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Love at first sight at tender age leads to tender 70-year union

Updated: 
April 14, 2014 - 6:14am

Leonard Becker met his wife, Betty Jane, at a family wedding, when his sister married Betty Jane’s cousin.

Leonard was 13, Betty Jean a few years younger.

“I turned around to see who was in the audience,” Leonard said Friday at his Alii Drive home. “She smiled at me. Believe it or not, I fell in love with her with just a smile.”

It’s a love that has lasted, from those early years, when he would ride his bicycle by her house to catch a glimpse of her, to high school, when he would walk her home, to April 5, when they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. He’s now 89, she’s 87, but they still live on their own, in the home they purchased to share with their family. For years, the couple hosted Sunday afternoon lunches on their oceanfront lawn, with Betty cooking for the entire clan. The couple now has three children, seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and another on the way.

Leonard has never been shy about expressing his affection for Betty, their granddaughter Shellie Norman said.

“You just never had eyes for anybody but Grandma,” Norman said to Leonard during a recent conversation. “We’ll be having a conversation and he’ll stop and say, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’”

Betty jumped in at that point to offer a clarification.

“He doesn’t tell me that,” she said, smiling, while her relatives laughed. “He tells other people.”

Norman recounted another moment, about 40 years ago, when her grandparents took her on a trip. At one point, Leonard, with his arm around Betty, looked at Norman and said, “Isn’t she the cat’s meow?”

Leonard and Betty credit their Christian faith for their successful marriage.

“Marriage has been tied to our relationship with Jesus Christ,” Leonard said. “He’s changed our lives. … What I know is, the Lord has been better to us than we deserve.”

Betty agreed.

“He’s been so good to us,” she said. “I can’t even believe we’ve been married 70 years.”

Leonard credited another aspect of their relationship with helping the marriage last — they’ve always been close to their families. When they moved to Hawaii from California about 30 years ago, Norman was already living here, and their children and other grandchildren followed. Many of those family members have since moved away, but they gathered at the Becker’s immaculate Alii Drive home on Sunday to celebrate the couple’s milestone anniversary.

Norman said Leonard and Betty also benefit from good health. Betty still cleans the two-story home herself, and until just a few years ago, Leonard was taking on home improvement projects. A perfectionist by nature, he once owned a body and paint shop in southern California. He invented the “chop top Volkswagen.”

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show about 5 percent of married couples reach their 50th anniversary. Statistics on couples reaching their 70th anniversary could not be located, although estimates show it to be less than 1 percent of all marriages.