A Forbidden Love Finds Its Way Back Almost 50 Years Later
Some of the best love stories in the world are those that span decades. They’re not as simple as someone putting on a glass slipper with the happy couple marching off into the sunset. Sometimes, it takes more than that and sometimes, tragedy strikes. This was the case for Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson, two young people who found love in each other’s arms.
But their relationship was not to be, or was it? This is a tale that’ll warm your heart, make you cry, then make you believe that maybe there is such a thing as destiny. If you’d like to find out about Janice’s and Prentiss’s love story, keep reading.
Love at First Sight
Prentiss Willson and Janice Rude’s love story began as most of us think it did: with love at first sight. Their story is one of two young students who met while they were both at college. Janice was a sophomore studying biology at the Occidental College in Los Angeles where she would soon meet Prentiss. She was a year ahead of him, but that didn’t matter to either of them.
Prentiss, who had just enrolled, was adjusting to life as a college student and had no idea that he would soon meet the love of his life. While on campus, he spotted a young woman who would demand all his attention and soon, his heart. It would be the start of an unbelievable story with an ending so unexpected that no one could have predicted it.
The First Glance
It was the year 1962 when the two first met, with a chance meeting at the school’s cafeteria. Janice, who had picked up a shift that afternoon, was working and serving the students when Prentiss came in to eat. The two locked eyes in a moment they would never forget and felt an instant connection to each other.
While the two knew that there was a mutual attraction right then and there, on the very first day, they didn’t say a word to each other. Being young, the two were very innocent and modest and hesitant to do anything but stare at each other from across the room- which they did do, and with lots of blushing to boot. But the silence and the staring would not last very long, as the two were destined to be together.
Raising Janice Rude
Janice Rude was a Nevada native. She was born and raised in the Reno area and came from a family that wasn’t financially well-off. The daddy’s girl was taught at an early age that nothing in life came easy and that she had to work extremely hard to be successful. This lesson that she learned from her father was one she carried with her at every stage of her life.
Despite her father’s advice to work hard, he did not push or demand that she go to college. In fact, it was a dream of Janice’s. She knew that she wanted to be successful in life and one of the ways she could do that was to get herself a college degree, which her father wholeheartedly supported. With that, she applied to the Occidental College in California to study biology and she got in!
More About Prentiss Willson
Prentiss was almost the opposite when it came to his background. He came from a more upscale family than Janice’s but they did share the idea of wanting to be successful. The young man, whose family had big expectations, was pushed to make something out of himself from an early age and applied to school to study law. He would have never known that at that moment, he put something into motion that would change his life forever.
Prentiss had a lot to live up to, especially with the demands of his family. First, he became a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, where he eventually became the president. Everything was going according to plan, as far as he was concerned, but those plans never included falling hopelessly in love with Janice Rude.
Prentiss was not only a good student, but he was also a great leader at the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Although he was still young, he was already rocking the boat, in the best way possible at his school. Racism was very much still at an all-time high in the sixties and although African Americans were allowed to attend college, there were lots of restrictions placed upon them.
The time that Prentiss and Janice went to school was still during the Great Migration and African Americans moved from the southern states to places like Los Angeles, where the Occidental College was located. The influx of black people to these places changed the racial balances of the cities and made the hostility worse. Although people like Prentiss did not have a problem with it, there were those of higher authority who did.
Already Making Changes
The blacks who lived in the northern and western regions of the country experienced more discrimination in a number of aspects of their lives and one of those was in education. When a black student would attempt or request to pledge at Kappa Sigma, the national fraternity union would deny it, only because the candidate was black. And Prentiss had a big problem with that, which is why he did something about it.
Deciding to not stand for it, Willson got support from his fellow brothers and made the decision to quit the national fraternity. Kappa Sigma became an independent chapter and allowed the black student (Gene Grisby) who had been attempting to pledge, in.
