1,553 Years of Marriage--the Secret?

After John and Angie Beccia renewed their wedding vows Thursday afternoon, John gazed at his wife of 50 years and proclaimed, "When I first saw her, I said, 'That's the one for me!' "

"I just fell in love with him right away!" responded Angie Beccia.

The Beccias, of Anaheim, were among 26 couples married for 50 years or more who renewed their wedding vows during a ceremony at the Sequoia Athletic Club in Buena Park.

Collectively, the couples have been married 1,553 years and have 60 children, 114 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The elaborate ceremony, complete with a reception, wedding cake and a first dance to "I Love You Truly," was put on by Senior Friends, West Anaheim Medical Center Chapter.

"It just made you feel like you met all over again," said Angie Beccia, 72, who married John, 76, on Aug. 7, 1948, in Waterbury, Conn.

Senior Friends, with about 3,000 members, all 50 and older, offers educational programs, companionship and fellowship, said director Jackie Entringer.

"The whole aim of the group is to stay active and healthy," Entringer said.

During the ceremony, the couples, dressed in their Sunday best, held hands, exchanged vows and a kiss, and were repronounced husband and wife.

Officiant Jerry Crawford, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Anaheim, told the couples they have learned the "true meaning of love." He also called them an "above-average group" since most marriages today last only five years.

"You have a lot to teach the younger generation," Crawford said.

Ruth and Harold Gilbert of Huntington Beach, who married 65 years ago--on Nov. 23, 1932, in Elkhart, Ind.--have had the longest union.

"There was just never anybody else," said Ruth Gilbert, 88, clutching her husband's hand.

Harold Gilbert, also 88, said trust and mutual respect have kept them together.

"It's been a good, good marriage. It really has," Ruth Gilbert added.

Willard and Betty Kleiter of Anaheim celebrated 57 years together.

They married July 12, 1941, in Los Angeles. They laughed after recalling that their nuptial announcement in the local newspaper read they had exchanged "wedding cows."

Their secret to a lasting bond? "Love--and we never fight," said Betty Kleiter, 80.

Added her 83-year-old husband: "We never go to bed mad. It doesn't do any good."

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