Jeanne Gustavson and Steve Watts’ love story began in a German Club at Loyola University Chicago. They’d arrive to meetings early and linger afterward to chat with each other.
They were each other’s first loves, and they fell for one another quickly. Despite how perfect they were for each other, Jeanne’s family objected because Steve is Black.
“I was very hurt and very baffled by what my family did and said,” Jeanne said. “We had to keep our relationship a secret.”
Eight years passed. Jeanne graduated and pursued a degree in nursing while Steve earned his master’s degree in education. Now living on opposite sides of town, their relationship struggled.
They talked on the phone daily, but even that became a struggle once Jeanne got a full-time night position at a hospital. Unable to see a way for them to spend the time needed to grow a relationship, she broke up with Steve.
“I regretted it from the time that I did it,” she said. “I’ve had guilt over it for the last 42 years.”
They eventually moved on, each getting married to other people. But both relationships ended in childless divorce.
“I knew somehow this was an open chapter; it was never closed,” Jeanne said. “I knew there had to be more to this than the way it ended.
For seven months, she worked tirelessly to find Steve. Just when she was about to give up, she found his niece. They communicated through letters, which is how Jeanne found out Steve was in a nursing home.
Happy beyond belief, she contacted the Chicago nursing home to confirm he was there. Soon after, she sent Steve a letter from her Portland, Oregon home.
Weeks passed with no reply. Jeanne contacted the nursing home again, and all they said was that Steve was unable to reply. Determined for a resolution to their story, she made a surprise trip to Chicago without telling anyone.
When she arrived, Jeanne learned that Steve had been a resident since 2004. He’d had two strokes, leaving him bed ridden and with difficulty speaking. He also had additional health complication and lost a leg. She was his first visitor in 10 years.
With butterflies in her stomach, Jeanne waited for Steve to be brought into the visiting room. As soon as they locked eyes for the first time in 42 years, it was as if they were 18 and 21 years old again. Steve’s face lit up, and he called out to Jeanne by the nickname he gave her all those years ago.
“In that instant, I knew he still loved me and I still loved him, and this was going to be forever,” Jeanne said. “He grabbed my hand and would not let go. The two of us cried for about an hour and a half.”
They spent the next six days together, absolutely inseparable, before Jeanne went back home. Unable to stop thinking about Steve, she offered to bring him back home with her, if that’s what he wanted. His answer? “I’d follow you anywhere.”
To cover the cost of transporting Steve and his medical supplies, a GoFundMe was created. With the help of family and friends, $14,000 was raised, and these two soulmates were finally reunited for good.
With the help of Jeanne’s round-the-clock care and a hired aide, Steve has immensely improved in the last two months. He’s much more alert, and they love to spend time together playing chess.
“He makes me feel like I’m 18 again,” Jeanne said. “He is tender and loving, and we make each other laugh. I can’t explain it. I just love the man.”
Despite all of the challenges they faced, Jeanne and Steve are proving the power of true love.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Steve said. “She saved my life. If this is not heaven, it’s pretty close to it.”
“I loved him very much when we were younger and I knew he loved me,” Jeannie said. “But it wasn’t until all of this and we’ve been talking, I didn’t know how much he loved me. I really didn’t know.”
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