In what is perhaps one of the most unlikely yet poignant love stories, an 88-year-old woman will marry an 89-year-old man she first met decades ago when she noticed him rummaging through a garbage pail and looking for food near where she worked. After Joan Neininger first saw Ken Selway hunting for food in the trash left outside of a fish restaurant in Gloucester, England, she was unable to get the thought of him out of her mind. “Although he was living on the streets, I knew straight away that Ken was a lovely man with a beautiful soul,” Neininger recalled in a recent interview. “The man haunted me like a specter. The first time I saw him searching for food in a rubbish bin, I silently broke my heart.” She admits, decades ago, she never saw an outcome like marriage coming for the two of them.
Eventually, Neininger began leaving Selway neatly wrapped sandwiches in the dumpsters by the book shop she managed back in the 1970s. Selway accepted the sandwiches, but refused the money Neininger tried to give him. Eventually they struck up a friendship and she convinced Selway to join her and her husband, Norman, for dinner one night. During the meal, Selway revealed he suffered from schizophrenia and told the heart-wrenching story of how he ended up homeless.
They developed a close friendship and, for various periods of time, Selway would live with Neininger and her husband of them. Though Neininger now confesses she’d fallen in love with Selway, the relationship remained physically plutonic. “Because there was no sexual jealousy it was fine and Ken and Norman were like brothers. It was like a little paradise — just Ken, Norman and me.” In 1983, Norman died and Neininger and Selway became even closer. Years later, health problems forced her into an assisted living home, and Selway soon followed.
Now, 42 years later and on the verge of tying the knot at a registrar’s office, the two reflected on the extraordinary intersection of their lives.
“People say I saved Ken,” Neininger said. “But it was actually Jeremy Sandford’s book that made me look twice at the men sleeping rough and see him as the person he was. The sad thing is that it’s still happening today — in fact it’s getting worse.”
And Selway said, “When I met Joan I was sleeping rough and wanted to kill myself. I probably would not be here now if it wasn’t for her leaving those sandwiches in the bin. She’s a really kind person.”
Below, watch Neininger and Selway discuss their most unusual romance.