NORCROSS - When Joseph and Dorothy Phillips got married 70 years ago, they kept it a secret from their families.
Dorothy Phillips said she and her husband-to-be walked to downtown Gaffney, S.C., on March 6, 1937, to be wed without their parents knowing.
"Back then, people didn't have a lot of money to have big weddings like girls want today," she said said. "So that was the cheapest way to get married. We eloped on a Saturday and it's stuck all these years."
The tables were turned Saturday night when the surprise was all theirs for a rare anniversary celebration.
"I knew we were going out for our anniversary, but I had no idea about anything like this," said Dorothy Phillips, who couldn't help but cry when she saw 22 family members and friends gathered at the Wingate Inn in Norcross in their honor.
The gathering included seven of their eight sons, who traveled from as far as Washington state to be there.
"Seventy years of marriage. Can anyone in here fathom that?" asked Aubery Phillips, the couple's second oldest child. "And to the same man? It's such a blessing."
Joseph Phillips, 92, and Dorothy Phillips, 90, moved to live with their youngest son, Alexander, in Lilburn in May.
The couple's anniversary celebration included serenading from their sons and a rededication of their vows by their pastor, who said it's hard to find the appropriate gift for such an occasion.
"There aren't too many cards in the store for 70th anniversaries," said William Steals, senior pastor of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church. "They stop at 50, so this is really special."
So how does a couple make a marriage last 70 years?
Dorothy Phillips said a lot of it has to do with their faith in the Lord and a lot of it has to do with perseverance.
"You can't leave every time a problem comes up," Dorothy Phillips said. "You have to stay there and stick with it."
Joseph Phillips Jr., the oldest son, said his mother is the reason the marriage has been able to last so long.
"She's the kingpin," he said. "She believes in that marriage. We're fortunate to have that image to look to."