The Vollenweider sisters knew their trip was fate when they came upon an unexpected sculpture.

The Vollenweider sisters knew their trip was fate when they came upon an unexpected sculpture.

The four women said they had to gather around “The Four Sisters” sculpture – the creation from old, chopped down trees standing among the Swiss mountains – for a photograph.

“This was meant to be,” one sister said.

Their passports include their birth names, but each Vollenweider sister is more commonly known by the name the women’s father awarded them – Independence resident Rebecca “Becky” Eiman; Edwardsville, Ill., resident Henrietta “Ike” Day; Overland Park, Kan., resident Naoma “Buhdie” Pieper; and Shawnee, Kan., resident Margaret “Mitzi” Hund. They traveled to Switzerland from Sept. 8 through 21 in an attempt to learn more about their heritage.

“It’s hard to believe it ever happened,” Buhdie said Tuesday morning as she, Becky and Mitzi gathered at Becky’s Independence home to recall their trip. “I just can’t believe we were ever there.”

Their father’s parents emigrated from Switzerland to the United States and ran The Little Swiss Fruit Farm, an apple farm, in La Crescent, Minn. The sisters’ father, Henry Vollenweider, later moved to Lexington, Mo., and managed a family member’s apple farm.

In a family of nine siblings, the sisters remember growing up at an orchard of more than 200 acres of apple trees, helping out with the business.

“We have apples in our blood,” Mitzi said.

Their father, coined “The King of Apples” by his daughters, even spoke German around the house. After his death in 2001, the women say they decided to travel to Switzerland to learn more about their heritage.

“Some of us have lost some important people in our lives,” Mitzi said, “and we thought, ‘Well, we can all still walk and talk, so we had better plan this trip while we can still do that.’ ”

Signs of their father were present throughout the trip. Swiss citizens keep their perfectly cut wood neatly stacked alongside their homes, Mitzi said, adding “it was just like something our dad would do – or insist that we do.”

The sisters observed the strong work ethic of the Swiss culture “and how everything was so clean,” Becky said. “Dad was that way. He was meticulous.”

“We’d have to clean the apple barn every night even though we knew there’d be leaves down there again the next day,” Mitzi said, continuing her sister’s thought. “He always kept everything that way.”

And the flowers, Buhdie added. The women never saw any dead blooms in front of the local homes during their trip filled with 70 degree, sunny weather.

Ranging from age 57 through 68, the four sisters are regularly active back home. Becky wore a pedometer that tracked about 200 miles hiked and walked during the 12-day Switzerland trip. As the oldest among the four, Becky led the hikes – the others playfully nicknamed her “Scout.” She keeps in shape by walking 20,000 steps or about 10 miles daily.  

“Boy, when she’s got a task to do, she gets going,” said Mitzi, adding that when the other sisters complained of achy feet and legs, Becky kept the lead. “She’s a workhorse.”   

Six of the eight Vollenweider sisters took a beginning hiking trip in Colorado last year in preparation for the Switzerland excursion.

“We decided we’d go big time this year,” Mitzi said. “We’re not sure what we’ll do next year – maybe something a little low-key.”

A majority of their hikes took place in the Kandersteg area of Switzerland, where, in pictures, the clouds seem just an arm’s reach away among the mountains. The sisters hiked among sheep and the cows, whose bells the women said they enjoyed hearing as they finished their hikes.  

They recalled a man carrying a caged cat, caged chickens and a propane tank – all attached to his back – as he descended the mountain. The man’s dog tagged alongside.

Riding bikes was commonplace, and the women rode the “on-time” train system everywhere they went, Buhdie said.

“You just think, ‘Gosh, we’ve lost the simple life,’” Mitzi said, adding that the women had requested “as little of the city life and the craziness” as possible to their trip planner, The Complete Traveler in Overland Park, Kan. “It was neat to see it, though, with some people still enjoying it.”

Like “The Four Sisters” sculpture, discovering The Vollenweider Chocolatier shop stood out among the 12-day trip, the sisters said. The chocolate shop bears their maiden name, but they aren’t sure if its founders have any direct relation.

“That’s about the only thing we brought back – chocolate,” Becky said, her sisters following with laughter.

Laughter carries throughout their family, and such a sentiment is even evident in the women’s trip photographs as they made silly expressions or pretended to be asleep on a park bench with their luggage at their sides.

“Our dad had a good sense of humor and was a happy guy,” Mitzi said, “so we try to keep that going.”