Friends of 83 years move in together, share retirement

AUSTIN, Texas– Born in 1933 just four months apart, Wilda Hopingardner and Betty King are celebrating 83 years of life and friendship. The two grew up sharing families, memories, friends, vacations and handwritten letters. Now, they also share their very own independent living villa at Buckner Villas in Austin.

The pair lived in different cities, states and countries over the last several decades but happened to relocate to Austin around the same time through a series of unrelated circumstances, which they credit to God’s design. When both of their husbands passed within a few months of each other, Wilda invited Betty to move in with her at Buckner Villas so they could keep each other company and continue their adventures.

“I cannot remember a time when Wilda and I were not sharing life’s blessings together over and over again,” Betty said. “We have never known life any other way. Our mothers initiated our friendship and helped us maintain it by staying in touch during our younger years. Eventually, Wilda would move to New Braunfels with her family and I would remain in Houston, but we went back and forth all the time to visit each other.”

In the early years, the two families shared a duplex, and the ladies’ mothers became quick, long-lasting friends. When the girls were two years old, they took tap dance lessons together. Betty’s mother threatened to spank her if she didn’t dance and pointed to Wilda as the example of how to do it. Betty was stubborn in the class, but started dancing as soon as they got home to avoid the spanking.

When they were five years old, Wilda and Betty began school together and were put in the same kindergarten class. Since Wilda’s house was only two blocks from the school, Betty’s father would drop her off at Wilda’s and the two would walk to and from school together. Their parents would often give them money to get an ice cream cone on the way home. The two remember wearing homemade cotton dresses, sleeping under the stars on the Galveston beach, and driving six to eight miles for play dates.

“Our mothers were very creative during our childhood,” Wilda said. “When I got older and we didn’t live in the same city, I started taking the bus to visit Betty and her family in Houston. I thought it was the most wonderful thing to stop in each town along the way, then show up and have her family greet me with such excitement.”

During their teenage years, Wilda and Betty kept up with fashion trends and pop culture. They watched as many Esther Williams movies as they could and tried to be as glamorous as she was by copying her swim style and attire. In 1950, Wilda returned to Houston to live with Betty during her senior year of high school. It was then that both girls meet their future husbands.

“We grew up in loving and close-knit families,” said Wilda. “We loved our sisters and brothers the same way we love each other. We truly believe God planned for us to have been born around the same time, raised together and connected to each other all these years. A friend loves all the time, and that is true of us. Life is a beautiful, wonderful blessing, and I am so happy we have each other.”

“We experienced many firsts together over the years,” said Betty. “Moving in with Wilda has been the perfect living situation for both of us, because we didn’t want to be lonely and we’ve already been longtime friends. I am thankful for all the years we have spent together and for Wilda’s friendship.”

“Everyone at Buckner Villas adores Betty’s and Wilda’s friendship,” said Doyle Antle, executive director of Buckner Villas. “When the two start reminiscing, you can hear how dear the friendship and memories are to each of them. They finish each other’s sentences and it is a joy to hear them tell stories. We think it was a wonderful decision for them to move in together. They truly are the ‘Golden Girls’ of our community.” 

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