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Originally published Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 10:00 PM

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Old friends still in love as they near 100

Joe and Marion Epler, of Seattle, have known each other most of their adult lives. They hold hands when they sit together. They lean toward one another as they walk down the hall. And they smile when they talk about the things they love: Baseball. Sunshine. Family. Travel. This month, each will turn 100 years old.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They hold hands when they sit together. They lean toward one another as they walk down the hall.

And they smile when they talk about the things they love: Baseball. Sunshine. Family. Travel. And each other.

"It's pretty remarkable when you think about it," Joe Epler says.

It may not be remarkable that in the 1930s, Epler co-owned a light plane he and his buddy kept in a hangar at Boeing Field.

He remembers that a certain young woman used to come down to the same hangar to ride on a small plane owned by her uncle. And Epler would sometimes help start up the uncle's plane, giving its propeller a yank.

And if that's not remarkable, consider this: That same woman now sits by his side near a fireplace in the lobby of the Ida Culver House Broadview. And within the next couple of weeks, they will each turn 100 — Joe on Friday, Marion nine days later.

"He's a nice guy and I still think he's great," Marion Epler says.

The Eplers seem so relaxed and content together that a visitor, hearing the story of their airport meeting many decades ago, asks if it was love at first sight.

Not hardly. Although Joe and Marion have known each other most of their adult lives, they didn't marry each other until 1998, when they were 87 years old.

By that time, each had had a career and a family. Joe had lost a wife to cancer, and Marion's first two husbands had died.

Joe, a 1930 graduate of West Seattle High School, can still recount details from his many-faceted career: He served in the Marine Corps Reserve and later worked for the Seattle Fire Department, where he captained the Fire Boat Alki. From the mid-1940s into the '50s, he managed and co-owned a hardware store on Aurora and North 85th Street.

In the early 1960s, he helped organize Seattle's Queen City Savings and Loan and became its CEO.

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He's proud of his long association with the Kiwanis Club, his more than 60 years of perfect attendance at the service club's meetings and his leadership in the Kiwanis organization, in which he rose to the position of governor for a territory that included the Northwest, Alaska and British Columbia.

Marion, a 1929 graduate of Queen Anne High School, remembers her uncle Dooley's plane at Boeing Field and the fact that "I liked very much to be up in the air in any kind of aircraft."

In the past couple of years, Alzheimer's disease has dimmed some memories of her career as a mother of five children and a manager at Washington Mutual, where she worked in the insurance department, retiring in the 1970s.

Through the decades, Joe and Marion have known one another's spouses and relatives. Joe was friends with Marion's first husband, William Greenwood, and worked in the Seattle Fire Department with her father and two of her uncles

Marion was a close friend of Joe's wife, Fern, who died in 1977 after a long struggle with cancer.

In the final months of Fern's life, Marion visited regularly, offering whatever support she could.

After Fern's death, Joe says, "It seemed just kind of natural for Marion and I to be together."

Three years after they married, Joe and Marion took an around-the-world cruise. "And they were gone for three months ... pretty good at 90 years old," said Marion's youngest daughter, Sally de Jong, who lives in the Greenwood area, a couple of miles south of Ida Culver.

Centenarians, people at least 100 years old, are becoming more common in the United States. The 2010 Census, now being tabulated, is expected to show 79,000 Americans in that age group, with the number expected to double in the next decade.

At Ida Culver House Broadview, the Eplers join six other centenarians among the 369 residents.

Neither Epler claims to know the secret to a long life. "I've always been active," Joe said. "I've never smoked and I might have a glass of wine once in a blue moon."

This Valentine's Day, the Eplers have a quiet day at home planned. On Tuesday, they'll be honored at a birthday luncheon hosted by the North Central Kiwanis. And then on the 27th — Marion's birthday — some 60 relatives are expected to gather at a celebration at the Seattle Yacht Club.

Next month, Joe and Marion will be off on their annual baseball spring-training trip to Arizona. They'll stay in a house they own in Sun City, and de Jong will drive them to Mariners games.

Time has slowed them down but hasn't erased their enjoyment of life.

"I'm soon to be 100," Marion reminds a visitor. "And I feel just fine."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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