• 63°

‘Sisters’ reunite at Ahoskie wedding

AHOSKIE – It is common knowledge that a Big Sister should be there for everything when it concerns her Little Sister.

Despite a lack of DNA evidence, Big Sister Darlene “Dee” Fritz and Little Sister Cynthia Sauder have been sisters ever since they were paired up in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program 19 years ago.

So when Sauder called from a Mesa, Ariz. restaurant last year to tell Fritz she was engaged to her boyfriend of three years, they did what any pair of sisters would do—they squealed and then they planned.

On May 10, two days before the wedding, Fritz admitted to already shedding a few tears during the rehearsals.

“I think she’s made a great selection,” she said about Sauder’s fianc\u00E9, Matthew Branson. “Matt just worships the ground she walks on…and that’s a great place to start.”

Fritz, 52, had just seen the 25-year-old Sauder through a second wedding rehearsal on the grounds of the Jernigan House Bed and Breakfast, owned by Fritz and her husband, John.

“I’m sure there are a lot of nice places in Phoenix she could have had her wedding, but she chose to have it here,” said Fritz.

The unique bond between Fritz and Sauder has weathered 19 years and traveled with each of them across the United States.

It all started in 1988 when Sauder’s mom enrolled all four of her children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Lancaster, Pa.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring organization that pairs adults with children from the same area and requires that they spend at least an hour a week with each other.

Sauder said her mom made the decision because it was hard for each child to get individual attention in a large family—especially when three of the children were triplets.

Fritz was somewhat of a novelty for the young Sauder.

“She was mine,” Sauder said.

Sauder, who is one of the triplets, explained Fritz was not a relative or a friend of the family, making it easy to tell her anything.

Fritz’s decision to join the program stemmed from her experiences as a Girl Scout leader.

“I was just at the point in life where you want to give back,” she said.

Fritz recalled the friendship starting off slowly with just hour visits, then growing to day long visits and eventually overnights.

Time was spent doing little activities that no one might not suspect having a lasting effect on a child like canning vegetables, cooking, gardening and making arts and crafts.

But to this day the time spent with Fritz has stayed with Sauder—especially tea time.

Fritz would bring out her mother-in-law’s fine china tea set and they would have afternoon tea with accents and all.

“She’d talk to me in an (English) accent,” said Sauder.

Tea time wasn’t the only connection they shared, but also the fondness of a certain actor with swiveling hips. Fritz recollected one time when Sauder was about nine she was captivated by the movie “Dirty Dancing,” in particular the lead actor Patrick Swayze.

When Fritz asked what it was about the movie that interested Sauder, the girl was made speechless by Swayze’s moves.

“All she could do was throw her arms around and make faces,” said Fritz. “In all of her nine years she couldn’t conjure up what Patrick Swayze’s dancing did to her and I just looked at her and I said, ‘I know what you mean’.”

Even when Fritz moved away from the Lancaster area in search of her ideal bed and breakfast, both women made a point to continue their friendship.

“The relationship didn’t stop,” Sauder said. “She would fly me out to her.”

Phone calls were also made routinely—a way of communication that is still used between the two especially since they live on opposite sides of the country, Sauder in Arizona and Fritz in North Carolina.

“We talk weekly (on the phone) like you would your best friend,” said Fritz.”

Sauder visited when the Fritzes made their move into the Jernigan House and even laid stake on the “Rose Room,” which Sauder considers her room.

Fritz admits there where times she would have to step into the mom’s role when it came to Sauder, but she always found it easy to transition back into the sister role.

“I know I can be honest and up front with her,” said Fritz.

Sauder hopes to one day volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters and eventually have a Little Sister herself.

“I want to give back what she has given and taught me,” Sauder said.

Fritz said she’s happy with Sauder’s future decision to join the program.

“I wish Ahoskie would have it,” said Fritz. “I’d love to have a “Little” with Cynthia.”

Sauder stresses to those that choose to go into the program to realize the role as a “Big” takes devotion.

Even though Sauder’s friendship with Fritz has lasted this long, others are not as fortunate. One of Sauder’s triplet sisters went through several “Bigs” when she was first enrolled.

“It’s important when people go into the program they have to realize it’s like adopting,” said Sauder.

Just like any proud family member or friend, Fritz has hung photos, playbills and news clippings from school productions featuring Sauder around her bed and breakfast.

“It’s been neat watching her grow,” said Fritz. “What I received outweighs more than what I gave.”