By the time they reach their 80s, most folks figure there's not much more in life that can surprise them.

Shirley Buhrow and Beverly Gillen used to think that, too. They have since changed their minds.

The women are sisters. Same mother, same father. They were born in Akron in 1935 and 1936, respectively.

But both were given up for adoption at birth, and they had no idea that the other even existed until late last year. They met for the first time on Jan. 28 in Winter Park, Fla., near Orlando.

Both started trying to figure out the identify of their birth mother around the age of 20. Ironically, after more than half a century of futility, they discovered — independently, and at roughly the same time — that they might be able to get a better handle on their history by taking a DNA test via Ancestry.com.

Beverly's son-in-law suggested it to her. Shirley's neighbor, a genealogy buff, suggested it to her.

Meanwhile, a cousin of Fairlawn resident Karen Dutchman took a DNA test, too. And when that report came back, Karen phoned Beverly and left a blockbuster message on her answering machine: “I think my grandfather was your father.”

Beverly didn't immediately return the call. But today she is ecstatic that she eventually did.

After a bit more DNA matching among family members, Shirley and Beverly were finally paired up on the phone and they hit it off immediately. After many long conversations, and with encouragement from Karen, a meeting date was set.

Word spread within the extended families, and by the time the two got together at the Winter Park Marriott, the group had expanded to 16 people.

“I've never felt more loved and more a part of a family than when we met,” Beverly says by phone from her home in Colorado.

“It was the most beautiful thing. Other than giving birth to two children and having three beautiful, handsome grandsons, this was right in there with that.

“It's just really amazing, and at our age, to find all this. It's super. Super!”

She won't get any argument from Shirley, who lives in Winter Park with her husband of 52 years.

“I'm so happy to have found Beverly,” she says. “At my age, we have a lot to make up. That's why we're on the phone every day.

“I just pray we have a few more years.”

Both women regret not locating their birth mother before she died in 1959, on her 60th birthday.

“That hurts,” says Shirley. “To this day it hurts me. Even now. I would have liked to have met her.”

The biggest problem in locating their birth mother was that she fabricated the information on their birth certificates. But she did use the same name on both — the last name of her grandmother. That link eventually confirmed the connection.

The two women took radically different paths to their January meeting.

Beverly's life

Beverly, 81, grew up mainly in East Akron. At the age of 5, she was playing in the backyard when a women drove up, stopped and started talking to her. Her adoptive mother ran out and told her not to talk to strangers.

That's when Beverly first learned she was adopted. Her mother also warned her that her birth mother might try to steal her.

“That put the fear of God in me,” she says. “Being adopted — whatever that meant. My goodness. I was very careful after that.”

Her adoptive father worked for the AC&Y Railroad. When he began to have health problems, they moved to Arizona for a while, then returned to Springfield Township. Beverly spent her last six years of school in the Springfield system.

She met her future husband, Ormon Gillen, while she was working as a receptionist at Goodyear. He was a chemical engineer who was just returning from military service.

They dated for three years before making it official. Two years after that, her husband got an assignment in Paris, where they remained for 6½ years and had two daughters.

After he retired, they lived in Missouri for 15 years. When Ormon's health began to deteriorate, they moved to Colorado to be close to one of their daughters. They were there for eight years before he died in 2013.

Shirley's life

Shirley, 82, learned of her own adoption in a more conventional manner. When she was 8, her adoptive mother sat her down and told her. “She just said it. Just like that. She didn't elaborate on anything. I just knew I was adopted.”

Her adoptive father was a traveling salesman, working for the Canton Akron Beauty Supply Co. They lived in Loyal Oak and Cuyahoga Falls.

When she was 10, the family moved to Michigan.

After graduating from high school, Shirley headed to California, where she met her eventual husband, Cliff. On their first date, he asked her to accompany him to the beach with his children from a previous marriage — six of them.

After they wed, the whole flock moved to Wisconsin, where his parents lived.

By that time her adoptive parents had moved to Florida, and she and Cliff decided the whole clan would be a lot happier in a warmer climate.

The two sisters almost certainly would never have met had Shirley's neighbor not suggested the DNA test. When she did, Shirley replied, “OK. I may never find out who I am, but I'll find out what I am.”

Even that required extra effort.

“First, I didn't put enough spit in it and it came back,” she says with a laugh. “I had to put more spit in it. Then I left the number off. But by September we had everything together, and it came back within a few weeks.”

Both women are still trying to process this amazing development in their lives.

“It's a fairy tale,” says Beverly. “It's just unbelievable.”

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31