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Originally published July 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 14, 2008 at 7:57 PM

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Seven siblings celebrating 50-year marriages

Don't try convincing Ed Jansen, 74, of Cutlerville, that the institution of marriage needs propping up. Or his wife Arlyn, 72. Or Ed's brother Charlie...

Newhouse News Service

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Don't try convincing Ed Jansen, 74, of Cutlerville, that the institution of marriage needs propping up.

Or his wife Arlyn, 72.

Or Ed's brother Charlie, 83. Or Charlie's wife, Cornelia, 78.

Or Cornelia's sister-in-law Wilma VanKooten, 71. Or Wilma's husband Delmer, 75. Nor Guy and Janet Jansen.

Berdena and Junior Vos?

Nope.

Same goes for Melvin Jansen and wife, Marilyn. And the Geelses — Doris and Nelson.

You'll lose the argument. Because every living son and daughter born in the past century to the late Evert and Gertie Jansen — seven kids in all — has celebrated or is about to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Collectively, they stand for 383 years of commitment.

Having problems with your partner? Need a compass? Pull up a chair for a lesson in Nuptial Longevity 101.

"I looked and looked for a wife," said Charlie Jansen. "I went with a lot of girls. But I wanted one that was perfect, and I found her. And I hung right on since."

The group exploded in laughter but, when you think about it, "hung on" says a lot about a successful marriage, as in "hanging in there" rather than "hanging it up."

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"I attribute it all to faith," said Wilma VanKooten, who tied the knot with Delmer nearly 60 years ago. The VanKootens also agree with their siblings and in-laws that pacts had more meaning then than now.

"When you got married, it was forever — now, 10 or 15 or 25 years," Arlyn said. "You stayed forever."

Their advice for couples?

"Pray together," Arlyn said. "Read your Bible. Go to church."

Cornelia added, "Eat together."

"A lot of give and take," Ed offered.

"And family time is important," Wilma said.

"We tried to have breakfast together before the kids went to school," Arlyn said. "That's how the kids started off the day."

The couples also recommend staying in touch with close relatives, regardless of your issues.

"A lot of people say, 'I haven't seen my brother in seven years,' " Ed said. "I have such a hard time understanding that."

Reflecting the changing times, Wilma said she used to write a lot of letters. That has been replaced by e-mails.

The Jansen clan has had to battle through its share of hardships.

The family lost twins shortly after birth and a brother to World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. Dick Jansen was 22 when he died in 1944, leaving behind a wife and an infant he never saw.

The Jansens grew up in Iowa, where their parents worked as farmers. Five of the couples still live there, while Ed and Arlyn Jansen and Charlie and Cornelia Jansen live in the Cutlerville, Mich., area.

The five Iowa couples are Delmer and Wilma, and Guy and Janet Jansen (married 58 years), Junior and Berdena Vos (58 years), Nelson and Doris Geels (54 years) and Melvin and Marilyn Jansen, who will celebrate their 50th in August.

Time has taken its toll. Last year alone, the group of 14 endured five onsets of cancer in varying forms, a ruptured appendix, one hip replacement and two accidents — one involving a wayward ladder and the other an uncooperative tree.

Humor helps them along.

Charlie lauded his wife Cornelia's cooking: "It's really good, or I wouldn't have stayed around."

"We travel well together," Arlyn said of herself and Ed. "But wallpapering together? I think I did that when he was at work."

They all came to accept each other's idiosyncrasies.

"Delmer's got perfect drawers," Wilma said of the way her husband folds and puts away clothes in his dresser. "He got it from his mother."

As for Ed and Arlyn, "She's cold and I'm hot," he said.

She agreed: "A good thing we just got air conditioning."

Charlie collects tractors, and to celebrate his upcoming 60th with Cornelia, he's looking for another 1946 Model 70 Oliver to go with the one he restored, so he and his bride can ride into the sunset on their anniversary.

"I'm thinking I'll have a sign on the back that reads: 'Pulling together for 60 years.' "

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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