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Six decades of marriage advice, care of the Syfans
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Jim, right, and Gloria Syfan smile on their wedding day in 1963. The couple have been married for 57 years and say their success in marriage comes down to a mix giving each other space, working together toward common goals and good, old-fashioned love. Photo courtesy the Syfans.

The worst relationship advice the Syfans ever got was “You’re too young.”

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Gloria, right, and Jim Syfan stand together on Friday, Feb. 7, at Syfan Logistics in Gainesville. The couple has been married 57 years and gave some advice to locals ahead of Valentine’s Day on how to keep a marriage happy and healthy. - photo by Nick Bowman
Now married 57 years, Jim was 19 and Gloria 18 when they made their vows. Gloria had her first child before she was 20, and Jim had about a dozen jobs before he was settling into a career in logistics at 30.

In a life punctuated by trials and chances, successes and failures, the Syfan family has stayed together through love, hard work, trust and the help of a few good neighbors.

The Gainesville couple has been married since 1963. They were just kids back then, 18- and 19-year-olds. But from the first time they saw each other, they felt something and knew the feeling would last.

“The first time I ever laid eyes on him, I was 15,” Gloria said.

Jim was in his mother’s white Oldsmobile convertible with the top down — on purpose, he said —  as he pulled up to Gloria’s house to pick up a friend.

Unbeknownst to Gloria, Jim had his eye on her for a while.

“I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘That's a damn pretty girl right there,’” Jim said.

She felt the same way, so she made a move. She asked him to the Sadie Hawkins Dance that was coming up in a couple months, knowing that if he said yes, they’d likely go on a few dates before the dance.

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Jim and Gloria Syfan stand together at a dance. The Syfans first met in 1959. They were married when Gloria was 18 and Jim was 19, and they had their first child before their first year of marriage was over. They said the worst advice they’ve ever got in their marriage was: “You’re too young.”

“I asked him and he said yes and from that night on we were always together,” Gloria said, recalling when she asked Jim to the dance in 1959.

In the decades since, they’ve lived a lot of life, from taking out a loan to buy a horse and not knowing what to do with it to starting a home-building project without knowing the first thing about footings, plumbing, wiring or framing.

The family known for Syfan Logistics wasn’t always so secure. 

Jim bounced around the working world through his 20s — selling tires, moving into management and then getting into homebuilding and even restaurants before he found a home in the logistics business as he neared his 30th birthday.

That time between high school and logistics took him and Gloria to different cities around Georgia: Atlanta, Griffin, Newnan, Dahlonega and finally Gainesville.

But no matter where they were, Jim was focused on one thing.

“The prevailing thought was to help each other and give each other plenty of space,” he said. “To not crowd over each other and to pay attention to the needs of each other, to anticipate what she wants, what makes her happy and then find a way to deliver.”

And he didn’t waste any time delivering, even when it was risky.

Gloria had always wanted a horse. Instead of reminding her that they didn’t have a pasture or a barn or literally anything needed to care for a horse, he went to a bank, borrowed $200 — the most money he’d ever seen at one time in his life — and bought one.

“We didn’t have a trailer or nothing,” Gloria said, laughing. “We didn't even really have a place to keep that horse. Jimmy rode that horse from that place and I followed in the car behind him on the road through town to the house. We tied that horse up. The first night was in our carport.”

Even if they didn’t know what they were going to do with the horse, Jim bought it because he knew it made his wife happy.

“Making her happy makes me happy.and it's for real,” Jim said. “It's not for the moment, it's not just a fleeting happiness. It keeps on making me happy.”

A neighbor spotted the horse in the carport that night and “adopted” the couple, Gloria said, helping them care for the animal using pasture behind his home.

Jim’s urge to keep Gloria happy was more evident in their lives than back in the early 2000s when Jim was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring disease of the lungs that has no known cause. Gloria said, “Jimmy almost died.” But during the whole ordeal, he never worried about himself.

“Not one time did he act like he was sorry for himself,” Gloria said. “Our accountant said, “Gloria, the only thing Jimmy is worried about is you and what's going to happen to you.’ And then God came along and gave him a new set of lungs and we're still here that many years later.”

And things like that — maybe not always to that scale — come along in life, especially when you’ve been together so long. And making it through those times is just as important as making it through the good times.

“It's not that life has always been so easy,” Gloria said. “We've been through some really rough times. But they weren’t unhappy times … Things like this can either strengthen a family and bring them together or tear them apart.”

The trick to sticking together through the good and bad, they said, is working through it all together. And a little bit of love, trust, and patience doesn’t hurt.

“I think of all the things, respect, love and admiration is the key to a long-term relationship,” Gloria said. “Because you can be happy anywhere if you know the other person cares so deeply for you.”

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Gloria, right, and Jim Syfan sit with their dog, Kallie, in Jim’s office at Syfan Logistics, a successful trucking logistics company the couple founded in Gainesville. - photo by Nick Bowman
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