The twin brothers Reiff: Not cut out for farming

Posted: July 13, 2007

For John and William Reiff, their twin-ness defined their lives.

They were featured in the 1997 Guinness Book of World Records for winning the International Twins Association's "Most Identical Twins" contest a record 21 times.

They were among 20 sets of twins flown to Japan by the Nippon Television Network Corp. for a weeklong, all-expense-paid trip, and subsequently declared "Super People of the World."

Lifelong bachelors, they dressed alike, they talked alike, and they owned a tandem bike, which they rode in parades, complete with an American flag flying from the back.

They rarely, if ever, missed a twins convention, especially the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, said their friend and neighbor, John Bechtel, who is also the executor of their estate.

But when it came to the rest of their lives, they didn't always make wise decisions, he said.

Born on July 1, 1930, to Bessie and Linwood Reiff, they were the youngest in a family of eight children and the third generation to live on their East Vincent farm. Township residents and the David Cutler Group have been fighting over the property for five years, but a recent tentative agreement could save most of the farm from development.

Short men with slight builds, the Reiffs lived very frugally, said Bechtel. In addition to farming, John worked as a welder, a trade he learned while serving with the Army in Korea; Bill worked as a night watchman.

Under their ownership, the farm went downhill.

"They were very likable, but they were never quality farmers," their friend Bechtel said. "They didn't keep things shipshape by any stretch of the imagination. They needed a woman's touch."

The farmhouse, a masterpiece of German-American architecture from the early 19th century, fell into disrepair, he said. When they died, Bechtel said, there was junk everywhere, and at least six inches of pigeon droppings covered everything in the attic.

The coal furnace in the basement wasn't working, and they heated the old farmhouse with an old wood stove. "Their estate was worth millions, but they lived like paupers," Bechtel said. "That's what they chose."

And although four sisters, including one who is the parent of three special-needs children, are still alive, none of them was named in the twins' will. The majority of the estate went to the Twins Days Festival.

"They only had time for other twins," said Bechtel. "They were definitely different."


Contact staff writer Nancy Petersen at 610-701-7602 or npetersen@phillynews.com.

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