April 28, 1997 12:00 PM

NEWSPAPERS WERE A PENNY AND Woodrow Wilson was President the year George Couron first laid eyes on Gaynel Emery-Smitten while passing her on a sidewalk in Fort Dodge, Iowa, he fell in love when they met again at a carnival. He was 18, she was 16, and after their marriage a year later, on April 10, 1916, they dreamed of a long life. “As far as age,” says George, “we thought we might get up to 80.”

They did—two decades ago. Now George, 100, and Gaynel, 97, are on the threshold of another milestone. Last week the Orange vale, Calif., couple celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary, making them the longest-married living couple in the U.S. (Two other couples, both now deceased, were married a record 86 years each.) “We still tell each other we love each other,” says George, a retired custodian. “We’re still at it.”

Their blissful union has produced 14 children, 43 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren and some 30 great-greats. Gaynel is blind and frail now and rarely speaks—except to George. “They reminisce,” says daughter Gaynel Craig, 67, who cares for them. The Courons, who are vegetarians, also like to hold hands, nuzzle and kiss. “Sometimes,” laughs daughter Ardith Wignall, 71, “they get real sickening.”

But the lovebirds just can’t help it. “I got the man I wanted,” says Gaynel proudly. “And I got the woman I wanted,” agrees her husband, who gazes at her as he did that first day and sighs, “What a beautiful woman this is.”

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