When Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson first met, it was love at first sight, like something right out of a romance novel. The two young lovers, still in college, quickly were smitten with one another and became engaged. It seemed that the future could only be promising for the lovebirds.
That was, until something tragic happened that tore them apart, separating the two lovers from each other and causing them to break off the engagement. Fifty years later a shocking discovery came to light and forced them to cross paths once again. This time, though, things would be very, very different.
Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson were classic young lovebirds. The two fell in love at first sight while studying at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. At the time, Rude was sophomore studying biology, a year ahead of Willson.
Willson was just a freshman, still getting used to college life, when Rude caught his eye and he couldn’t tear his gaze away after that. Little did they know the ordeal that they were about to encounter together.
Janice Rude met Prentiss Willson during a chance encounter at the school cafeteria in 1962. She was working there and Willson came in to eat. As soon, as they locked eyes, there was an instant connection.
They both knew it was love at first sight. However, the two were both so demure and innocent at the time that they could hardly even look each other in the eyes without blushing. That would soon change.
Lessons From a Father
Janice Rude was born and raised in Reno, Nevada and came from a humble background. She learned at an early age from her father, who she highly respected, that she needed to work hard in life to become successful. That was a lesson that stayed with Rude for the rest of her life.
Rude’s father was always supportive of her going to college, even though that wasn’t something that he pushed her to do. Rude wanted to be successful in life and to her, that meant getting a degree. So she enrolled at Occidental College to pursue a degree in biology.
Prentiss Willson came from a more upscale family than Janice. At Occidental College, he joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity and had planned a big future for himself, a future that he would never have guessed would include falling in love.
Willson’s parents pushed him hard and they had big expectations for him. He was studying law at the institution and eventually became the president of his fraternity, Kappa Sigma. For Willson, everything was working out just as planned, until one fateful day.
As president of Kappa Sigma, Prentiss Willson was already creating waves at a very young age, in a good way. When a black student attempted to pledge for the fraternity, the national fraternity union refused his pledge on the sole basis that he was black.
Willson wasn’t going to stand for such blatant racism and decided to take matters into his own hands. Together, the fraternity decided to quit the national fraternity and become an independent chapter. The black student, named Gene Grigsby, was allowed in.
The Unexpected Meeting
Janice Rude received help from her father to pay part of her school tuition. To pay for the rest, she worked in the cafeteria. The job required her to arrive very early and Prentiss took notice.
Prentiss too started to wake up very early in order to be one of the first people in the cafeteria each day, just to see Janice. Fortunately, she noticed and they couldn’t help but look at each other as she worked. It was love at first sight.
As time progressed, so did their budding relationship. They slowly started making small talk, then that progressed into a conversation. Willson recalls the meetings at the cafeteria as “love at first sight.” He would wake up early every morning just to be the first one in Rude’s line.
“I believe we were simply meant to be. I even remember the first time I laid eyes on Janice,” Willson reminisced. The two came to really cherish their short encounters in line at the cafeteria, so much so, that if he didn’t show up, Rude would worry something had happened to him.
Willson said he went to the cafeteria “every day, at 6.00 am, because I just wanted to see her and have our little early morning exchange.” Unbeknownst to Willson, Rude also looked forward to their regular morning encounters.
Janice would wake up every morning just hoping to run into Willson. She would enter the cafeteria, hang up her bag and check the board to see what station she would be working at. Her favourite station was the cereal bar, a place she was certain to run into Willson.
Fitting Right In
Even though Willson was a freshman, he was fitting right in with college life. He was studying law, became the president of his fraternity and kept up with his physical fitness. Before his morning classes, he would always try to get in a nice morning run.
After his morning run, he would go to the school cafeteria to have himself breakfast, knowing who would be there. Generally, Willson was first in line at the cafeteria, just waiting to get into Rude’s line for food. But still, even after weeks, they hadn’t asked each other’s names.
