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New Netflix Documentary Details A Romance Kept Secret For Nearly 70 Years


Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue are the subjects of the new documentary, "A Secret Love." The film captures some of the final years of their relationship of 72 years.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So this is our standard one bedroom. And it has a balcony. We have not had any same-sex couples, but we do have family members that are.

PAT HENSCHEL: If there was, would they be accepted? Because we are a couple.

SIMON: "The Secret Love" was due to premiere at South by Southwest this March. But, of course, the festival was canceled because of the pandemic. And the film is now available on Netflix.

Pat Henschel joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

HENSCHEL: Thank you.

SIMON: I gather you're living closer to family now.

HENSCHEL: Yes - just blocks away.

SIMON: You must miss your partner of so many years, though? - your wife.

HENSCHEL: Oh, my goodness. It seems like I just have half a heart now. I just miss having her around me. We had so much fun. We really did. We were very, very happy.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. What was it like when you met to try and be together? Can you help us appreciate that?

HENSCHEL: Let's see. I was 18. She was 22. I actually met her on a Sunday in a hockey rink. And I was trying to try out for her team - for her hockey team.

SIMON: Did you make the team?

HENSCHEL: I made it (laughter). Yes, I did. I played left defense.

SIMON: Did you make any attempt to keep your relationship secret?

HENSCHEL: I suppose we did. We spoke with our friends, you know, but aside from that, we did not speak about it.

SIMON: Yeah. It wasn't anything you needed to say out loud, I guess.

HENSCHEL: No, it was not.

SIMON: I want to introduce your niece, Diana Bolan, who is also joining us. Diana, can you hear us?

DIANA BOLAN: I can. Yes, I can, Scott.

SIMON: So how did people explain it to you growing up, if I might ask, Diana? Or did they need You just saw?

BOLAN: Well, you know, I'm Aunty Terry's biological niece. She's my father's sister. And Aunty Pat is my aunt of the heart. Aunty Pat has been there since the day I was born. I mean, I'm going to be 70 in September. And, you know, she's known me all my life. And we just knew Aunty Terry and Aunty Pat. You know, we thought they were roommates. We knew they'd both been engaged to men before and both been with men. So nobody had to explain anything to us. Every year, Aunty Terry would come home. And my grandma would set her up with this guy - this neighboring farmer.

HENSCHEL: (Laughter).

BOLAN: And Aunty Terry would go and play the game (laughter). But you could tell she wasn't happy about it (laughter).

SIMON: Oh, my.

HENSCHEL: No (laughter).

BOLAN: You know?

HENSCHEL: Otto (ph) was not her guy.

BOLAN: Otto was not her guy, Patty, no.

SIMON: His name was Otto?


BOLAN: His name was Otto. And he was just a lovely man. And now that - in retrospect, you know, when I think about it, I can remember Aunty Terry's demeanor before she'd go out with Otto. (Laughter) And she was not happy. But she did it because, you know - Aunty Terry - my Grandma Rosie (ph) would've never accepted it. And I think Grandpa knew.

HENSCHEL: I think he did.

BOLAN: Yeah. But Grandma never would've accepted it, ever. So Aunty Terry placated grandma by going out with this guy whenever she came home.

HENSCHEL: (Laughter) Poor Otto.

SIMON: You and Terry lived much of your time in Chicago. And there were, as I don't have to tell you - there - you know, there were times when the police would raid what were then called gay bars.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Were frequently raided. And if women didn't have on, I think, it was three articles of women's clothing, they could be arrested and thrown in jail. So it was not an easy time to be out.

TERRY DONAHUE: We never went to those bars.

HENSCHEL: We never went to a bar.

DONAHUE: We didn't want to be sent back to Canada.

SIMON: Did you and Terry live in fear ever?

HENSCHEL: We never, ever went to bars. We just, you know - we weren't involved with it. So we had no problems.

SIMON: You know, as I don't have to tell both of you, this is also Pride Month. What would you like us to know, Pat Henschel, about your story, your love?

HENSCHEL: Well, you have to put everything you have into it because it's so important. And it has to work with both people. You have to just give it your all and be true to it. And then it just happens. And it's wonderful.

BOLAN: I've gotten over 200 messages on my Facebook from people all over the world - and people who are from Africa being persecuted, people all over the world. And I have to tell you I've answered through every single one of them. The stories have been heartbreaking and beautiful and uplifting. And in this time of the coronavirus, I would get such pleasure sitting downstairs at night and reading the stories and. Just wanted to say thank you to everybody for reaching out.

SIMON: Pat Henschel, I can't thank you enough for your time. I feel better about life talking to you. (Laughter) I really do.

HENSCHEL: Bless your heart. Well, that's nice to hear.

SIMON: I think you've shown us something extraordinary. Pat Henschel and the documentary featuring her and her wife, Terry Donahue, is called "A Secret Love." It's now on Netflix. Diana Bolan, her niece, has also joined us. I want to thank you both very much for being with us.

BOLAN: Thank you, Scott.

HENSCHEL: Thank you so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.