When Janice was at college, her family still wasn’t in the best financial position. She got some assistance from her father to pay some of her tuition off, but it still wasn’t enough, which is why the young girl put her hard-work mantra to…work. Janice picked up some shifts at the cafeteria to pay off what her father’s money could not, which meant that she had to arrive there very early on mornings. And it was something Prentiss noticed.
The young man, who was absolutely smitten with Janice at this point decided to do something about it. He too started waking up extremely early, just so he could be one of the first people in the cafeteria each morning, just to see and possibly be served by Janice. His tactics worked and he got her attention. The two would glance at each other as Janice worked, proving that they did, in fact, have a mutual connection.
Taking Baby Steps
Prentiss continued waking up early just to see Janice on the mornings that she worked. He somehow knew when she would be at work and made the effort to be there. And after a while, it paid off. The two started making small talk at the cafeteria when they could and Prentiss was especially pleased.
Soon enough, the small talk evolved and become full-blown conversations. Prentiss said that each of those meetings was like “love at first sight.” Happy with the progress he was making, Prentiss decided to wake up even earlier each morning, not so that he could be one of the first, but THE FIRST person on Janice’s line every morning.
A Silent, Yet Mutual Feeling
When Prentiss recounted their first morning encounters, he said he woke up “every day, at 6.00am, because I just wanted to see her and have our little early morning exchange.” He remembers being devoted to the cause and trying his best to be there to greet and talk to Janice every morning while she worked.
Of course, there were some days that Prentiss could not make it and because there were no cell phones or emails back then, he could not let Janice know in advance. So, when he did not show up to the cafeteria, Janice would worry endlessly that something horrible had happened to him; she had come to treasure their morning talks that much. The shocking part is that neither of them had verbally confirmed that they were interested in each other, although it was very clear.
Her Morning Routine
Janice, unbeknownst to Prentiss, would also wake up very early, although it wasn’t only for her job. She would wake up every morning just hoping to see him. After getting ready and making her way to work, she would hang her belongings up and check to see where she was scheduled to be for that day.
The schedule had different stations and each station was assigned to a staff member. Because they would change, the workers had to check every morning and there was one place that Janice hope for. The cereal state was her favorite, as it was the one that guaranteed that she and Prentiss would be able to talk to each other.
A Lot On His Plate
Prentiss was only a freshman and had already done so much in that short year. He was fitting in remarkably well with the other students, he was staying on top of his school work and he tried to get in some sort of physical exercise. So, every morning before class, the star student would go out for a morning run.
And after each run, he would go see his favorite campus girl, Janice. It would be weeks of keeping up this routine before he even learned her name, despite all the small talk they engaged in. He enjoyed it, nonetheless, but wanted to know more about this girl who had stolen his heart.
Maybe It Was Hopeless After All
But Prentiss did have his doubts. Although he had gotten to have more than a few short conversations with Janice, something started to bother him about the situation. This once-confident fraternity leader began doubting himself, thinking that there was no way a girl like that, would want a guy like him.
Prentiss said, “I actually didn’t think I had a chance with her. She was a year ahead of me and just so beautiful.” The poor young man was not only intimidated by Janice’s looks, but also her age. And although he knew that she had at least a mild attraction to him, he still wasn’t sure that it would work.
But She Was Falling
But Prentiss’s doubts were all for nothing, although he had no idea. Because Janice was falling for him hard. The young lady started to enjoy work more just because she knew she’d seem him on mornings and she was hopeful that they would at least get to exchange a few words with each other.
After enough time, he became a constant that she had almost come to rely on. But neither of them said a word to each other about their mutual attraction and at this point, they still had no idea what each other’s names were.
What’s Her Name?
Almost a month after Prentiss met Janice, he was desperate to find out what her name was and that was exactly what he did. It was Janice Rude. Triumphant in his quest, he started to hope that she would find out what his name was too.
But little did her know that she did. And she found out long before he did. While listening to the news, she heard about the Kappa Sigma president who made the bold move to become an independent chapter just to allow an African American student in- and she just knew it was him.
