Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson met as undergraduates at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California in 1962. But shortly after announcing their engagement, the couple sadly split. 50 years later, they each uncovered the shock of their lives.
Small Town Girl
Janice Rude came from humble beginnings. Raised to be a hard worker in the wild west of Reno, Nevada, she recalls her father was a tough guy, with a lot of street smarts. Though intellectual pursuits were beyond his care or comprehension, he supported his daughter in her desire to get an education. She enrolled in Occidental College in the early 1960s in order to study for a bachelors degree in Biology. But she never expected to meet the love of her life there.
An Occident Waiting To Happen
Occidental College is a small, private liberal arts college located in Los Angeles, California. The college was established in 1887 in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of LA by a group of presbyterians who wanted to learn in Southern California. The College Board considered turning Occidental into an all men’s school twice, once in 1912, and another time in 1931. Luckily for Prentiss and Janice, the college’s co-ed status was maintained, or they never would have fallen in love.
Given Janice’s modest means, she took up a job working the morning shift at the campus cafeteria, in order to help her cover her private school tuition. Dutiful and committed, she awoke early every day in time to start the morning grind. When she arrived at the cafeteria, she was immediately greeted by a flurry of activity, as the athletes visited the canteen for breakfast before going off to their morning practice. Janice met many of the school’s small student body, but only one who really mattered.
A Connecticut Yankee in Southern California
Prentiss Willson was raised in a well to do family of East Coast transplants. A family of intellectuals, he was expected to excel in his studies before moving on to a preeminent practitioner of some respected career, such as law or medicine. He arrived at Occidental College a year after Janice Rude in 1962, and in keeping with his upbringing, immediately pledged the fraternity, Kappa Sigma, which became embroiled in controversy shortly after his arrival.
School had only been in session for a month, but Janice Rude was getting the hang of her job. She came in through the back entrance to the kitchen, hung her purse on a hook, and wrapped an apron around her waist. She checked the scheduled stations pinned to the bulletin board on the back wall. Cereal station, her favorite. It was the least messy job. She hurried out to the counter, and saw a young man waiting for service, when her heart jumped into her throat.
Prentiss Willson felt like he was settling into his freshman year of college quite well. A month into the semester, he pushed himself to awake early, in anticipation of going for a run before he began classes. He headed over to the dining hall, and served himself a tray of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. The cafeteria was just waking up, and he was first in line. The morning waitress hurried over to help serve him, when their eyes met.
From Here To Eternity
Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson felt like time had stopped as they looked into each other’s eyes for the first time. She felt a rush of blood rising into her cheeks, which to Prentiss, looked like sheer radiance. Looking at her, he almost couldn’t breathe she was so beautiful. Janice was taken as well, but in her bashfulness, she broke from his gaze and looked down at his tray while completing the transaction. But Prentiss was hooked.
A Morning Routine
The next morning, and every morning thereafter, Prentiss awoke at 5:30 am in order to be first in line at Janice Rude’s station. Whenever she looked up and saw him standing there, eagerly gripping his tray, a small smile would play on her face. As she felt herself blush, she would without fail look away from him, but as one morning rolled into the next, her courage grew, and she would be able to return his gaze once more.
Prentiss knew he had to talk to her at some point. For several weeks, he’d try to psych himself up as he walked from his dormitory to the dining hall, but whenever he would see her standing there, a shy smile delicately trembling on her lips, he’d feel the words freeze in his throat. But one day, he finally managed a hello. “Hi,” she answered softly. Her cheeks had blushed an even deeper shade of red, as she promptly looked away.
A Name Like No Other
It only took three and a half weeks, but Prentiss finally knew her name. Janice Rude. It rang in his mind, reverberating between his ears as he tried to focus in his morning lecture. “Prentiss Willson,” Janice whispered to herself. She had heard the name before, when Kappa Sigma publicly quit the national chapter in order to allow a black student, Gene Grisby, to pledge. Now that she knew his name, she floated through the rest of her shift, as if in a dream.
A Class Problem
As Prentiss continued his daily visits, he began to learn more about the pretty canteen girl who wouldn’t leave his thoughts. He learned that she was a sophomore, and later recounts, “I actually didn’t think I had a chance with her. She was a year ahead of me and just so beautiful.” But that still didn’t deter him from his visits, which he made “every day, at 6:00 a.m., because I just wanted to see her and have our little morning exchange.”
Absence Of The Heart
But there was one day that Prentiss didn’t show up to the cafeteria. It was just before Thanksgiving break, and though most students would be leaving the campus shortly, Prentiss was no where to be found. Though the campus’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner was not at their usual meeting time, Janice had expected him to be there. While they conversed more freely these days, they still had not spent any time together outside of the school’s canteen. When he failed to arrive, her heart sank.
Woman Of Action
Though Janice was disappointed to miss Prentiss that evening, she decided she was no longer going to wait around for him. By asking around her classmates, she managed to gather enough intel to find out that he had already gone home to his parents’ house. When one of his fraternity brothers kindly gave her his address. As she walked to her car in the balmy Los Angeles autumn, her nerves almost got the better of her, but she managed to follow through.
Hitting The Road
The road from Los Angeles to Santa Maria was long and unfamiliar, stretching a full 150 miles north of Los Angeles. Janice drove alone, humming along to the radio in order to keep calm. She knew she was taking a risk, driving to his parents house without even calling first, but something compelled her to go ahead anyway. After nearly 3 hours of solitude, only a wrinkled map by her side, she arrived at his parents ranch, parked, and knocked on their door.
