John Betar and Ann Shawah grew up across the street from each other in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They fell in love, but her father had arranged for her to be married to a man 20 years her senior. So John and Ann eloped.
That was in 1932. John and Ann recently celebrated their 81st anniversary, and they still laugh about the gloomy predictions from relatives over their marriage prospects.
“Everyone was hopping mad, and my wife’s aunt consoled my father-in-law by telling him not to worry, the marriage won’t last,” John says.
According to Worldwide Marriage Encounter, they are the longest-married couple in America. “God seems to have been with us,” Ann says.
Naturally they are often asked, “What’s your secret?”
They talk about unconditional love, compromise, working through conflict. “Marriage isn’t a lovey-dovey thing, you know, for 80 years,” Ann says. “You learn to accept one another’s ways of life, agreements, disagreements–disagreements on our children, preparation on bringing up your kids. That was the main interest–your children.”
And of course good health plays a big part—he’s 102, she’s 98, and they’re still living on their own. (The photo at right is from John’s 100th birthday two years ago.)
They’ve seen their share of hardship, living through the Great Depression, World War II, and two hurricanes (including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which flooded the cellar of their beachfront home). They’ve also lost two children. “The worst thing that can happen to two people is to lose a child, whether they’re 2 years old or 60 … and that’s been the hardest thing to face,” Ann says.
“You see too much when you live too long,” John adds.
One of their children, Renee, says, “They have this wonderful ability to accept life as it comes. They have a way of trying to look around at the things that they do have—the family and the blessings. They came from a generation where there is such respect for each other and caring.”
John and Ann say they are fortunate to live to see their family grow larger and larger—they have 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. “That’s what makes life what it is,” Ann says. “We were fortunate enough to live long enough to see this … and it’s really one of the most gratifying things in the world to see your great-grandchildren, to see your grandchildren become adults.”
And I liked a quote from Heather Mitchell, one of their granddaughters: “I’m always blown away by their incredible optimism, deep sense of compassion, and modesty. They are true beacons—inspirational people who emit such joy without even knowing it.”
You can accomplish a lot of things in life, but to hear a grandchild say something like this? That’s hard to beat.