The Thanksgiving Dinner That Changed Everything
The Occidental College was one, like many other schools at the time that held a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for all of its students every year. It was a celebration that happened before the break when almost everyone returned home to spend time with their families for the holiday.
Classes would stop for about a week or so and the school would be mostly deserted. But before that happened, the dinner would bring everybody together. The activity was a time and place where all the students got to hang out and learn more about each other. And Janice had some plans for Prentiss.
Janice, excited about the idea of getting to finally have an in-depth chat with one of her favorite people on campus, got ready for the event. She kept working her regular shifts at the cafeteria until the day came. The dinner was also held in the cafeteria and Janice picked up a shift there.
She had her own line once again and waited for Prentiss to show up. He wasn’t first and that was okay, but Janice got more and more worried as she continued to serve people and Prentiss did not show up. By the end of her shift, she had no idea where he was and immediately thought that something was a bit off.
Doing Her Research
Janice had to get down to the bottom of things and find out why her crush did not show up to the dinner. And after a bit of digging, she found her answer. Prentiss had left school early so that he could be with his family.
But she still wanted to see him and she suddenly had a crazy idea that was very out of character for her. She wanted to go see Prentiss at his home during the Thanksgiving break. She had already found his home address from a friend and all that was left for her to do was to decide whether she would go or not.
She Went For It
Janice who had never even told Prentiss her name had decided to take the plunge and go see the boy who was haunting her dreams. She thought that maybe they could finally talk the way she wanted them to and maybe they could admit their feelings for each other. But she didn’t think too much about the logistics; the young girl decided that she should just go with her gut and her heart.
His home address was over 150 miles away in Santa Maria, but she didn’t care. So, Janice quickly prepared herself jumped in her car and started making her way to Prentiss’s home.
Janice drove about three hours just to see Prentiss Willson. She was so excited about her decision to be brave and go see him that she hummed the entire time. In fact, she had gotten to his house too quickly for her liking, because she suddenly felt anxious.
Janice had gotten to his doorstep when she froze. She thought that maybe she was a little too hasty in making her decision and that she should just turn back and make her way to Occidental, where she was supposed to be.
The Knock on the Door
The young girl was in full panic mode. What had she just done? She’d driven more than three hours to see a guy who has no idea she was coming. A guy she had just had some casual conversations with, in a cafeteria at that. So, she began to make excuses in her head: What if they weren’t home? What would the family think about her sudden appearance? And how would Prentiss react?
It felt as though she was in a daze, but she had driven all this way and was determined to at least, see it through. So, she knocked on the door. With her heart thundering in her ears, the man she was desperately hoping to see opened the door.
Meeting the Willsons
Prentiss could not be more shocked at who was standing on his doorstep. While he was surprised and had a hundred different questions swirling in his mind, like how she had gotten there, how she knew his address and what could she possibly want, he was extremely happy to see her. Just before she had knocked on the door, he was reading a book and thinking about their cafeteria chats.
It seemed as if he had conjured her to his door and he was not complaining. So, he let her into his home, where she was welcomed by his entire family, who invited her to stay for dinner. Happy that everything had turned out how she had imagined, she accepted.
The Willson’s Thanksgiving Dinner
Janice had a wonderful time with the Willsons. She had found an immediate connection with Prentiss’ parents; his mother said she was instantly taken with Janice, similar to the way her son was. Janice really could not believe how well everything was going and realized that she had made the right decision in coming.
She left after the dinner and waited for him to return to the campus. The fact that she had met his parents and they loved her changed everything in Janice and Prentiss’s relationship.
It All Changed
After Janice’s bold move to go see Prentiss at his home, things changed for the couple. Before, they were just trying to catch each other during brief moments at the cafeteria and now, they were actually forming a relationship and the two could not be happier.
They soon became inseparable and it was hard to catch one without the other. It was apparent to all those around them that they were in love and that they truly fit together. They were always smiling at each other and it seemed like they found their soulmates.
