Triplets enjoying freshman year while rooming together

By University Communications
March 26, 2015
From left: Jeni, Joni and Jami Donath

Photo: From left: Jeni, Joni and Jami Donath

Growing up as triplets, especially in a small town, Jami, Jeni and Joni Donath didn’t have much choice but to be close.

They weren’t just same-age sisters and classmates but became best friends and even a force to be reckoned with — they made up almost 50 percent of their family and nearly 10 percent of their Clayton High School graduating class in 2014.

When the Donaths graduated from high school, however, they did have a choice. Would they stick together as the Donath triplets when they went off to college or decide it was time to branch out on their own?

After they realized that University of Wisconsin-Stout — just 45 minutes from Clayton — had the academic programs each of them wanted, the decision became easy. Plus, their sister, Amy, graduated from UW-Stout in 2010 and recommended it and brother, Ryan, attended UW-Stout and supported their decision.

Going to UW-Stout seemed like it was meant to be. Besides, the triplets really were hoping they could stay together.

“We have four more years to grow up together, so we decided let’s make the most of it,” Joni said.

“This will be the last big experience before we go our separate ways,” Jeni said.

“It’s a big step we get to experience together,” Jami said.

About two-thirds of the way through their freshman year, they truly are sticking together. They live in the same residence hall room — appropriately, what’s referred to as a triple room — in Curran-Kranzusch-Tustison-Oetting Hall, or CKTO.

“It’s so cool that we can room together,” Joni said, with Jami and Jeni agreeing that the arrangement has worked out well for them. “We all help each other out.”

The sisters, who recently turned 19, have chosen separate but service-oriented majors. Jami is studying human development and family studies. Jeni — like her older sister, Amy — is majoring in early childhood education. Joni is majoring in vocational rehabilitation.

“We’re all quite different. It’s amazing we all found our majors here,” Joni said.

“We’re all kind of hands-on people. That’s why we like UW-Stout so much,” Jeni said. “Everyone is so friendly.”

So far, just Jami and Jeni have ended up in a class together, which means that when they are studying in the evening for quizzes and tests Joni, jokingly referred to by her sisters as the outcast, knows she has to be quiet.

A void at home

Having three daughters leave home at once was hard for parents Lynda and Scott Donath, abruptly making them empty-nesters, although the triplets have been home often on weekends.

The Village of Clayton, population 571, is 33 miles north of UW-Stout in Polk County.

“When I dropped them off at Stout and we said our goodbyes and walked away, I never looked back. If I did, I knew I’d lose it,” Lynda said, recalling the emotional moment.

However, it’s also brought peace of mind to Lynda and Scott knowing the triplets are in one place and are watching out for each other.

“When they said they wanted to be in the same dorm room together, it actually made me feel good,” Lynda Donath said. “They have that special bond, being triplets. They seem to be getting along just fine. They’re really enjoying it.”

Jeni agrees. “If our parents can’t look after us anymore, we can at least look after each other,” she said.

The three sisters are considered identical triplets because they were in the same placenta, Lynda said, although they do have slight facial differences.

They were born seven weeks early and weighed between three pounds, eight ounces and three pounds, 10 ounces, considered a healthy weight for triplets, Lynda said.

Making new friends

Although they room together and eat meals together in the evenings, Jami, Jeni and Joni also know that their lives are beginning to go in separate directions through their classes, majors, new friends, volunteer opportunities on campus and varied interests.

“We’ve always been best friends. Going to UW-Stout hasn’t changed that. We’ve just got more friends,” Jami said.

Their residence hall adviser at CKTO, Natalie Huertas, a student from Milwaukee, said the sisters are easy to mix up at first glance but have different personalities.

“They like to keep to themselves, but when they come out they're little celebrities in my building. I remember for a majority of the (first) semester, no one really believed they were triplets, let alone identical, and residents just had to see for themselves,” Huertas said.

“They are a wonderful, happy, hard-working set of girls who support each other. I've never had a complaint from them or anyone else about them for that matter. They only issue is that I still mix them up. And their room always smells fresh.”