"I gladly took his last name. I've wanted it for a long time," said Jeanne Watts.
Even happy endings can get happier. Last year, a woman reconnected with her long-lost love after 42 years and a few months later, the couple, Stephen Watts and Jeanne Watts (formerly Gustavson) got married. "When he proposed, I said, 'A thousand times yes!'" Jeanne, now 69, told PEOPLE. "We're trying to make up for 42 lost years." Jeanne and Stephen first met in 1971, when she was a freshman and he was a senior at Chicago's Loyola University.
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
"He was my first love. He was my true love," Jeanne told PEOPLE. But Jeanne's mom vehemently objected to her daughter's relationship with a Black man. "She just went ballistic," Jeanne said. "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," she added.
After secretly dating for seven years, Jeanne faced difficulties seeing Stephen when she landed a nursing job that required a long commute and late shifts. "I was completely overwhelmed by everything," Jeanne said.
Though marriage was on the couple's mind, Jeanne did not want to go ahead because she "would've lost my entire family." Standing at the nurse's station during her shift, Jeanne called Stephen and said, "I love you, but I just can't do this." Stephen felt shattered and Jeanne "regretted it." They would spend the next four decades leading separate lives and not speaking to each other.
Now THIS is love! I wish them the best. ♥️♥️ Fundraiser by Jeanne Gustavson : Steve & Jeanne - Love Finds a Way https://t.co/6kJErP5gtQ— Staboogie031 (@Staboogie0311) January 16, 2022
In 2021, Jeanne was a divorced retiree whose mother was no longer alive. She began looking for Stephen from her home in Cedar Mill, Oregon, but she couldn't find him on social media. She said, "There was virtually no trace of him." In April of that year, Jeanne found his niece's mailing address and wrote to her. "She told me he was in a nursing home," Jeanne said, "and that's something I had never in a million years imagined."
The next month, she called the nursing home but was informed that patients didn't have bedside phones. She then wrote him a letter but received no response. In late June 2021, Jeanne traveled to Chicago to talk to him in person. "I needed to know: Was he okay? Was he married? Would he forgive me?" she said.
When she finally met him, he recognized her and had tears in his eyes. "I knew he still loved me," she said. On August 8, 2021, he moved into her Oregon home and they have been living together ever since. A few months later, he asked her to marry him. The pair said their vows on October 15, 2022, in front of about 65 guests at the couple's home.
Their Norfolk terriers, Tushi and Jeffie, were ring bearers, and the two could "spend the rest of our lives together making plans." Jeanne goes by Jeanne Watts now, Stephen's last name. "I gladly took his last name. I've wanted it for a long time," she shared.
Cover Image Source: Youtube | CBS Sunday Morning