Late in 2017, the staff at Family Council decided to find the 10 Arkansas couples who have been married longer than any others.

Last week, in a celebration in the Grand Hall at the Governor’s Mansion, Family Council hosted a reception, complete with a wedding cake, to honor the 10 couples, who represented 772 years of marriage.

With 80 years of marriage behind them, I.B. and Ima Jewel Williams were recognized as the Arkansans who have been married the longest.

I.B, who is 100 years old, and Ima Jewel, 94, live in Biscoe. Ima Jewel caught I.B.’s attention at church in Bayou Meto, where he would sit behind her and pull her hair. After her father refused to allow I.B. to court her, he started walking her home from church, which was several miles out of his way.

Eventually, on a summer Sunday afternoon, I.B. asked, Ima Jewel said yes, and 80 years later, they are wearing the crown as the Arkansas couple with the most anniversaries.

The other nine couples are Marlin and Elsie Scott, married 79 years; four couples married 78 years – Betty and Cletus Hall, Cleovis and Arwilda Whiteside, Cecil and Lois Robertson, and Gussie and James Stephenson; one couple – Thell and Margie Ellison – married 76 years; and three couples married for 75 years – Grady and Wilma Adcock, J.C. and Avanelle Merritt, and N.D. and Anna Mae Edwards.

At last count, Family Council had identified 32 couples who had been married between 70 years and 75 years. That is extraordinary.

Forty-two couples who each have been married at least 70 years represent a lot of love and patience and, I’m sure, some hard times. But these couples stayed the course and proved that it is possible to commit to a life-long marriage and keep the commitment.

As I told the couples and the families who attended the celebration at the mansion, Susan and I met in college, and when I was in law school at Fayetteville, she was teaching in Memphis. I couldn’t afford to put gas in my 1966 Valiant and buy law books at the same time, so I wound up hitchhiking to date her. This seemed like a great idea until I hitchhiked to Atlanta to seek her father’s permission to marry her. My mode of transportation did not impress my future father-in-law, but despite that beginning, Susan and I have been blessed with 44 years of marriage.

As Family Council President Jerry Cox noted at the reception, we’ve only been married half as long as some of the couples we honored at the Mansion.

Congratulations to our honorees. Thank you for the example you have set for the rest of us.