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Seeing double: Identical twin MSU Billings professors retire after 40 years

Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 19, 2023

BILLINGS - After 40 years working as linguistics professors at MSU Billings, identical twins Rachel and Deb Schaffer are retiring.

While the two will continue to do research in a dual office on campus, retirement is another big life change that they will go through together.

"I know some twins really want to get away from each other and establish their own identities and all that, but for us, it seemed like fate," Deb said. "In certain moments, it felt like fate conspired to keep us together."

The sisters attended the same undergraduate program in Rochester, New York because it was the best financial situation for both. When they both were accepted into the graduate program at Ohio State University, it was the same scenario.

"If one of us had chosen to not go to Ohio State, she would've suffered financially because the best deals were at Ohio State," Deb said.


Rachel, who's seven minutes younger than Deb, said that having her sister by her side as they moved from opportunity to opportunity was a blessing.

"I can't imagine going through those solo," Rachel said. "It's just enormously easier having someone you can talk to and work things out with."

But when they began applying for jobs, that's when the two figured life would force them to split.

“When we got our PhDs, we knew that if we applied to the same school, how would they choose between us?" Rachel said. "Our specialties are even the same, so they probably will go with a third choice."

So, Deb applied to Eastern Montana College, now known as MSU Billings. When she got accepted, Rachel had a choice.


"It was a relief that one of us got a job," Rachel said. "I could either stay in Columbus, Ohio, and continue teaching part-time or I could move out to Billings, Montana, and teach part-time."

The bond with her sister made the choice a no-brainer.

"If you don't have a twin or a close partner, you probably can't understand the closeness," Rachel said. "It's indescribable."

Within two years of moving to Billings, Rachel was working at MSUB too. This spring was their final year of teaching, but they're hoping their research can continue to impact the university that gave them a chance.

"I want to still contribute to this campus," Deb said. "We've gotten so much from MSUB."

And while retirement will be an adjustment, it's one the sisters are prepared to face together.

“If Rachel had wanted to keep working or if I had, we’d really be doing separate things and spending time apart," Deb said. "It would’ve worked, but it’s going to be a lot more fun together."