Joan Neininger wanted to ensure Ken Selway would not have to rifle through discarded fish and chip wrappers looking for something to eat before sleeping in a derelict house.
But her plan almost came undone when binmen removed her first round of lovingly wrapped sarnies.
Now, more than 40 years after trying to help him, Joan is set to marry the former rough sleeper in a happy-ever-after ending.
Joan, 88, and Ken, 89, now live in the same care home in Cinderford, Gloucestershire, and will marry on her birthday, a few days after Valentine’s Day.
Joan said: “When I saw him ferreting through the bins outside a fish and chip shop near my bookshop in Gloucester, I never thought for a minute it would end like this.
“Although he was living on the streets, I knew straight away that Ken was lovely man with a beautiful soul.”
She spent years helping with Ken with his battle with schizophrenia before proposing during the 2016 leap year and getting her happy ending.
Great grandmother Joan was a married mother in the spring of 1975 when she first noticed Ken.
Because he was neatly dressed in a grey belted gabardine mac and only drank milk, she presumed the forty-something man was staying in a B&B and had nowhere to go out in the day.
But after reading Down and Out in Britain by Jeremy Sandford, the author of the famous book about homelessness Cathy Come Home, she realised he could be one of the many ordinary people slipping through the welfare state safety net.
“The man haunted me like a spectre and, it was dreadful to see him slowly deteriorate,” she said in the book she later wrote about their relationship.
“The first time I saw him searching for food in a rubbish bin, I silently broke my heart.”
She asked advice from the local church minister and her family and it was her daughter who suggested leaving sandwiches in the bin because he would not take any money.
The binmen took the first package but Joan made more and eventually, with the blessing of Norman, she invited Ken in for a meal, Gloucestershire Live reports.
For a long time he refused all offers of help and money, telling her: “You’ll get into trouble”.
But her father finally convinced Ken it was the whole family who were concerned about his welfare.
Ken eventually told them he had been born in London and had been evacuated to Wales where he became a Bevin Boy.
When the Welsh man he regarded as a father died, he returned home but his mother could not cope with his mental health problems and told him to go.
After being made homeless, Ken slept in railway stations and shop doorways until he came to Gloucester looking for relatives of his evacuee father and found a derelict house to sleep in at night.
His only belongings were a set of clean clothes, a radio, a fossil he once mined and a few personal pieces that he kept in a hidey hole behind a brick in a wall.
He frequently considered suicide but Joan spotted an “innate dignity and a measured way of speaking” that made her realise he was from an educated family.
Over the next few years, Ken came in and out of the family’s life but caring for Ken took a toll on Joan’s 30-year marriage.
When husband Norman gave her an ultimatum she bought a caravan in Twigworth and moved in. Later, Ken came to stay too.
At first they were happy but Ken’s mental health problems made him unpredictable and he could fly off the handle if she said the wrong thing or make unjust accusations.
He could not manage day to day living and it had an impact on Joan’s health.
“People with schizophrenia are imprisoned by the voices,” explained Joan who went on to become a mental health campaigner.
“Ken believed everything these voices were telling him so it was very difficult to have a relationship. I did not know anything about it but I soon learned.”
After several years of make-ups and break-ups, Joan said Ken had to choose between her and medical help.
The medication made him so much better he was able to build bridges with his mother who explained she had thrown him out because she had been scared of his behaviour.
One of the things Joan learned is that Ken needs to feel safe at all times and any hint of a sexual relationship makes him feel over emotional and threatened.
Their relationship has always been celibate but she wrote: “Strangely enough this disciplined denial brought us even close together.
“Although Ken is not able to express his feelings towards me, there is not the necessity.
“His smiles laughter, tears, speak a language more eloquent than words, emotional perhaps, but from the heart.”
For several decades Joan, Ken and Norman lived happily together as at Moorend Cottage in Hartpury and the trio worked with volunteers at charities helping homeless people in the county, giving out food on Christmas Day.
“I married at 16 and Norman was a wonderful man and a lovely husband and father,” she said.
“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.”
But Norman had a fatal heart attack and Ken developed health problems which meant he eventually had to move into Hanover Court in Cinderford.
Joan went to live with her eldest daughter but they were desperately lonely and care staff arranged for Joan to move into Ken’s flat. She proposed.
Now everybody is looking forward to their wedding at Cinderford registry office on February 18, Joan’s birthday.
At the reception they will play Amazing Grace, Ken’s lifelong favourite song – with the words “I once was lost but now I’m found”.
She says her three children are delighted and her grandchildren all want to be bridesmaids.
“People say I saved Ken,” said Joan.
“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. There are people like Ken sleeping in shop doorways all over the country.”
Ken’s state of mind has has changed dramatically since he started to get help and the voices have disappeared.
He said: “When I met Joan I was sleeping rough and wanted to kill myself. I probably would not be here now if wasn’t for her leaving those sandwiches in the bin. She’s a really kind person.”
When she wrote a book about their love affair in the 1980s the then Bishop of Gloucester wrote a forward about about how they shared a deep love than can be hard for others to understand.
“To meet Ken is to encounter a living witness to the triumph of love,” he wrote.
Care home manager Helen Lee said: “I am absolutely over the moon. When Ken first came here they struggled to live without each other so it’s brilliant that she could come and join him. Everybody here is like family so we are all so excited about the wedding.”
Joan wrote poems for the Gloucester Citizen and her final one reads:
Ken and Joan
Still together after all these years
And ever to be
Because true love is never spent
nor rent, by partings or petty
desires and discontent