PORTLAND, Oregon — A Northwest Portland couple just celebrated their first Valentine’s Day together after being apart for 42 years.
Gustavson reunited with her college sweetheart, Steve Watts, last summer. The couple first met in 1972 at Loyola University Chicago. But after dating for eight years, Gustavson broke up with Watts. One reason was pressure from Gustavson’s mother who did not approve of interracial dating; Watts is Black and Gustavson is white. They kept their relationship hidden from her and other family members for many years.
“I regretted breaking up with Steve instantly,” said Gustavson. “I didn't follow my heart the first time around. I should have.”
Both Gustavson and Watts went on to marry and divorce other people. Neither had any children. Then after a series of events, that Gustavson calls miracles, the couple reunited last summer. Gustavson tracked Watts down to a care home outside of Chicago.
“It was like an instant connection all over again,” said Gustavson.
Watts had lost a leg due to infection and suffered two strokes, which robbed him of his ability to speak clearly. Gustavson, a retired nurse, brought Watts back to Oregon to start over. An additional in-house nurse is helping care for Watts, who has also benefited from physical and speech therapy.
“He's made a lot of improvements even in the six months he's been here,” said Gustavson. “One of his goals is to stand. I tell him nothing is impossible based on everything that's happened so far."
It helps that so many people are pulling for the couple. Since their reunion, their story has been shared around the world. Gustavson said the gifts and words of support they’ve received have been overwhelming and appreciated; many are from interracial couples who've faced hardships of their own.
“I try and thank people for what they're saying,” said Gustavson. “What I think is people want to hear something good nowadays.”
Watts, from his bed, then shared some very good news:
“We're going to get married,” said Watts, through a peaceful smile. He asked Gustavson for her hand, late last year.
“We have 42 years to catch up on!” said Gustavson. “We have nothing but time.”