Little did Ann Shawah know that when she ran off and married John Betar, theirs would be a love story for the ages. And after an incredible 85 years of marriage, they would celebrate their milestone in a way that paid homage to the start of their romance.
In 1921 10-year-old John Betar and his brother made the international trek from their native Syria to be with their father in the United States. The family settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Betar would eventually sell fruit for a living.
His job took him up and down the Connecticut coast hawking fruit in towns along the water. But the most interesting development in his life would happen in his own neighborhood, a Syrian community where 17-year-old Ann Shawah also lived.
Betar had bought his own car, a 1932 Ford Roadster, and he started chauffeuring Ann and her friends to school. Eventually, he’d pick Ann up and take her for a date in the same vehicle. John recalled to the Connecticut Post, “She loved the Ford.”
It turned out that she loved John too. There was only one problem with their romance – Ann’s father had arranged her marriage to a man two decades her elder. The decision came in the midst of the Great Depression, perhaps securing her financial security in an uncertain time.
But Ann had her heart set on the young man who lived in her neighborhood, so she and Betar decided to skip town and get married instead. On November 25, 1932, they eloped to Harrison, New York, 34 miles from their hometown in Connecticut.
Unsurprisingly, Ann’s family was none too pleased with her decision. In fact, her aunt comforted her father by predicting her niece’s marriage to Betar wouldn’t last. But the newlyweds would have the last laugh.
The Betars welcomed five children, 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren over the course of their more-than-80-year marriage. They started a grocery business after their wedding and closed it in 1963. John then worked as a realtor.
Meanwhile, Ann spearheaded the day-to-day operations of the Betar home. Even after she turned 100 years old – which meant John was 104 – she still cleaned, cooked, tended to the garden and played host to a family get-togethers.
By that point, the couple had been recognized as the nation’s longest-married pair. The distinction from The Worldwide Marriage Encounter didn’t actually mean they had the lengthiest union in the U.S. Instead, a panel took into consideration all they had accomplished over their eight decades of wedded bliss and chose to give the title to the Betars.
After earning the award, Ann and John credited their large family for giving them their unwavering zest for life. “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,” Ann said.
That same inspiration must’ve spurred them onto their next milestone – their 85th wedding anniversary. At that time, CBS Minnesota declared that they might actually have the chronologically most extended marriage in the country. Regardless of their official title, the centenarians were as in love as ever.
“And they said it wouldn’t last,” John said, chuckling as he leaned in toward Ann. News crews traveled to catch up with the couple in 2017, just before they celebrated their anniversary with their extended family in Fairfield, CT.
Their party would actually take place just a few miles from where the Betars had first met. But that wouldn’t be the only callback to their relationship’s early years. The centenarians didn’t know that there’d be a special vehicle waiting for them at their celebration too.
“Look at that car!” John shouted as he and Ann ambled toward a Ford Roadster, just like the one he had bought with his hard-earned cash. When they got into the vehicle, he turned to his bride of 85 years and said, “You are my honey. Like old times.”
Their extra-long, incredibly sweet union had other couples asking them questions – how did they make it last so long? John told U.K. online newspaper The Independent, “We’re just lucky to be together.” He said “simply being together” was the highlight of their marriage.
To that end, John suggested to NTDTV that couples found joy in the little things. He advised others to seek out a feeling of contentment. “Just contentment,” he said. “Being contented with what you have, what you’re doing.”
Of course, they did have their struggles. For John’s part, he said that the couple’s disagreements had tended to have roots in the kitchen. “It’s only about cooking, that’s the only arguments we had,” he said. His wife disagreed.
Instead, Ann said the couple avoided many blow-ups simply by “listen[ing] to one another,” she told CBS Minnesota. “No matter what the situation is. We’re not arguing, we’re listening, and we’ve always listened,” she said.
Ultimately, though, the couple told others to compromise with their partners. “They expect miracles of each other like, ‘You have to agree with me, this is what I want to do,’ but it doesn’t work that way. We’re all different,” Ann told NTDTV. All of their advice seems simple, but, for the Betars, it was the formula for one of the world’s most successful marriages ever.