,” Haws said. “When I went on a mission, which was 18 months, she came out to see me two times. I was a missionary and didn’t know what to do with visitors in my apartment.”

As Haws told the story of Olsen’s visits to her during her mission in California for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Olsen smiled.

“I didn’t want to miss anything,” Olsen said.

It’s this closeness that took the sisters to work on a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, together during World War II. It followed them to Cache Valley as young brides and helped them through some of the hardest times in their lives.

All three sisters married men from Cache Valley. Haws and Olsen settled in the valley with their husbands to raise their children.

Schvaneveldt and her family spent some time in California and Oregon, but Schvaneveldt’s daughter Linda Sorenson said it was hard for her mom to be away from Haws and Olsen.

“My dad recognized that she needed her sisters, and they came back,” Sorenson said.

One of the challenges the sisters faced was in 1961 when Olsen was in a head-on car crash with her husband, Preston, her mother-in-law and two of her children.

“It was amazing nobody died in Mom and Dad’s car,” Albee said.

The crash brought the family together, Sorenson said. Haws watched Olsen’s children while she and her husband were in the hospital recovering.

“It was a really scary, terrible time,” Sorenson said.

Seven years later, the family faced another one of those scary and terrible times.

In 1968, Schvaneveldt and her husband, Dale, were in a small plane crash. The plane went down in Nevada, and of the four people aboard, Schvaneveldt was the only survivor. She waited about a day and a half in the snow before being rescued.

Sorenson said the months her mother spent in the hospital recovering were a time when the family circled together again.

It was a time of “a lot of fasting and prayer,” Haws said.

Albee said through the years, her mother and aunts have been a great support system for each other.

“Any time something’s happened through their whole lives, they’re right there for each other,” Albee said.

Now as the sisters transition to this new phase of their lives, Albee is glad the women are doing it together.

“I don’t know that I’d have even wanted my mom to come if you guys hadn’t have gone,” Albee said.

Super Assistant Administrator at Williamsburg Chris Sorenson said it is very uncommon to have three siblings living together at the residence.

“When the three of them moved in, that was kind of special,” Chris Sorenson said.

In the past, Williamsburg has had a few residents living with a cousin or one other sibling, Chris Sorenson said, but as siblings get older they often move apart or pass away before they have the chance to live together again.

Haws said one reason she thinks she and her sisters remained so close over the years is the need they have for companionship.

“If you’ve got something bad to tell, you want to tell somebody that’s going to understand,” Haws said. “If you’ve got something good to talk about, you want somebody who will understand what you are going to say before you said it.”

This understanding didn’t mean the sisters always agreed, but Haws said they often decided to agree to disagree.

“I always thought sisters all got along,” Haws said. “I don’t mean to say they don’t have their differences, and they don’t have some rough times, but they make up and do better. That’s living. Forgive and forget, or forgive and make it a joke and tell it the rest of your life.”

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