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Jeanne Gustavson tracked Stephen Watts to a Chicago nursing home and brought him back to her home in Oregon.

Jeanne Gustavson and Stephen Watts told their love story to the world.

Six months later, they are still adjusting to life together in Cedar Mill after 42 years spent apart.

The couple has been overwhelmed with positive responses from the public after their love story was shared by news outlets across the world — Portland-based KGW in September, the Chicago Sun-Times in October, and more.

Gustavson laughed — her and Watts consider themselves private people, and to have all this attention is "surreal."

The couple met in Chicago at Loyola University, where Gustavson was a German major and Watts was president of the German club.

It wasn't long before Gustavson and Watts fell in love.

But things weren't easy for the couple. It was 1971, and in Gustavson's family, it was unacceptable for her, a white woman, to be with a Black man. Just the idea of hosting the German club at her mother's home — with a Black club president — was enough for Gustavson's mother to go "ballistic," she recalled.

The pressure weighed on Gustavson. She knew she would lose her family if she stayed with Watts. It wasn't just that, she said, but her nursing job gave her a difficult schedule, and she was overwhelmed with nursing school and her future career.

One night, Watts called her at work.

"It was just too much, and I broke down," Gustavson said. "I said, 'I love you, Steve, but I can't do this.'"

Gustavson ended the relationship. Watts said all he wanted to do was grab her and kiss her, but he couldn't.

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it," Watts said.

And when Gustavson walked into his Chicago nursing home 42 years later, he couldn't believe she still loved him then.

But she did. Their connection was instantly rekindled, and they spent over an hour and a half together catching up.

"It was like 42 years just vanished," Gustavson said.

The years have taken their toll on Watts.

He has had two strokes, then infections leading to his left leg being amputated above the knee. He was more withdrawn than Gustavson remembered.

Watts had spent 18 years in that nursing home in Chicago. The facility said Gustavson was his first visitor in almost 10 years.

Watts wasn't living the life he deserved, Gustavson said, and so she invited him to come home with her in Cedar Mill.

"I didn't think twice," she said.

The couple feels lucky to be where they are today. Even though each of them was married and divorced, Watts was "always there" in Gustavson's mind, and Watts said he loved her every day.

Gustavson said all she wanted to do was apologize for the way things ended.

"That haunted me," she said.

After teaching in Germany for 18 months after school, Watts served as a paratrooper in France for a few years. After returning to the United States, he had trouble finding work, and he found himself homeless for three years in Chicago.

"I could've been shot. I could've broken my neck," Watts said.

But he survived, and now he's reunited with the love of his life.

"You don't know how lucky I am," he said.

"I do believe right now that God planned for us to be together, to send me back to him at a time when he needed me the most," Gustavson said. "Because I truly feel he would have died in that nursing home. And he has a life now. He's got hope. He's got a future."

Gustavson knew her life would "change forever" when Watts came home with her. But there was no question she would be there for him, and "if you want something bad enough, you'll do it," she said.

For the first few months after moving to Oregon, Watts wasn't able to access Medicaid services. Watts' hired caregiver and Gustavson did everything they could to care for him anyway.

Most of Gustavson's nursing years were spent in management, but she still felt prepared for caregiving. When the doctors and therapists were finally able to see Watts, she said, "Just about everything they suggested to do, we were already doing."

And with more professional help now, Watts is improving. He does daily exercises his speech therapist suggested, he's on medication that helps with muscle contractions throughout his body, and he's working on pain management. Being with Gustavson has helped him immensely.

Plus, her cooking is helping him gain some much-needed weight, she said.

"His general demeanor, outlook, personality — I don't know how you want to term it, but he's more outgoing. He's more social. His attitude is brighter," Gustavson said.

Since Watts is bedridden, Watts and Gustavson can't go out together on dates, so they try to be creative with that they have.

The couple plans "date nights" at least once every week. They order takeout and watch movies, catch up on TV, play games, or just lay together and listen to classical music — Watts' favorite. Recently, Watts' caregiver helped the couple organize an indoor picnic and made them a charcuterie board.

Gustavson decorates Watts' room for holidays, too, and currently has Valentine's Day decorations in the house. Every day, she tries to bring the world inside for Watts to experience.

Watts has "made leaps and bounds in the six months that he's been here, and he's still showing signs of improvement," she said.

Months after Watts moved to Oregon, the couple is more in love than ever. And Watts still makes Gustavson feel like she's 18 again.

"I don't want to say time didn't matter — it did — but in a way, it didn't, because we still had that love for each other," Gustavson said. "How many people even know someone 50 years, let alone love them having not seen them for a long period of time like that? And how fortunate are we to be able to get together again and move forward with that relationship?"


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