On Saturday, Roland Irions Sr. received a birthday gift that was 70 years in the making.
The Chicago resident met his 90-year-old sister, Susie M. Hood, of Columbus, for the first time at the Courtyard Marriott.
The family arranged a meet and greet, complete with food, light conversation and videos showing photos of family members who never met each other until this past weekend.
The two knew the other existed as they have the same father, Johnnie Irions, who married twice, Hood said. Both are the only surviving members of their sibling groups.
They began contacting each other about seven years ago. After one of their brothers died last year, Irions wanted to meet his sister in person for his 70th birthday. The families started making arrangements.
Irions said the introduction was long overdue.
“After my brother died, I realized that it’s just the two of us that are living. We have the same father and it was time for us to come together and break that gap,” he said while sitting in the hotel lobby with his sister.
Irions is a native of Chicago and worked in various jobs, mostly in retail, and worked as the night auditor for the Courtyard Marriott there before retiring. He also noted that he was once named the sixth best dressed man in all of Chicago by a local media outlet.
Hood is the wife of the late Rev. General L. Hood. She said she had 17 children, 25 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.
About 40 people came to Columbus from both Hood and Irions’ families for the meet and greet. Some cousins from Washington, D.C., also came, said Marie Lewis, one of Hood’s children who helped organize the event.
While some came on the Friday before the celebration, others arrived Saturday. By the time the party rolled around, it looked as if the family members knew each other for years. Hood and Irions both noted Friday night, the family members filled the hotel lobby with conversation and a lot of laughter.
“I was worried the hotel was going to kick us out. We had this place lit on Friday night,” Irions said while laughing with Hood.
“That’s what’s so amazing,” he said of the get-together. “None of us had laid eyes on each other in real life, but the conversation just started flowing. We just guessed it was the genes that we have and the bond of love. Nobody, in fact it was a little strange, nobody was shy.”
Hood is the second to oldest in her sibling group, while Irions was the next to last.
“It was a boy ahead of her and a girl after me,” he said.
Irions said that when Hood walked through the door of the hotel, he knew she was his sister.
“She walked through the door yesterday and I said that there is no way that you could be anybody else, but my sister, because she looks just like our father,” he said.
Both Irions and Hood plan to stay in touch.
“And the ones who didn’t make it, we are just going to have to tell them what they missed,” Irions said.
The siblings said they are happy with their families’ new normal.
“We’ve said the pandemic is going to give us a new normal. I think this is going to be our new one,” Irions said of the newly extended family.
Hood said the meeting was “great, very great.”