Not a Chance
Even though the pair were obviously attracted to one another, Willson still felt that he would never have a chance with Rude. “I actually didn’t think I had a chance with her. She was a year ahead of me and just so beautiful,” he recalled.
But what Willson didn’t know was that Rude was also falling for him. She began to look forward to every morning, just to see Willson and hopefully exchange a few words, if either of them could gather up the courage to do so.
What’s Her Name?
One day, three and a half weeks after first meeting her, Willson finally learned her name: Janice Rude. It was a name that he would never forget for the rest of his life. He hoped that one day she too would learn his name.
That day finally came when she learned his name: Prentiss Willson, a name that she had heard in the news. She knew the name because of the controversy surrounding his fraternity when they left the national chapter to allow a black student to pledge.
Before Thanksgiving, every year, Occidental College holds a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for all the students. It’s a great way for the students to celebrate together and get to know each other better before classes break and most of the students return home.
Rude was very excited for the dinner, knowing that her favourite person would be there, undoubtedly waiting in her line at the cafeteria. She started work, excited as usual, but this time something was off. He didn’t show up.
A Bold Move
Determined to find out where he was or if something was wrong with her crush, she set out and found one of his friends. From the friend, she learned that he had gone home early to be with his family.
But that wasn’t about to stop Rude from wanting to see him. In a very bold move for her, and quite out of character, she found out his home address and debated with herself whether she should go and see him.
Just Going For It
Without much thought, Janice Rude raced to her car and set out to see Willson. Even the fact that he lived in Santa Maria, around 160 miles away from Occidental College, wasn’t about to stop her.
So, Rude got in her car and drove for three long hours, just to see Willson. She hummed along to the radio all the way, ecstatic that she was going to get to see him. But when she got to his doorstep she froze.
The Fateful Knock On The Door
Janice Rude froze on the doorstep, realizing that what she had done was crazy, driving all that way to see someone she chatted with in the cafeteria without even calling. What about his family? What if they weren’t home? Her mind raced as she took the plunge.
Rude knocked on the door. Her heart skipped a beat when the door opened. It was none other than the man she felt she was deeply in love with, Prentiss Willson. He was shocked to see her, but also overjoyed at the same time.
Meet The Willsons
Prentiss Willson couldn’t have been happier than to see his cafeteria crush show up at his doorstep. In fact, when Janice Rude came knocking on his family’s front door, Willson had been sitting on the couch reading a book, thinking about her and how he missed their usual meetups at the cafeteria.
Much to the delight of Rude, she was warmly welcomed into the Willson household with open arms. Even better, she was invited to join the family for their Thanksgiving dinner. It seemed that everything was going according to plan.
Willson’s parents immediately connected with Janice Rude over dinner. Prentiss Willson said that his mother was taken with her the instant they met, just like he was. Rude felt relief that her bold move had worked.
In fact, Thanksgiving dinner was a turning point in Rude and Willson’s relationship. They just didn’t know it quite yet. Janice Rude returned to campus after the dinner, then Willson joined her a few days later. That’s when everything changed.
Everything changed as soon as both Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson returned to campus after Thanksgiving break. They weren’t just chatting for a few moments in the cafeteria anymore. Now, an actual relationship was blossoming.
The two quickly became inseparable and it was obvious to everyone around them that they were two peas in a pod. The couple was meant to be together, and if they were together, they were smiling. It seemed as if nothing could come between them.
Prentiss Willson made the bold move of getting down on one knee and proposing to Janice Rude. The two had only known each other for a few short months, and for much of the relationship, they barely even spoke to each other.
It took the couple weeks of meeting in the cafeteria before the two even uttered a simple ‘hi’ to each other. And now they were getting married and they couldn’t have been happier. Little did they know that their happiness wouldn’t last very long.
Announcing The Engagement
The newly engaged couple couldn’t have been happier. They spent more and more time together and got to know each other better. The more they got to know about one another, the more they fell in love.
