Longtime couples offer the secrets to their success

From left, couples Jim and Betty Rose Railey, Vincent and Mary Van Velzer, and Carroll and Bonnie Smith pose for a portrait at Rowntree Gardens in Stanton.
(Kevin Chang / Weekend)

After a collective 148 years of wedded bliss, three couples at a Stanton retirement community know a thing or two about making a marriage last.

The secrets to their success?

Communication, forgiveness, love and a single malt Scotch.

One couple competed together in the World Senior Games and won gold in the 60-and-older category.

The longest married couple will celebrate 63 years in April.

And the oldest of the group — he’s 94 — flew planes with his wife all over the Southwest.

They all reside at senior living center Rowntree Gardens, where they participate in activities together like games and sing-alongs. Or they may separately attend Bible study or fitness and wellness programs.

Sure, relationships are difficult, the couples said, as they revealed their own ways for making love last.

“They are so upbeat,” said Randy Brown, Rowntree Gardens CEO and board chairman. “When you talk to them, you get their wisdom. They are all inspiring.”


Jim and Betty Rose Railey

He was a nationally ranked racquetball player and she had never hit a ball.

But she was eager to learn.

Jim Railey first met Betty Rose professionally.

He was coordinating a social dancing program as a department leader at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She was president of the National Dance Assn. Jim wrote Betty Rose a letter asking her to keep the dance program at the school. She agreed and wrote a letter of support.

They lost the dance department.

But a year later, while waiting for a bus at a National Dance Assn. convention, Jim noticed Betty Rose’s name tag and thanked her for her help.

“You owe me a dance,” she told Jim.

They danced that night and have been married for 28 years.

After they married, Jim taught Betty Rose how to play racquetball. She wasn’t competitive at first, he said, but that changed when the couple — now both 84 — competed in the Senior Olympics and placed first in the 60-and-older category.

The message: Enjoy physical activities together, and celebrate each other’s achievements. “It was a tremendous bonding experience,” said Jim.

Betty Rose, who is originally from Birmingham, Ala., said she wasn’t used to a country boy from Kentucky.

“He is a gentleman,” she said of her husband. “His love for God and his leadership abilities are admirable.”

Said Jim: “She’s the glue that held me together. She’s very caring, loving and anxious to help others. We’ve never had an argument, and that’s because of her.”


Carroll and Bonnie Smith

Carroll and Bonnie Smith first met at a roller rink.

Bonnie, in high school at the time, had just moved west.

To make friends, she attended a roller skating party organized by her church.

Carroll and his friend spotted the “cute blonde” at the rink, he said. They agreed to race over, and whoever got to her first would ask her out on a date.

The two have been married for 62 years.

They have four children, 10 grandchildren and four — soon to be five — great-grandchildren.

The Smiths lived in Carlsbad but moved to Westminster to be near their daughter. They have lived at Rowntree Gardens for six months. Bonnie, 80, goes to a Bible study class every Friday afternoon, and Carroll, 86, likes to play music bingo. They also enjoy a game of shuffleboard.

Both said they never have to prove they are right and they never go to bed mad at each other.

“A good marriage is where there is one forgiver. A great marriage is when there are two forgivers,” Bonnie said.


Mary and Vince Van Velzer

Former Huntington Beach residents Mary and Vince Van Velzer have been married for 58 years.

They met at a bachelor and bachelorette square dance group that Vince had organized in Whittier. He was 35, she was 29.

“She put a stop to the dances after we met,” said Vince, who served as a pilot in WWII.

The couple dated for a while, and Vince proposed to Mary after learning she had booked a vacation with her mother and he wouldn’t see her for a while.

After they married, Mary wanted to learn to fly a plane too. She obtained her pilot’s license, and the two would fly together on vacation to places like Mexico, Nevada City and Northern California.

They have one son, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and two children from Mary’s first marriage.

The Van Velzers bought 20 acres in the Mohave and spent 15 years building a cabin where they spent time with family and friends.

Asked about the secret to their long and happy marriage, Mary, 88, said she and Vince, 94, agreed on the main decisions, such as the finances. They always paid cash for everything, except for their car and house. If they didn’t have the money, they didn’t buy it, she said.

“We have other differences, but it’s been essential to be aligned on the big things,” Mary said.

Another lesson on love?

Vince had three. “Older whiskey, younger woman and more money,” he said.

“Oh shush, Vincent,” Mary said. “You need to be true friends, respect each other and agree on the big things. You just have to love each other.”


Tips for a long, happy marriage:

1. Be willing to forgive your spouse and yourself.

“A good marriage is when there is one forgiver. A great marriage is when there are two forgivers. When you make the positive choice to forgive and set aside negative emotions, then your feelings follow your choices and happiness is in your future.” — Carroll Smith

2. You don’t always have to prove that you’re right, because you end up being right together.

“I promised to stay with him until death do us part and have found it rewarding to keep those vows with the Lord’s help. We’re a team. When I thank God for the ups and downs of our marriage, the Holy Spirit enables me. I feel my body and mind relax knowing we’re in this together, and it’s better than always being right.” — Bonnie Smith

3. Celebrate traditions, and find new and exciting family traditions for yourselves and your family.

“My husband’s family had this tradition of going away on weekends to a remote cabin offering freedom, dirt roads and lots of room for family and friends. So we bought 20 acres in the high Mohave and spent the next 15 years building a cabin with our family and friends. Our sons have thanked us so many times for taking them out of the city and into nature — where they learned cooperation, self-sufficiency, compassion and respect.” — Mary Van Velzer

4. Never give up on your relationship, even for a second.

“When things are going in a negative direction, don’t ever give up. Talk things through and find a way to reconcile the difficulty to make it work out. Focus on how you enjoy being good to your wife and appreciate how she enjoys being good to you. If the two of you stay appreciative and committed, you can’t miss.” — Carroll Smith

5. Make dinner your family time, without distractions.

“It isn’t easy, but we always made it a habit to eat dinner together at the dining room table with our sons, with no TV or other distractions. Discussing the things that went well during our day, sharing funny experiences, and talking about important things going on in our lives brought us together and built some amazing memories.” — Vince Van Velzer

6. Don’t leave differences or conflicts unresolved.

“Be broad-minded, and resolve conflicts as soon as possible. Whenever we have a disagreement or don’t know which decision is best for our future, Jim and I pray on it and talk things out. Keeping feelings inside isn’t healthy for people or their relationships. Sorting out your feelings and resolving differences of opinions will help you sleep better and wake up to a bright, new day.” — Betty Railey

Another couple in the development threw in their own advice:

7. Honor each other’s abilities and see differences as a gift.

“I’m a detail-oriented planner who likes to prepare and stick to a schedule and routine. Betty is an intuitive thinker, plays it a bit looser and is inspired by the people around her. She is always open to trying new things. While we may value different things, we most value each other. We both care deeply about making each other comfortable with our decisions and feelings.” — Gene Stowers

8. Take the time to talk and listen to each other.

“Each new day is an opportunity to show your loved one that you really care about what they think and feel. We’ve always sat around and talked a lot. That really matters in a relationship. The key is to honestly listen to what the other is saying and think before you reply.” — Betty Stowers