Helen and Bruce Kunkel met on a blind date in Beatrice, Neb., in 1938, and they eloped to Kansas just three weeks later. The Long Beach couple, both 96,
Helen and Bruce Kunkel met on a blind date in Beatrice, Neb., in 1938, and they eloped to Kansas just three weeks later. The Long Beach couple, both 96, celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary last month. (Brittany Murray/Staff Photographer)

Here's a tip for a long marriage.

Don't waste time on a lengthy engagement. Get married fast.

That's what Bruce Kunkel and Helen Boettcher did. They met on a blind date in Beatrice, Neb., and got married three weeks later on Oct. 25, 1938. And, to top it off, they eloped to Kansas.

"My father had a fit," Helen said on Friday.

Many people thought the marriage wouldn't last.

But, now, 74 years later, Bruce and Helen were holding hands, just like a couple of lovesick teenagers, in their condo in Galaxy Towers, 2999 Ocean Blvd. Both are 96.

Why did they get married at 22 after knowing each other for only three weeks?

"God was saying deep down that this is the girl for you," Bruce said. "So I chased her until she caught me."

Bruce called me after he read my column last Sunday on Jody and Jerry Barber of Lakewood Village who were celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

Bruce, in effect, said what's so great about 70 - he and Helen had just hit their 74th anniversary.

When I wrote the column about the Barbers, I asked readers if they knew anyone married longer than that in the Greater Long Beach area. Readers let me know immediately that love runs deep here. There are at least four couples, including the Kunkels, who have been married for more than 70 years and are living in our area.


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Here's what readers told me:

• Ginette Williams wrote: "My parents, Neal and Virginia Beaver, met and fell in love in 1937, marrying two years later in 1939 (the year of "Gone With the Wind" and "Wizard of Oz"). They just celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary. They still live in their Long Beach home of over 62 years and dad still pats mom's hand as he passes her chair. It's a story of true love."

• Les Padfield wrote: "I enjoyed your story on the Barbers. I was struck by the coincidence with my friends, Don and Bette Barden, who also met when attending Wilson High School. They also were married in Long Beach, although on Oct. 16, 1942. (They beat the Barbers in getting married by 22 days). They also have a wonderful love story."

• Leslie Arrington wrote this about her parents, George and Verna Becker: "My parents celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Oct. 18, 1972." That was two days after the Bardens got married and 20 days before the Barbers. Arrington said the parallels between the Barbers and her parents are remarkable: Her dad attended Lowell Elementary as did Jody Barber; both couples attended Jefferson Junior and Wilson High; both couples were married in 1942; both husbands entered service with the Army Air Corps; both wives followed their husbdands around the country; both couples had three children; both couples still live in the area and are in love, and friends and family of both couples said they were too young and it wouldn't work.

Two other people left messages talking about two other couples married for more than 70 years, but that could not be confirmed.

The Barbers' column and the response led me to check on what is the world record for the longest living marriage.

The answer: a whopping 87-plus years held by a couple in England. The record for the longest living marriage in the United States (that I could find) is 83-plus years held by a couple in New Mexico. And I thought my wife Pat and I were doing pretty good at 40 years of marriage. We're just rookies when compared to these marital longtimers.

These long marriages, astounding as they are, are even more remarkable when considering the divorce rate in the United States.

Although no one has exact figures, most experts say between 40 percent and 60 percent of first marriages in the United States will end in divorce. Married adults now divorce an estimated 2 ½ times as often as adults did 20 years ago and four times as often as they did 50 years ago. 

What is the secret of a long-lasting marriage?

"I'm still learning," Bruce Kunkel said with a laugh. "We have a lot of laughs and a lot of good fun. I'm the stand-up comedian, and she's the sit-down comedian."

Here are tips from other sources:

• Listen to your partner. Make time to listen.

• Be tolerant of each other and some of those little things that annoy you. Remember that no one is perfect, including you. Don't let the sun set on your anger.

• Look after each other's concerns and worries. Respect each other.

• Stay healthy.

• Have a sense of humor.

• Tell your partner that you love them and appreciate them.

If all of that doesn't work, one husband told me his secret to marriage longevity was the use of two words, "Yes, dear."

rich.archbold@presstelegram.com

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