On Bended Knee
Although the two had only known each other for a few short months, for most of which the didn’t even talk, Prentiss was ready to take the next step in their relationship. So, he mustered up all the courage he possessed, bought an engagement ring and asked Janice to marry him. And of course, she said yes.
The couple had taken weeks to just say hello to each other, but here they were, just a few months later, planning to spend the rest of their lives with each other. It was something out of a fairytale and they could not be more ecstatic to have found each other. But this happiness would be short-lived and it would all come crashing down when the announcement was made.
Making the Announcement
Janice and Prentiss were overjoyed and they became more hopelessly devoted to each other as time passed. They also got to know each other better as an engaged couple and the more they learned, the more they loved each other.
People were very happy for the couple because it seemed like there were no two people on the planet more suited for each other than Janice and Prentiss. But a close relative of Janice’s would shatter her dream of marrying her dream man, just three months after that fateful Thanksgiving dinner.
Everyone who had met the couple was elated for them, including Prentiss’s family who had already met and fallen in love with Janice. And although she had not yet told her side of the family the exciting news, she thought that they would be equally pleased to hear the amazing news.
Well, her father wasn’t. Mr. Rude got extremely upset at the idea of Janice getting married at such a young age. What made it worse was that she had not even completed her studies yet. Instead of being supportive as he had always been in every aspect of her life, he frowned upon the proposal and decided to give her an ultimatum.
Janice’s father not only made her feel bad because of her relationship and the promise of a very happy future, but he also gave her a choice to make, and it involved choosing between her education and the love of her life.
Her father told her that if she didn’t completely end not only her engagement but also her relationship with Prentiss that he would stop making contributions to her tuition. That meant that Janice would have to stop all communication with the man she loved if she wanted to finish her biology degree.
Making A Decision
Janice was not only shocked by her father’s ultimatum, but she was also utterly heartbroken. It was completely unexpected that her father would try to interfere or have a say in her personal life because he had never done so in the past.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the entire school and town knew about the wedding because it was announced in the local newspaper. So quietly stopping the wedding, even if it was an option, would not be easy. Just what was the young girl supposed to do now? With her relationship and dream degree at stake, Janice was more confused than ever.
Weighing Her Options
Janice had to consider everything in making her decision. She had to think about alternative ways to pay for her schooling without her father’s help and she found out she had no other options. She thought about the wedding announcement and that it did not have a date and wondered if she could convince her father to be okay with the idea before they set the date- that also wasn’t an option.
She thought in circles about what she should do and was ultimately torn. Just how was she supposed to give up love for her education or vice versa? How could her father do this to her?
Could Someone Possibly Help Her?
Janice knew that her father could but would not get her out of the mess she was in. After all, he was the one who gave her the difficult decision to begin with. From the time she was a little girl, she had wanted a better life and her hard work had gotten her this far!
But she’d also found the love of a lifetime in Prentiss, even if she had only known for him for a few short months. Could her she really give up her lifelong dream for someone she just met? The choice was weighing on her more and more with each passing day.
A Mother’s Sacrifice
Janice’s mother supported her and Prentiss’s relationship though. She wanted to see her daughter see her dreams of graduating as well as marry the love of her life. So, she tried to help the only way she knew how.
Janice’s mother took out a second mortgage on her house just to make her daughter’s dreams come true, but it was not to be. Even with the money from the mortgage, and Jennifer’s job at the cafeteria, it would not be enough to match the payments that Mr. Rude were currently making. It meant that Janice would still have to choose between her dreams and love. So with a heavy heart, she did.
Janice was over having this choice weighing over her. She also had to hurry and make a decision because her father’s deadline was coming up. As she continued to turn it over in her mind, she realized that she only had one choice.
Janice did not go with her heart. Instead, she chose her education and future career over love. The decision completely tore her apart, but she had to do it. So, she broke off her engagement and ended her relationship with Prentiss Willson.
