ST. JOSEPH — Sharon Hillyard and Karon Ray are more than just sisters. They have shared almost every one of life's experiences over the last 68 years.
As children, they shared the same classrooms and the same friends in the same small town. They shared clothing and shoes, often dressing alike. They even shared a boyfriend for a little while until they figured out what he was up to.
To top it off, they were even born on the same day.
But it isn't Sharon and Karon's twin-hood that makes these two unique. They don't just share the same birthday — they also share the same wedding anniversary.
Sharon and Karon were married on the same day, in the same church, in a double ceremony on June 11, 1960, a move designed to keep the day special for both girls.
"That way one of us didn't have to be first and one second," Karon says.
The sisters say their fiances weren't so sure at first about the arrangement, but in the end, both were good sports and went along with it. After all, it saved the family some serious money and time.
"My mother thought it was cheaper," Sharon says. "She just said, 'Why would I put on two weddings in one summer?'"
The ceremony was a simple affair, held in a small church in Gillman City on a typical Missouri June evening, stormy and hot. "There was no air conditioning then," says Bill Hillyard, Sharon's husband.
"It was just like an ordinary wedding," says Allan Ray, Karon's groom. "Except there were two couples, and the brides looked just alike."
The women's father walked the older of the two, Karon, down the aisle, while the pair's brother walked Sharon down to meet the preacher, their cousin, who was so worried he would marry the wrong girl to the wrong guy that he almost did.
"He fretted and fretted that he would get the wrong person married to the wrong person," Karon says.
"In our wedding books he signed the wrong names in the wrong wedding books," Sharon says. "Hers is in mine and mine is in hers."
Fifty years later, the sisters are celebrating another of life's milestones together — their golden anniversaries. The couples have a small get-together planned — nothing fancy, a day full of family and friends just like their wedding day 50years ago.
"It doesn't seem so long now," Karon says. "It just goes by awfully fast."
On that warm June day in 1960, for the first time the sisters' lives took different roads. Karon became a teacher while Sharon went to beauty school.
They no longer live together or, at times, really near each other. Karon stayed in Missouri, while Sharon moved from state to state. The sisters don't even share clothes anymore, but they do often find their separate shopping trips have scored them the same pairs of shoes.
But one thing has remained the same — their commitment to each other, their families and their husbands. In a day when more than half of all marriages end in divorce, the women say the secret to their marital bliss is simple.
"You just make your minds up that this is it," Sharon says. "You have to make those choices almost daily."