It seemed like nothing could stand in the way of their happiness… for a while. For a brief period, there was a moment of sheer bliss. But that all came crashing down the following January when Janice Rude’s father got involved.
Janice Rude’s father wasn’t at all pleased by the prospect of his daughter getting married so young and especially not while she was still working to complete her studies. So, he decided to give her an ultimatum and let her decide her own fate.
Rude’s father gave his daughter a difficult ultimatum: break up with Prentiss Willson or he would stop paying for her college tuition. Rude’s life suddenly came crashing down on itself. She suddenly found herself being forced to choose between the two things she loved most in life.
Janice Rude was shocked by her father’s decision to intervene in her relationship with Willson. Her engagement had already been announced in the local newspaper but now that she looked at it, it had a different meaning.
The announcement ended with the words, “no date has been set for the wedding,” a phrase that now sounded like an ominous warning. Rude knew she couldn’t afford to complete her education without financial help from her father. So what was she going to do?
Both Rude and Willson were heartbroken that they would have to make such a massive decision. Getting an education was incredibly important to Rude and she was determined to get a degree, but at what cost?
She was madly in love with Willson and didn’t know what to do or where to turn. That’s when her mother stepped in to offer some help. But little did Rude know that it wouldn’t be enough and what was once a classic love story would soon turn into a tragedy.
Janice Rude’s mother took out a second mortgage on her house, in hopes that she could help pay for her daughter’s tuition and the couple would be able to stay together. But sadly, it still wasn’t enough.
Forced with making the decision of leaving school, thus abandoning her dream degree and staying with Willson, or breaking up with the love of her life, she chose the latter. She sadly ended up breaking off the engagement and ending her relationship with Willson.
“My father forced us apart from the following January by refusing to pay my tuition if I didn’t ‘stop seeing that boy,’” Rude lamented. She went on to complete her degree in biology at Occidental College, but she would never forget about Willson.
“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.”
Time Goes By
The two slowly drifted apart from each other. After Occidental College, Prentiss Willson went to Harvard Law School to become a tax attorney. He eventually moved to the Bay Area where he became a successful and well-respected lawyer.
After Janice Rude completed her degree in biology, she went on to run the family business. Her family ran a diving board company that was very successful, so successful, in fact, that she was inducted into the USA Diving Association Hall of Fame in Seattle.
Life Goes On
As the years went by, both Rude and Willson married other people and their paths almost never crossed. When they did run into each other, they viewed themselves as friends, since both of them were married. Their whirlwind engagement seemed like a dream from the past.
Before either of them knew it, 47 long years passed. Both Rude and Willson were divorced at this point, but it wasn’t until tragedy struck that the two even thought about each other. Both of their mothers passed away within the span of a few months and they had one thing in common.
The Couple Reunites
Both Rude and Willson’s mothers held on to the newspaper clipping announcing their engagement. “The mothers got it. The mothers simply knew, and I think we also knew.” Rude’s mother even went as far as to keep a laminated copy of the clipping in her purse.
Rude and Willson both found the newspaper clippings while going through their mother’s belongings after their deaths and decided to reach out to one another. As fate would have it, both of them were divorced at the same point in their lives.
An Accidental Meeting
After Prentiss Willson finally reached out to Janice Rude again, after so many years, she agreed to meet him at a restaurant called Cliff House in San Francisco. The two went on their first date in decades on June 20, 2010, and the big question in the air was: “Is the spark still there?”
Immediately upon seen Willson again, Rude knew that the spark was indeed still there, even after 47 long years apart. From there they practically picked up from where they left off and started dating again. After six months of dating, the couple were engaged for the second time.
Happily Ever After
Even though a wedding date was never set the first time they got engaged, this time a wedding was going to happen for real. On August 19, 2012, Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson finally married each other in a beautiful ceremony on the Occidental College campus, surrounded by fellow classmates.
“We lament every day that we missed being together,” Rude said in an interview with the Occidental College magazine. “That’s about 17,500 days – but who’s counting?” Because of that, they cherish every moment they have.