A Torn Relationship
Janice did what she had to do, even though it was a very hard decision to make. She said, “My father forced us apart the following January by refusing to pay my tuition if I didn’t ‘stop seeing that boy.’” Her heart was broken and she could not even begin to imagine what Prentiss was going through. Luckily, she did not have to wait too long to get away from him, even if she didn’t want to.
She soon completed her biology degree at the Occidental College and because she was ahead of her former fiancé, she would no longer be tormented by his face on campus. She would, however, never forget him.
Why She Chose Her Education
But Janice did not merely choose her education over love because she thought it was the right thing to do. She had her own concerns and fears about her and Prentiss’s relationship if she chose to be with him.
In retrospect, she admits that she should have done what her heart and former mother-in-law had told her. She said, “Prentiss and I should have taken his mother’s advice at the time, which was to elope. I became fearful that Prentiss would be attracted to smarter women if I didn’t get a college degree. He did not understand my angst, and so we went our separate ways.”
The Drift Begins
The two tried to become friends, but it was not meant to be. Prentiss, who did not understand Janice’s concerns that he would not be attracted to a woman who was not educated, tried but their relationship grew more distant when Janice finished her schooling.
Prentiss finished his law degree as well, a year after Janice did. The intelligent young man was accepted to Harvard Law School where he went on to become a tax attorney. He would soon, however, return to California, specifically the Bay Area, where he made a name for himself and became one of the most respected lawyers in the town.
Growing but Not Together
Janice also found success. She took her biology degree and applied what she had learned to her family’s business and eventually was put in charge of it and ran it al the way to the top. She grew it to be more successful than it was, so much so that she was inducted into the USA Diving Association Hall of Fame in Seattle.
She was very happy with her career and the success she had found and thoughts of Prentiss seemed so far away that it didn’t affect her as it once did.
Finding New Love
Years went by as Janice and Prentiss went about their daily lives. As they grew in their careers, they also grew in love, but not with each other. Both of them married other people and although they hardly saw each other, when they did, it was like old friends meeting. Their whirlwind engagement seemed like it was in another lifetime and they were both okay with that.
And before they knew it, 47 years had passed since the two had fallen hopelessly in love with each other. The two former lovers were both divorced and they would reunite when tragedy struck. Both of their mothers had passed away within months of each other and it would bring the two back together in a way they did not expect.
In a strange twist, both of the former lovers found out that their mothers had held onto the clippings of their wedding announcement that was made so long ago. Where Janice’s mother was concerned, she laminated the announcement and kept it in her wallet, reminding her of the love her daughter had once found. Janice said, “The mothers got it. The mothers simply knew, and I think we also knew.”
Janice and Prentiss found the clippings when they were going through their respective mother’s belongings. They both decided to reach out to each other and bond over their collective loss and when they did, they found out they were both single.
It Was Meant to Be
Prentiss was the one who made the first step. He reached out to Janice again after years of not communicating. They spoke easily like the old friends that they were. Soon after, things got more serious and the two made plans to have their first date in nearly 50 years at the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco. But they were both nervous. They knew that they still liked each other as human beings, but would the romantic spark still be there?
When Prentiss saw Janice enter, he knew that the spark had not faded, at least for him and he hoped with everything he had in him that it had not faded for her as well. Janice already knew that it was there through their phone conversations and it was almost like they picked up where they left off so many years ago. So, after dating again, for six months, Prentiss proposed and the two were engaged for the second time.
The Happy Ending…47 Years Later
This time, the married couple to be set a date straight away, determined that this wedding would happen. And that it did. On August 19th, 2012, Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson finally told each other ”I do.” It was a beautiful ceremony that was held on the very campus that the two met on. Along with their family members, some of their classmates also attended.
Their wedding, which was chronicled in the Occidental College magazine told their story. Janice said that they were sad for every day that they missed together. She had even counted the days and went on to say, “that’s about 17,500 days – but who’s counting?” The two are still married and going strong, as far as we know.