Loyola couple reunites after a 42 year long couple. They have now been married for almost a year.
Jeanne Gustavson and Steve Watts called it love at first sight when they first met at Loyola in 1971. Despite breaking up 42 years ago, the interracial couple found peace on campus despite disapproving families and what Gustavson described as a “still segregated” Chicago.
Three years ago, they reunited.
Gustavson and Watts, who both graduated with German degrees, attended Loyola in 1971 — Watts a fourth-year and Gustavson a first-year. They met at a meeting for German Club, of which Watts was the president. Gustavson said she noticed Watts immediately when he walked in.
“He was striking,” Gustavson said. “I don’t know what other word to use. He was just dashing.”
Watts later said to Gustavson their first encounter was “love at first sight” for him. The couple started dating shortly after and stayed together for seven years, despite opposition from Gustavson’s family because i Watts was Black.
Gustavson cited a time when her mother visited the dean’s office at Loyola, complaining about Gustavson’s relationship with Watts and demanding they be kept apart. Her mother even went so far as to try and get her own daughter expelled from the university, according to Gustavson.
After Gustvason graduated and Watts entered graduate school for linguistics, she decided to end their relationship. Gustavson said she regretted the decision immediately – and continued to for the rest of her life.
“I broke up with him in a terrible way,” Gustavson said. “I was getting a lot of pressure from my family and my relationship with my mother had been rocky ever since this whole thing with Steve came about. I didn’t see how the relationship was going to move forward.”
Over four decades went by with no contact between Gustavson and Watts and both went on to get married and divorced. Neither had any children.
Gustavson said she always thought about trying to find Watts again and began thinking more seriously after the death of her mother. After years had passed, she started looking for him. She said their whole story just kept haunting her.
Gustavson said she searched online for Watts for seven months with no luck.
“Everything was a dead end,” Gustavson said. “There was just no information.”
Despite her lack of success, Gustavson felt empowered to continue searching for her love.
“After seven months without any success, I went in one last time,” Gustavson said. “I said, ‘Okay, God. This is it. If nothing comes up, I’m done. I don’t know what else to do.’ And lo and behold, his niece’s name popped up with an address.”
After writing to Watts’ niece, she was able to find out he was in a nursing home in Chicago. She wrote to Watts but never got a reply because he had suffered a stroke and couldn’t write back to her.
Gustavson decided to visit Watts in the nursing home in 2020 and wrote him a letter alerting him of her arrival, which Watts also never received due to a lack of proper physical and mental care.
When Gustavson finally arrived at the nursing home, she was escorted to a room where she could see Watts, but he refused to come down because he didn’t know who the visitor was. When he finally came down and they saw each other, Gustavson said her heart broke at the sight of how much he had changed since their last meeting 42 years ago. But their love remained the same, Gustavson said.
“I just knew,” Gustavson said. “I don’t know how. But I just knew things were gonna work out between us.”
After reconnecting, Watts moved in with Gustavson in Oregon in August 2021, finally able to receive proper care and love. After some time living together, Watts asked Gustavson to marry him.
“I think he just said, if I remember correctly, ‘I want to marry you,’” Gustavson said.
The couple was married at their home in Oregon on Oct. 15. Gustavson described it as an absolutely beautiful day filled with love and laughter.
Gustavson said they are grateful for their time at Loyola for bringing them together and said each of them had a wonderful time at the university.
Gustavson said if she has one piece of advice for people in relationships today it would be to live your life and love without looking back.
“True love does exist,” Gustavson said. “Follow your heart. I didn’t, and I regretted it the rest of my life. If you have those feelings for someone, follow through on it, because it can be the very best time of your life.”
This story was written by Isabella Grosso and Lilli Malone
Featured image courtesy of Jeanne Gustavson