one black and one white hand coming together to form the shape of a heard
Jade Small
Jade Small
February 13, 2024 ·  4 min read

They were madly in love but were forced to end their interracial romance. They reunited 42 years later—and now live together

The thing about love is, that if it is real, nothing can stop it. When you find that real and true romance, you will do whatever you need to keep it alive. But sometimes, things keep you apart, things out of your control. In this case, it was all about race. But in the end, love prevailed!

It had been many long years since Jeanne Gustavson and Steve Watts had been together. The college sweethearts met one another in German club at Loyola University in Chicago. Jeanne was in love, but there was one problem. Steve was not white. Sadly, the pair broke off their romance because of this, and never saw one another again.

Steve Watts and Jeanne Gustavson in their young days in love — before four decades apart.
Chicago Sun Times

“My mother was absolutely livid. What didn’t she say? How could I disgrace the family. It was not pretty.” 

Back then, the only black people allowed in her family’s home were those working for them, so Jeanne kept their relationship a secret. It was when Jeanne arranged a party for the German club at her home that things went south. She told her that the president of the club was Black, and, “well, she just went ballistic,” Gustavson says. “I didn’t even say we were dating.”

The End of a Romance

It did not take Jeanne’s mother long to figure out that her daughter was in fact dating a black man. She even went as far as removing her from school for it. Eventually, her mother allowed her to see him on campus only, and the pair dated for seven years. Watts studied linguistics in graduate school at Loyola’s downtown campus. Gustavson graduated from nursing school in Maywood.

I loved him, and we wanted to get married. We talked about it and having a family.

Eventually, forced to live separate lives, the two split up.

One night, when he called me, everything came down on me at once, and I made a decision to end the relationship,” I love you, Steve. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.’ ”

“From the instant I did it, when I hung up the phone at work, I regretted it,” she says. “But, at the time, I thought it was the best thing to do for both of us.”

Jeanne worked as a nurse for 40 years and Steve moved to Germany to teach. Both married and divorced other people during that time. Their was just no real love or romance like the way she felt for Steve. After all that time, Jeanne still wondered about Steve, she hoped he was happy and had the family he always wanted. She did not want to disrupt his life but could not resist trying to find him.

Finding Steve

Jeanne tried online and searched Facebook, but she could not find the right Steve. This is when she decided to try contacting members of his family that she could recall. One day, Watts’s niece Adrienne Baskin made contact with her. She told Jeanne that he’d last seen her uncle a few years before and that he was in a nursing home near Chicago.

Jeanne Gustavson watches as her partner Steve Watts play chess with caregiver Sandra Collins at Gustavson’s home in Cedar Mill, Oregon, a suburb of Portland.
Jaime Valdez / Sun-Times

Perhaps there was a small chance of rekindling the romance she once had with the love of her life, after all! She called the nursing home where Steve resided. The nurse told her that he was orientated and alert, but could not give her more information than that.

That was one of the happiest days of my life,” she says, “because I thought: Oh, my God, I can find him now.”

Jeanne decided to write a letter to Steve, but never received a response. She decided to bite the bullet and fly to him anyway.

The Romance Returns

Jeanne went to the nursing home, but the man who was wheeled out to greet her was a mere shadow of his former self. And then, he whispered to Jeanne a nickname he had given her all those years ago. And she knew he was still the man she loved. The romance was still there. He told her he loved her. It had been 42 years since they had seen one another, and they spent two hours together that day.

He was still the wonderful man that I knew 50 years ago. He had withdrawn. There were little glimmers of his personality.”

Jeanne stayed in town for a week to see him daily, she says that his roommates were unbearable. And that is when she asked Steve to go home with her to Portland. “I’ll follow you anywhere,” he told her. Watts’ health issues have left him bedridden, but his mind is sharp and his heart is young. He’s still devoted to Gustavson after all these years. The romance remains alive.

Life Worth Living

It took Steve a while to adapt to living in a white area, but he eventually did. And the best part of this all was how alive their romance made Jeanne feel. Tina Mattern, a neighbor, and close friend, says that she has transformed and is happy again.

Jeanne Gustavson and Steve Watts together finally at Gustavson’s home in Cedar Mill, a suburb of Portland, Oregon.
Jaime Valdez / Sun-Times

She’s gone from that sedate person we’ve always known to — she bubbles, she giggles all the time. They are making up for lost time. She’s been essentially someone shortchanged her entire life. For her to experience this reunion is really phenomenal. He clearly is not the man he was 42 years ago. Inside, he is the same human being. And she loves him for who he is on the inside, not for the man he’s become on the outside.”

Keep Reading: I’m 63. She’s 22. Here’s What Most People Get Wrong About Our Marriage.


  1. An interracial couple was pressured to break up. Four decades later, they’ve rekindled their romance.CBS News. January 2022
  2. After 4 decades apart, ‘true love’ finally triumphs for couple who met in college at Loyola.Chicago Sun Times. October 2021