Happy birthday to The 3 Js Joan, Jean and Janet
If you asked one of the Dallmann sisters what it was like growing up as identical triplets, they’d downplay their rare situation, saying they didn’t know any other way of life. But in actuality, they’ve been local celebrities for the past half century.
“We don’t know what it’s like not growing up as triplets because that’s all we’ve known,” said Jean Mather, who shares the exact same genetic makeup with sisters Janet Timmerman and Joan Lindsay. “We were always together.”
Doctors estimate the odds of naturally conceiving identical triplets (monozygotic) is somewhere between 1 in 60,000 and 1 in 200 million. Rural Wabasso couple Doris and Lester Dallmann hit the genetic lottery on Sept. 3, 1964, when Janet (5 pounds, 11 ounces), Jean (5 pounds, 3 ounces) and Joan (5 pounds, nine ounces) were born at the Redwood Falls hospital.
“Before we were born, Mom was getting very large, and the doctor said she was going to have twins,” Janet said, just a few days before the triplets’ 50th birthday next week. “I was born first. Then there was Jean, and after Jean was born, the doctor left. And Mom said she wasn’t done. The nurse had to run and get the doctor. And it was like, ‘Surprise, you’re not taking home two. You’re taking home three!'”
News of the identical triplets spread quickly throughout Minnesota, inspiring a media frenzy. The girls were the first surviving triplets to be born at the hospital.
“Now, you couldn’t imagine, but Mom was out there milking the cows and doing chores, too,” Jean said. “Nowadays, you’d be on bed rest.”
Along with the Independent, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune, New Ulm Journal and Mankato Free Press each featured the triplets with stories and photographs. The Redwood Falls Gazette not only highlighted the triplet’s arrival but followed up every year for the next decade and every couple of years after that.
“We were local celebrities to some people,” Janet said. “There was a music teacher in Wabasso, so a lot of kids took piano lessons. They would say that every time they went there, she’d dig these pictures of us out and we didn’t even know her. My mom probably did, but we never took piano.”
The baby girls, who were all 18 inches long and healthy, were put on the same schedule at home.
“When one of us would wake up, Mom would wake all of us up, change us all and feed us all,” Janet said.
Jean said she thought that was a good idea rather than having a different baby wake up every hour. While looking through her mom’s photo album, she also commented about the birth weight and height.
“We were all pretty good-size babies,” she said. “And it’s no wonder we all ended up the same height.”
With the arrival of the triplets, the family immediately doubled in size. Along with grandparents Ted and Clara Dallmann and Andrew and Mary Martinson, older siblings Rodney, 12, Lucille (Cille), 10 and Jerry, 5, helped take care of the babies.
“My dad’s parents (the Dallmanns) lived on the same farm with us, and they took care of us a lot,” Janet said. “Whenever our parents had to run into town to be out in the field they’d have us go over there. And when we were really little, our older sister was a second mother. She was like a mother hen to us.”
Though they tried to appease the natural curiosity people had, the Dallmann triplets weren’t too excited about the attention, often shying away from the hoopla, especially early on in their life.
“I can remember being pretty little and walking into a store where there was a lady who wanted us to stand together so she could take our picture,” Janet said. “We were all so shy that we put our hands under our chins and looked down. She couldn’t get us to look up, so she tried putting suckers in our sleeves and we stayed like that until she walked away.”
Jean remembers her mom telling the story of how she and her sisters would often behave when confronted by onlookers.
“She said we all stood in a circle and put our heads together when people would come talk to us,” Jean said. “We were so shy. But I’m sure we drew plenty of attention with the three of us dressed together like that.”
Most of the time, the triplets were at home, since going out with three little ones could be “overwhelming” for everyone, Jean and Janet said. But when they did have to travel, back in the days before car seats, the older siblings were in charge of holding onto the triplets in the back seat.
“Mom would tell us that when we were little, the older kids would be sitting in the back and each one of them would have one of us on their lap,” Janet said. “And if they went somewhere at night, all of a sudden there would be a thump and one of them would have dropped one of us. Then there would be another thump. Finally, ‘thump,’ and she’d have all three of us up in the front with her because the older kids fell asleep.”
While some siblings could harbor resentment for the attention others got, Jean said her older sister and brothers did not.
“They still like us, so it must not have been too bad,” Jean said. “I think they were kind of proud of us. Nowadays, kids don’t seem to have the same sense of responsibility, to take care of siblings. But back then, you just did it.”
Growing up with two other individuals who were mirror images of you had to be somewhat unusual, but the girls said they just enjoyed being together.
