The moment she entered his room, he recognized her, said her name, and began to cry. "I knew he still loved me," she said.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 6, 2023. It has since been updated.
True love always finds its way back, and this holds true for Jeanne and Stephen Watts. They fell in love with each other in 1971 but could not marry because of the objection from Jeanne's family. However, 42 years later, they got married and are making up for all the "lost years." Jeanne told PEOPLE, "When he proposed, I said, 'A thousand times yes!'" They first met when she was a freshman and he was a senior at Chicago's Loyola University. "He was my first love. He was my true love," she said.
Unfortunately, it did not work out because Jeanne's mother objected to marrying a Black man. "She just went ballistic," Jeanne said, adding, "She didn't want this relationship to happen at all." However, they still managed to date for seven years. But once Jeanne graduated nursing school and got a job, the meetings became difficult because it included a long commute and Stephen did not have a car.
Jeanne said, "I was completely overwhelmed by everything." She added, "The family issue was always weighing on me because it fractured the relationship between my mother and myself forever. She was always my mother and I always loved her, but it affected our relationship for the rest of my life." The two had spoken about marriage but Jeanne was scared to take the next step. She would have lost her "entire family." And one day while doing her shift at the nurse's station, she told Stephen, "I love you, but I just can't do this."
It was an ending that they both didn't want and were left heartbroken. "I regretted it then, I regretted the way I did it, but I did it," said Jeanne. For the next four decades, they were not in touch and were living their separate lives. It was in 2021 when things began to change for the better. Jeanne who was a divorced retiree whose mother had also passed away decided to look for Stephen again. She couldn't find him on social media. "Everything came up a dead end when I tried to search for him," said Jeanne. "There was virtually no trace of him." Thankfully, in April, she found the mailing addresses of his niece and wrote a letter to her. She told him that he was in a nursing home.
Jeanne Gustavson tracked Stephen Watts to a Chicago nursing home and brought him back to her home in Oregon. https://t.co/y0AKPUqrpU— BeavertonValleyTimes (@ValleyTimes) February 8, 2022
A month later, she called the nursing home and requested to speak to Stephen. A staff member told him that patients didn't have bedside phones. So then, she wrote a letter to him but didn't get any response. She could not even connect to him when she called again. Jeanne finally decided to travel to Chicago from Oregon in June 2021. Jeanne said, "I needed to know, Was he okay? Was he married? Would he forgive me?"
The moment she entered his room, he recognized her, said her name, and began to cry. "I knew he still loved me," she said. In August of the same year, Jeanne moved in with Stephen and has been with him since then. Stephen told PEOPLE, "She is wonderful. She is my heart and soul," adding "I want to live with her always."
A few months later, they both were ready to get married. They said "I do" on October 15, 2022, with about 65 guests at their home. Jeanne said, "We can spend the rest of our lives together making plans. " She added, "I gladly took his last name. I've wanted it for a long time." Her last name was Gustavson earlier.