New Jersey 100-Year-Olds Celebrate Love on Valentine's Day

PHOTO: Grayce and Clarence Dwyer of Madison, N.J., have been married 75 years.
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At 100 years old, both Grayce and Clarence Dwyer have lived through a century of change. Born to Irish immigrant families, they both lost their fathers in the 1917 flu epidemic -- on the same day -- and were raised by young widowed mothers.

Their love, too, has transcended a century. Today, each conversation between the two ends, "I love you," then the other will pipe in, "I love you more."

One day recently, Clarence, who is a deeply religious man, looked at his wife and said, "Grayce, I think I am very old and that I am going home soon. Will you follow me?"

"Like the tail of a kite," she responded without hesitation.

The couple continues to live in their own home in Madison, N.J., with the help of an aide. They are still mobile, albeit with walkers.

After nearly 71 years of marriage, they have spawned four children, 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, the centerpiece of their lives.

Their life and everlasting devotion to family and faith echo the 20th century immigration story and the American Dream.

"We just always got along -- we came from similar lives," said Grayce. "We were raised by mothers who taught us what was important to have a valuable life, simply put -- take care of each other and your family. Life was not meant to be easy, so you surround yourself with good people and always have a strong faith that will help you through the hard times."

They were born in 1911 and 1912, respectively, the height of American immigration when 1.2 million, mostly Europeans from Germany and Ireland, entered the United States.

Clarence came from a large Boston family and was set on the path to the priesthood while Grayce dropped out of high school to work. They met at a dance in Brooklyn and married in 1941.

Clarence and Grayce Dwyer at their engagement at the age of 25.

Today their children and grandchildren are in finance, education, technology and baseball.

On Clarence's 100th birthday last year, he got a card from the White House and from New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg. The same happened again for Grayce in January.

"Until very recently they have been fiercely independent and still were able to cook and shop even if it meant returning to the local food market more than once a day so that they could prepare their own meals," said their daughter Donna Dwyer Streaman, an instructional aide and mother of five from Westfield, N.J.

Both have had hip surgery and doctors "marveled" at their recovery.

"We believe it is a testament to the love they have for each other," said Streaman, who is in her 50s. "But it's very sad for me to look at them now at the end of their life."

Both are reasonably healthy, but fragile. "A year in their life is a decade to them," she said. "One little fall can make such a tremendous change."

The secret to their happiness (and longevity) is simple, according to their daughter.

"Their mothers were survivors and taught them important values such as family, a strong work ethic, and being grateful for every day and moment you have," said Streaman. "Mom will say, 'I think it is probably remarkable that we are still here with each other and able to speak about the old days and laugh about the good times we had together and with our family.'"

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