On March 6, 1934, Scott and Thelma Dowell got married in Livingston County, Missouri, and nearly 79 years later, they're still happily married in McCloud, where they've made their home since 1965.
When he was about 14 years old, 98 year old Scott Dowell of McCloud remembers seeing his future wife, Thelma, for the first time in church. He thought she was pretty, but "I never knew I'd meet her," Scott said.
On March 6, 1934, the couple got married in Livingston County, Missouri, and nearly 79 years later, the Dowells are still happily married in McCloud, where they've made their home since 1965.
Scott and Thelma were honored Monday as the longest married couple in California by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a faith-based marriage enrichment program.
"I think he's wonderful. I'm gonna keep him," said Thelma, now 97.
"We don't fight... we know when to shut up," said Scott with a grin.
Scott and Thelma were presented with a certificate, a bouquet of roses and a gift basket by Brian and Claudia Perry, who traveled to McCloud from their home in Maui, Hawaii on behalf of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Surrounded by family and friends, the Dowells celebrated their long-lived marriage.
John and Ann Betar of Fairfield, Conn., were recognized as the longest married couple in the United States, based on nominations submitted to Worldwide Marriage Encounter. The Betars have been married for 80 years, said Claudine Perry.
"But you two aren't far behind," Claudine told the Dowells.
Scott and Thelma's names will be read, along with the longest married couples from all 50 states, Guam and Saipan, during a ceremony in US Congress.
The Dowells have three children, five grandchildren (four that are surviving), 12 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren. Many of them were in McCloud for Monday's presentation.
"Marriage is an individual thing... you have to work at marriage, and they've worked on theirs," said Naomi Chamberlain, the Dowells daughter, who has been married to her husband Tom for 56 years.
"I'm pretty proud," said Andrew Bailey, the Dowell's 28 year old great-grandson, who lives in Redding. "I tell everybody I can. One of these days, maybe I can be married that long, if I ever get married again."
When asked the secret to their longevity, many friends suggested it might be the garden the couple plants each year. Friends and neighbors regularly depend on Scott's planting advice.
"They're amazing," said Paula Kleinhans, a friend of the Dowells who used to live up the street from them. "I love coming to talk gardening with them. They are an amazing couple."
Others called attention to Thelma's cookie jar, which is always kept full of fresh baked cookies.
The Dowells live independently in their home on Shasta Avenue, where they've lived since 1965. After they moved to McCloud from a farm in Missouri in 1937, Scott worked his way up the ranks at the McCloud River Lumber Company to a position as foreman of log cutters. They raised their family at the lumber camp at Pondosa.
Scott worked for the company for about 40 years, he said, and remembers making "the big sum of 40 cents an hour."
Scott and Thelma have enjoyed camping and fishing throughout their marriage.
"You don't have much work to do when you're out camping," Thelma explained.
"We had a race to see who could catch the last fish," said Scott. "She always won."
Scott still has his driver's license, and he drives Thelma around McCloud, to the dentist and the post office. He scored 100 percent on his most recent driving test, he said, holding up his driver's license as proof.
"I've never been picked up by the Highway Patrol, I've never got a ticket, and I've never paid a fine," Scott announced. When asked what kind of a driver she thinks her husband is, Thelma grinned and answered, "He's okay."
Scott said they'll be happy to have their story told in the Mount Shasta Herald; he believes they might have the longest running subscription, though records reaching further back than 2006 have been lost.
"Thelma got me a subscription one year for my birthday. I can't remember which one. We've been subscribers for many, many years," Scott said.
Though they cannot win the Worldwide Marriage Encounter's award for longest married couple in California again, according to Claudia Perry, the Dowells could win the award for longest married couple in the United States.
"(The Dowell's) 78 years of marriage stand as a testament to faith, perseverance, love and forgiveness," said Claudia, especially considering today's 50 percent divorce rate in the US.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter has been offering weekend experiences for more than 40 years. The experience gives couples the opportunity to spend time together away from the busyness of the world to focus on each other, according to a press release. It offers communication and other tools for building and maintaining a strong, Christian marriage in today's world.
For more information about the Worldwide Marriage Project, to go wwme.org