He was peddling produce along coastal towns in Connecticut when he fell in love with the neighbor girl, Annie. She was a few years younger and still in high school. She’d walk with her friends in the morning, and he’d drive by in his 1932 Ford Roadster and give them a lift.
The country was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and Annie’s father wanted her to marry a man 20 years her senior. But she too had fallen in love, with the charming John Betar. So at just 17, she followed her heart, and they ran away together, eloping in nearby Harrison, N.Y.
That was more than 83 years ago.
Eight decades later, with 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, they’ve seen the world change immeasurably over their lifetimes together. Now, at 104 and 100 years old, respectively, John and Ann Betar will tackle a whole new frontier this Valentine’s Day: Twitter.
Named the “longest married couple in America,” according to an analysis by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a Christian organization, the two will dispense marital and life advice online. It was organized by Handy, an on-demand home services company that will be collecting the questions and tweeting the Betars’ answers.
They have few expectations for their social media experiment, but they are accustomed to people asking how they’ve stayed content together for so long, and what they eat and do to keep busy.
A lot, as it turns out. Ann Betar still cooks, cleans, reads, makes the bed, waters the plants and hosts family gatherings, her husband boasted. And he still drives, cuts grocery coupons and handles the finances, she said.
“We’re just lucky to be together. So fortunate,” he said, in an email exchange. The best part of their long life? “Just simply being together,” he said.
John Betar is a Syrian refugee, whose family escaped during World War I. He was only 10 then, and he bounced between refugee camps for several years. His father had already made it to America. His mother got a foot infection during their escape and died in 1919, leaving him and his brother to fend for themselves until their father sent for them in 1921.
He said they send donations to support Syrian refugees now.
“I always feel the doors [to the West] should be open. They were open to me. Gee, imagine if they weren’t …,” he said.
There wouldn’t have been Annie.
One lesson they’ve taken away from their longest marriage is to be happy with the life you have.
“Live day to day within your means. Be content with what you have,” he said. “Don’t spend more than you have. Respect each other.”
Betar said dependence on technology has been the greatest change he’s witnessed in his century-long life. He has a cellphone, but not an iPhone. “You guys live by the phone,” he said. “Rely on the phone so much.”
Still, he’s very aware of the dating world realities today. Asked how he’d court Annie in 2016, he said he’d probably, “Google her,” and then “text or call to ask her out.”
At least he didn’t say, swipe right.