“Today, kids just have their friends, and they do everything with them,” Jean said. “But we were always together. We didn’t always have that luxury of having friends because that would be six kids right away.”
Janet recalls never being alone.
“The first day of school or getting school vaccinations, you didn’t have to go alone,” she said. “You didn’t have to be afraid because there were two of your closest friends with you. People look at us like we’re so unique, but on the flip side of it, this is all I’ve known.”
While the girls got into plenty of mischief, there wasn’t much time to fight amongst each other.
“There were always so many chores to do, so we were busy,” Janet said.
Jean said she and her sisters didn’t get three of the same toys, with the exception of Barbie dolls. Janet remembers each of them getting different types of dolls. They noted that they didn’t feel the need for too many toys because they had farm animals and the outdoors.
“We never really felt slighted for having to share,” Jean said. “We played outside a lot, in the tree and the hay barn.”
Since there were only two sections for each grade, Doris Dallmann did not want two daughters in one section and one in the other, so the triplets were almost always together at school as well. They played sports together and worked on the farm together, though Janet was called upon for more outdoor jobs.
“My dad would come in the house and say he needed somebody to come outside and help,” Janet said. “So Mom would send me. Well then the more you work outside, the more you know and then it would be, ‘I need Jan outside. Jan knows how to drive the tractor, Jan knows all this stuff, so it was always me out in the field. Mom would have the other two and they’d handle the chores, the milking and the stuff in the house.”
As they got older, they started expressing their individuality more. They didn’t dress alike as much and started wearing their hair differently from each other.
“It was around junior high, but that was probably because when we went shopping, there wasn’t always three of the same size,” Janet said. “When we were younger, my grandma who lived beside us, she made all of our clothes. That’s why we had matching clothes all the time.”
The sisters also started taking different classes at school. They each played a different instrument in band as well.
“I was drawn to ag classes and sports,” Janet said. “We were all in band and choir to that point.”
Each of the triplets had her own best friend, too, though the big group was basically the same.
“Our friends could tell us apart, but we had some teachers who would get us mixed up,” Jean and Janet said, finishing each other’s sentence as they often do.
As they got older, the trio limited themselves to playing basketball since it was a winter sport.
“Fall was a busy time, so we just didn’t play volleyball,” Janet said. “And our brothers wrestled. They didn’t play football.”
A biology teacher once questioned the triplets’ identical DNA, but after running a test, he realized they were indeed identical. Though no other triplets, twins did run the family.
“We have cousins who are twins (girls) and we have cousins who had twin boys,” Jean said. “And one of the girl twins had twins, I think. Grandpa and Grandma (Martinson) also had sisters who had twins. So no wonder.”
Ironically, the triplets also had three sets of twins in their graduating class of 85 students, leading one to wonder what was in the water near Wabasso.
All three started out at different colleges, but eventually ended up at Southwest Minnesota State University, which their parents appreciated.
“They’d want us to do the chores, and it would take two of us,” Jean said. “When Jerry was old enough, he’d stay home and do chores and we’d get to go camping with Mom and Dad. So I guess it was our turn.”
Janet remembers the dairy cows being gone, though, shortly after the 1983 dairy cow buyout.
The triplets admit that their hairstyle is probably still the biggest difference between them today. Jean, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Marshall Middle School, wears her medium-length hair straight, with a few curls. Janet, a business education teacher at Marshall High School, wears her shoulder-length hair curly, while Joan, a nurse in Missouri, wears her hair straight.
“At first it was probably like, ‘oh, I don’t want to get it like you’ and ‘I can’t get my hair like you,’ so ‘I have to get it this way’ kind of a thing,” Jean said. “Even now it’s different. Joan wears it straight because she wears it in a pony tail for work.”
Life seemed more simple back then, Jean and Janet said, noting how much of a challenge it would be nowadays to get a babysitter or find daycare for three infants.
“You’re instantly a stay-at-home mom,” Janet said.
People still mix up the triplets even though they’re adults. Jean and Janet get a kick out of kids and teachers at school, since they both work in the Marshall district.
“They’ll say they saw me or ask if I have a sister,” Jean said. “New teachers are funny.”
Doris and Lester Dallmann moved off the farm a year ago but have taken good memories with them. Recently, the entire family got back together for a few days and spent time reminiscing. Some things had changed, while others had not. And while each of the identical triplets have minute differences, the similarities are still striking.
“I certainly know where to get a kidney if I ever need one,” Jean said.