By Richard Weizel
FAIRFIELD, Connecticut (Reuters) - John and Ann Betar eloped on November 25, 1932, fleeing their close-knit Syrian neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and driving as fast as they could to Harrison, New York, to avoid Ann's father's plans to marry her off to a man 20 years older.
Now, as their 81st wedding anniversary approaches on Monday, the couple, named on Valentine's Day by Worldwide Marriage Encounter as 2013's "longest married couple" in America, can only laugh as they look back on the commotion they caused.
"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," chuckled John Betar, now 102 and still driving "though not quite as fast as the day we got married."
Ann Betar, 98, said she "had no choice but to elope because my father was set on me marrying a much older man, and I was 17. John was not the boy next door, but the boy across the street who I loved," she said.
"He was 21 and used to drive me to high school in his Ford Roadster," she added.
"That's why she married me, she loved that car," joked John Betar, as he sat on a couch holding his wife's hand in the waterfront house they have shared since 1964.
The day the couple tied the knot, the Great Depression was in full swing, "King Kong" had yet to shake up the silver screen, and future U.S. President John F. Kennedy was just a high school student.
"We have watched the world change together," said John Betar. "The key is to always agree with your wife."
The couple's house is on Long Island Sound, just a few miles from where they raised their five children in Bridgeport. John ran a grocery store before becoming a realtor.
Life has not always been easy. The couple lost one daughter and their only son to cancer within the past 15 years.
"No matter how many children you have or how old they are, it's the worst thing that can happen to a parent," Ann Betar said. "But our oldest daughter is 80 years old."
The Betars have 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Last February, representatives of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a Christian group based in San Bernardino, California, flew to Fairfield to present the Betars with a plaque and other gifts. It determined they were the longest-married living couple in the United States, based on a review of nominations sent in from around the country.
Dick Baumbach, a group spokesman, came up with the idea for the annual award to "encourage young couples to stay together."
The Betars even finish each other's sentences.
"We'll be together forever," said John, as Ann added softly, "somewhere we will be."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)