Want to know the key to a long and happy marriage from an expert?
"Every day ask her how she feels and 'Is there anything I can do for you?' " Wilbur Faiss of Las Vegas said. "And say, 'Honey, I still love you.' "
Faiss, 100, clearly speaks from experience. He and his wife, Theresa, 96, were married more than 78 years ago in Centralia, Ill.
The Worldwide Marriage Encounter announced Jan. 24 that the Faisses are the winners of its longest-married couple contest for 2012. Three other couples who have longer marriages, and are still alive, have been honored by the faith-based organization in past years, according to Dick Baumback, who oversees the program.
A New Mexico couple, who celebrate their 83rd anniversary Feb. 14, were honored last year, and two others have been married more than 80 years.
Theresa suffers from "old people's illness," her husband said, and seldom talks with anyone other than him or their sons.
But Faiss, a Nevada state senator from 1976 to 1984, remains mentally sharp, attributing that to his daily work on crossword puzzles.
They have lived in Summerlin since 1985.
Son Bob, a lawyer and shareholder with Lionel Sawyer and Collins, helps with their finances, and son Don helps with cooking, shopping and household work.
Wilbur Faiss is thrilled at the honor, particularly because of the bad reputation Las Vegas has for quickie celebrity marriages. Singer Britney Spears' Las Vegas marriage to high school sweetheart Jason Alexander in 2004 lasted 55 hours.
"Las Vegas is the marriage capital of the United States," Faiss said. "Sure there are misses. But there are misses in Chicago and every other city. We live in a good neighborhood, quiet, with no yelling and fisticuffs. I don't think there is any better neighborhood in the country."
Will fell in love with Theresa at first sight. He was skating at a roller rink in his hometown of Centralia, 60 miles east of St. Louis, when he spied a pretty girl sitting in the crowd.
"I was a hot shot on skates, and she was by far the most beautiful girl in the audience," he recalled.
So he put on a demonstration and then skated over and asked her for a date.
She accepted. They were married by a justice of the peace a year later -- April 14, 1933. It was in the middle of the Great Depression, so there was no long honeymoon or expensive gifts. They moved in with her parents and stayed there for more than a year.
"I was working for a shoe factory for $25 a week," Faiss said. "That was extra good since almost half of the people didn't have a job."
Jerry and Mary Hughes, a Boulder City couple, often have Sunday breakfasts and spend holidays with the Faisses and their family.
"Theresa used to comment on the service we received at restaurants. I remember she would say, 'I never would send those things out of the kitchen,' " Mary Hughes recalled. "She was a hard worker known for her apple pies. They stuck it out all of these years and made it work."
Jerry Hughes remembers a couple of young people asking them how they managed to stay married so long.
"He talked about give and take and be willing to compromise," Hughes said. " 'It is too bad political parties can't do that.' That is what he said. I agree. The guy is so sharp."
Longtime family friend Cookie Bible attributes the Faisses' long lives and marriage to their family.
"They have such a close family and have great family support in the way of sons Bob and Don," she said. "Don goes over every day, and Bob calls Theresa every day. They have breakfast together almost every weekend. And Will truly loves Theresa. You can see it in his eyes."
In 1944, the Faisses moved to North Las Vegas. Life was a little better once they established their own businesses. They opened Truck Haven in the early 1950s and then later opened Truck Harbor near Nellis Air Force Base -- the businesses no longer are there.
But times got tough again.
"We faced the loss of our business, and I was one of the first to work at the Nevada Test Site, while Theresa operated the service station and the cafe with only the help of our teenage sons," Faiss said. "Theresa and I just never gave up. She had a lot to do. She did more than her share. She did a very good job."
The family grew to three sons, counting youngest son Ron, a retired gaming executive living in Utah. What kept their sons on the straight and narrow, he believes, is that all were called on to work.
He does not blame parents today when their children turn to drugs or worse.
"Parents are busy trying to make a living for the family, and the kids have to watch out for themselves," he said. "That is a very bad thing. Our kids worked right along with us."
Faiss is growing used to being honored as he grows older. He was featured in recent stories in the Review-Journal and other media for being Nevada's oldest living former state legislator.
As far as having a long marriage and living a long and happy life, he offers a few tips:
Never smoke or drink.
Most of the time, be the one who says, "I apologize dear. You are right."
Remember birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine's Days, although it is not as important when you grow old.
Surprise her with gifts. Don't do it just on Valentine's Day or her birthday. Do it when she doesn't expect it and give her something she won't expect.
On disciplining children: Keep the children busy, and you won't have discipline problems. Make them work for money, and they will learn the value of money.
Just don't "overdo anything."
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.