DES MOINES — Cleo Hawthorne didn’t know that he and his brother Clifford may be the oldest male twins in the world.
On Tuesday, the 103-year-old got a ride from the nursing home in Atlantic to visit his ailing brother in Shady Oaks Care Center in Lake City.
Clifford didn’t have much time left, and they had a history together that dated back to Dec. 31, 1912.
“They were identical in every way; they even went on walkers the same time a year or so ago,” said Clifford’s son Darrell Hawthorne of Lohrville. “Imagine the shock when the people at the nursing home saw him come in with his walker. There were a lot of looks.”
Cleo hadn’t got the news sent by email to a relative. Clifford had died Monday.
“Cleo was in total shock. He didn’t want to let go,” Darrell said.
The brothers and family members never knew they would be the oldest twins in the world until the funeral director inquired with the Guinness World Records. Its online records list brothers Pierre and Paul Langerock of Belgium as the oldest, born July 8, 1913, when the Hawthorne boys were already 6 months old.
Guinness officials said that records must be challenged and verified with records. Merrill Hawthorne said the family didn’t give it a thought.
The twins were born to Page and Mary Hawthorne on a farm near Prescott, Iowa, in Adams County, where the two began their century-long brotherhood. One could hardly be distinguished from the other physically, but their personalities were also similar, family members said. Soft spoken men with a gentle sense of humor.
“They loved to wrestle and box with each other,” said their sister Linda Key, 96, of Atlantic. “And they liked to run around the barn throwing corn cobs at each other. I thought it was the dumbest thing. But they enjoyed each other immensely.”
Cleo Hawthorne said he always got along with his brother.
“If we had a disagreement, Dad told us to get the boxing gloves and settle it,” he said.
The twins developed into fine athletes. But their father said only one at a time could play football because he needed the other to do chores, Key said. So they came to agreement. One would play one year, the other would play the next.
Yet they ran together on the Prescott High School track team. It was the only time Key saw their brotherly competitive spirit lead to hurtful comments, when Cleo was a bit wounded that the coach said he should try to wear out opponent runners so his brother could take the race.
“We were half-milers and milers and we always ran one and two,” Cleo said.
The boys sold collie dogs in their formative years and worked as farmhands through the Depression, said Clifford’s son Merrill Hawthorne of Lohrville. He said that as the economy worsened, his father’s pay went from $40 a month, to $30 to $15.
Eventually, both worked in creameries, which Merrill said kept them out of World War II because it was viewed as essential to the homeland. They held their wedding ceremonies together on Nov. 28, 1937.
While Cleo went on to work in a creamery in Corning for more than 40 years, Clifford began farming outside Lohrville before retiring and moving to Farnhamville near Fort Dodge. Both lost their spouses, but family members would drive them to meet halfway between their homes for dinner.
Yet each maintained a driver’s license well into their 90s to get around town and faithfully took daily walks.
“They never smoked and never got drunk,” said Key.
Cleo was the oldest but the two often joked that if Clifford was born a few hours later he would have been a year younger.
Cleo said Thursday he was unaware of the possibility that he and his brother might have been the world's oldest twins.
What he knows is that his brother of 103 years died because his body simply wore out.
“I’ve seen too little of him the last several years because he was 100 miles away,” Cleo said. “I’m gonna miss him.”
Follow Mike Kilen on Twitter: @mikekilen