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Gaither Quintuplets celebrate their 40th birthday

Gaither Quintuplets

Photo caption: The Gaither quintuplets celebrating their 40th birthday. Pictured (l-r) Joshua, Rhealyn, Ashlee, Reneé and Brandon.

It seems like just yesterday when this former Jet editor rushed to Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis to meet the Gaither quintuplets—the first Black quintuplets born in America.

It’s hard to believe that the quintuplets are now turning 40 on August 3. They are Ashlee, Joshua, Reneé, Rhealyn and Brandon.

Suzanne and Sidney Gaither are the proud parents of the quints and their older brother, Ryan. The quints were born without the use of any fertility treatment. Back in the 1980s, only one in 40 million women gave birth to quints without fertility drugs.

The quintuplets are also the first surviving set and were instant media favorites. They were featured on the cover of Ebony magazine and on the pages of the Chicago Crusader, Jet magazine and many other publications across the nation. They were also on “Today,” “Donahue” and “The Maury Povich Show.”

This birthday means so much to Ashlee because doctors said she may not survive.

“I am happy, excited, all of the above, but I get emotional every year,” Ashlee sobs. “I’m happy to be here because the doctors said I might not make it. I’m happy to be 40.”

She is now healthy although she often uses a wheelchair. She continues to thrive. “I’ve accomplished a lot in my years. I graduated from college at Ivy Tech and got my degree in science and liberal arts.”

The quints are as close as ever. They live minutes away from each other and have a family group text.

“My sisters and I talk every day, be it over the phone or text message,” says Ashlee. “My brothers and I don’t go too long without seeing each other or texting at some point.”

The quints are trying to figure out how they will celebrate their birthday this year. The three girls are going to Las Vegas in September.

“I don’t think we are planning anything on our actual birthday,” says Reneé.

Rhealyn explains, “It’s because of everyone’s schedule. Some of us have kids and your kids’ schedules trump your schedule,” she laughs.

No matter what they decide to do on August 3, they all called “it a blessing” to see another year.

“It’s just a blessing that all of my siblings are here. I’m just happy,” says Rhealyn.

Brandon adds that they are blessed “to celebrate 40 years because most of our high school friends are no longer here.”

Brothers Joshua and Brandon have an extremely close bond—they can feel each other’s physical pain.

Says Joshua, “We still have that connection. He called me and asked. “Are you Ok?”

Brandon remembers, “He had hurt his foot at work and for some odd reason, I had the same sharp pain that he was feeling. I called him. People won’t be able to believe it unless they can actually experience it. From a twin level being able to feel each other’s pain is very real. It’s just like your mother when she knows there’s something wrong.”

Connie Moore, 89, was one of the volunteer caregivers for the quints. She changed 50 diapers a day and they would go through 100 jars of baby food in a week.

She remembers, “I saw the first one take their first step, cut their first tooth. They are just like my grandchildren. I love them to pieces.”

She continues, “They have turned into delightful, productive people. We still have a great relationship to this day. We get together for cookouts and lunches. When the girls come for lunch, we gab and gossip,” she laughs.

She adds, “It is one of the great joys of my life to be involved with them.”

They return the love by calling her “Grandma Connie.”

Joshua notes, “Grandma Connie and the other caregivers gave us genuine love and care. They did more than lend a hand, they were family members that we could lean on.”

Brandon recalls, “Grandma Connie and the other caregiver would come over on the weekends sometimes and stay for the week. She would also spend time with us one-on-one.”

Ashlee says, “You hear of people being there just in the beginning of the media craze, but she has been there for every milestone, never missed a birthday…I will forever be grateful to her and for her.”

Reneé says, “She is like our only living grandparent. We consider her our grandparent. She is so genuine, so genuine.”

Reneé adds, “She and her husband would come over every Saturday and take us to breakfast. We had something to look forward to. That’s something that I do a lot with my nieces and nephews that I learned from Grandma Connie.”

Rhealyn notes, “She didn’t have to continue being there after we became adults but she genuinely cares about us. She even has a special relationship with my son and daughter.”

The quintuplets are hardworking and productive. Joshua is a correctional officer, Brandon is an IT supervisor, Reneé works in retail, Rhealyn is employed as an administrative assistant at the Mid-America Elevator Company, where their father is vice president and Ashlee plans to continue her higher education.

America was mesmerized by the quints. They were looked on with pride as they attended their high school prom and graduation, their trips to Disney World and their McDonald’s commercial.

The quints look back fondly on those days.

“I didn’t really mind the media attention,” says Brandon. “When you are a part of history, that’s to be expected. Our parents allowed us to take that position or this position. If we couldn’t come to an agreement we wouldn’t do it.”

Rhealyn recalls, “I was the one that didn’t really care to do a lot of it. I didn’t care one way or the other. But our 10th birthday trip to Disney World with our Uncle Charles was fun. It was memorable.” The late Rev. Charles Williams, president of the Indiana Black Expo, was the quints’ godfather.

Reneé says, “That’s all we knew when we were younger. But the media attention has its perks, like going to Disney World with Uncle Charles.”

Ashlee recalls, “I didn’t mind the media attention because I believe growing up our parents did a great job at picking and choosing certain things or giving us the option to choose…We were able to live a normal life and have a great childhood.”

Joshua notes, “We had so much fun that the memories will be forever embedded.”

Suzanne and Sidney are now the grandparents of 13 and share what they taught their children.

“I told them they were a gift from God,” says Suzanne. “We taught them to be independent, to work hard and just care about people. I think we did that job and we did that job well. They are all those things and more. Each of them. I am proud of them.”

She adds, “Starting out we did not know how this journey would end. We knew the journey would be difficult and it was when you are raising six children and five are the same age.”

Sidney points out, “It’s truly a blessing to see these 40 years. We tried to bring them up in a way that would be pleasing not only in society but also in the eyes of God. Scripture says ‘Bring up the child in the way that he should go and when they get older they will not depart from it.’ That’s my prayer.”

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