MANATEE -- Joe and Gertrude Keeton were originally against blind dates, but they let their friends set them up anyway. After that one date, full of talking and dancing, they knew they made the right decision.
"After the first evening, before it was over, I realized that he was a wonderful person," Gertrude said. "I changed my opinion of him."
"We had many, many dates after that," Joe added. "She just hit the spot for me."
They knew pretty soon after that first meeting that they wouldn't have to worry about blind dates anymore. Gertrude was 21 and Joe was 23 when they met.
Now 96 and 98, and living in Bradenton, the couple Tuesday celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.
"We met in September and married in June," Gertrude said. "So we didn't date very long. We pretty much knew from the beginning."
They met in West Virginia, where Gertrude was born, but spent most of their lives together in Somerset, Ky. Gertrude said her favorite memories were the places they would go with friends.
"I guess you'd refer to them as roadhouses today, where you can go and dance and buy drinks at the bar," she said. "We went to places
like that almost every evening, because we really enjoyed dancing."
Joe served in World War II for 26 months, spending years three through five of their marriage apart from Gertrude. During that time he worked with the Chinese army in Western China to help defend them from the Japanese. He had a few fond memories of the people and situations, such as a Chinese friend making him eat a chicken eye.
"He'd pick up the eye with chopsticks and put it in my rice, and I was supposed to eat it," Joe said with a laugh. "I ate anything he gave me."
Joe said it took him a long time to get back home, going through part of Europe and Africa before he could get back to the states. Gertrude spent that time living back with her parents. "Lord, I missed him," she said.
Though the two never had children of their own, they became very close with some of their neighbors' children in Kentucky. One of those children was Sally Moore, who came to their anniversary celebration with some of her siblings.
"They would tell my parents all the time, 'If anything happens to you, we'll take care of them,' " Moore said.
The Keetons moved to Florida after 50 years in Kentucky for the warmer weather and said they enjoy it here too. Gertrude said she has back problems, so she has to spend a lot of time lying down now to keep comfortable, but Joe continues to keep her company.
The celebration was at Summerfield Retirement Residence, where the Keetons both stay. They served champagne and cake with about 50 friends and other residents, exactly 75 years after they got married June 3, 1939.
Both of them said that they rarely disagreed with one another, but the key to their success with marriage was to respect one another when they did disagree.
"I can't say we never argued, but we very seldom did. If something came up that we disagreed on, we'd just discuss it," Gertrude said. "But we'd never argue over it. We would respect each other's point of view, and if there was something we just couldn't agree on we forgot it."
"We've really enjoyed every second of it," Joe added, giving Gertrude's hand a light squeeze.