Prentiss sat in his parents’ living room, curled on the couch reading a book. He had just returned for Thanksgiving break the night before and was anticipating a comforting meal at home. His only regret was that he didn’t have the chance to see Janice at the cafeteria that morning. But as he contemplated this missed interaction, there was a knock at his door, startling him out of his reverie. He hurried to answer it, but never expected who was there to see him.
Grace And Thanks
Janice stood on the doorstep, regretting her audacity, as she heard footsteps approaching the door. Prentiss himself answered, and the shock in his expression was palpable. “Hi,” she said. Prentiss couldn’t believe his eyes, the girl of his dreams, standing there, on his doorstep, because she missed him. Janice apologized for showing up unannounced, as Prentiss led her inside. He introduced Janice to his parents, with whom she connected instantly, especially his mother, “just like I [did],” Prentiss recalls.
Cut From The Same Cloth
Janice joined Prentiss and his family for Thanksgiving dinner, before returning to Occidental College for the rest of the weekend. Upon Prentiss’s return to Los Angeles, the two were scarcely seen without each other, always strolling around campus arm in arm. It was apparent to everyone who met them that the pair was made for one another, they were so in sync. When they looked at one another, their eyes shone, and neither could help but smile all the time.
Such a whirlwind was their romance that Prentiss decided in early December to ask Janice to marry him. He had known from the moment he laid eyes on her that “we were simply meant to be.” Though they had only been going steady for a couple of weeks at that point, he couldn’t even imagine his life without her. With the help of his fraternity brothers, Prentiss planned a romantic evening for the two, culminating with his marriage proposal.
Love And Marriage
Janice didn’t even have a second to think before she heard herself saying yes. Not that she needed a second. She had been so in love with him from the start that she wouldn’t have ever said no. As he slid the gold band studded with a modest diamond onto her finger, he couldn’t have felt more elated. But the elation would soon turn to heartache, and rather than wedding planning the pair would be fighting for their love.
An Announcement For The Ages
After calling their respective mothers, Prentiss and Janice set about composing an engagement announcement to be released in the local paper. Prentiss received many well wishes from his fraternity brothers, as Janice was likewise celebrating with her sorority sisters. The girls were giddy with delight as she showed off her ring, and they admired the announcement in the paper together. But at the end of the announcement, one line was the most telling, “no date has been set for the wedding.”
Dad On Arrival
There was only one person who didn’t approve of the couple’s union, Janice’s father. As a blue collar business man, he couldn’t relate to Prentiss’s intellectual parents, his father was a doctor after all, and though neither can quite remember the reason he gave at the time, he threatened to stop paying for Janice’s tuition if she didn’t break up with Prentiss. Distraught, Janice called her mother again, and the two tried to come up with a work around.
The Schemes Of Women
In order to help her daughter out, Janice’s mother applied for a second mortgage for their house, hoping it would provide the family with enough extra income that Janice could continue her studies without her father’s monetary contributions. It was to no avail. Though Janice was excelling in her studies, she feared if she dropped out to marry Prentiss, he wouldn’t respect her as much, and his eye would begin to wander to smarter girls who had degrees.
Prentiss insisted that Janice’s fears were unfounded. He didn’t care if she had a degree or not, he would love her just the same. His mother even suggested the pair elope. But between her father’s pressure, and her anxieties that she would be inferior if she defied her father, Janice was suddenly struggling to stay afloat, in ways Prentiss couldn’t fully understand. By January, Janice had a big decision to make, stay with the man she loved and leave college, or break up.
Broken And Alone
Prentiss recalls, “We tried to figure things out but I guess we weren’t smart enough. We had to. We didn’t want to, but we had to.” Devastated, Janice returned the ring with tears in her eyes. Prentiss’s heart was shattered into pieces, and he worried it would be impossible to repair. The lovers went their separate ways. After graduation, Janice returned home not to become a biologist, but in order to run her family’s diving board manufacturing business in Reno, Nevada.
Prentiss was able to pick himself up by the bootstraps and eventually moved on. He continued on from Occidental College to Harvard Law School, a journey that would be mirrored (somewhat) by Barack Obama two decades later. Prentiss worked his way up the ladder to become one of the top tax attorneys in the San Francisco Bay area, and though he later married someone else, he could never erase the memory of his time with Janice from his mind.
Success And Longing
Janice was successful in her field, even being inducted as an honorary member of the United States of America Diving Association’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to the industry. She likewise married another man, but in parallel journey’s neither her nor Prentiss’s marriage lasted. It’s an unsurprising development for a pair who had clearly found their soul mate in one another, and any future relationship was bound to be tainted by the memory of their pure love.
In a twist of fate, both Janice and Prentiss found themselves in identical situations when their mothers both passed on within months of each other. The pair had rarely seen the other in the past 5 decades, but suddenly fate had decided to push them together once more. As each was going through their late mother’s possessions, they came across a shocking coincidence, one that was so striking, it managed to put the pair back in touch nearly 50 years after their break up.
Unearthing An Artifact
As Prentiss sorted through his late mother’s possessions, grief weighing on his heart, he unearthed a crumbling bit of newspaper. It was a clipping of his and Janice’s engagement announcement from all those years ago. Janice too found the very same clipping in the contents of her late mother’s wallet, realizing that she had carried the scrap of paper around, a memory of her daughter’s true love, for nearly half her life. Prentiss felt compelled to reach out to Janice, but would she feel the same?
Like Time Stood Still
The pair reconnected over brunch at a San Francisco mainstay, Cliff House, on June 20, 2010. The minute they set eyes on one another, time stood still once more, and it was like they’d never been apart. They couldn’t help but beam at the other as they caught up on nearly 50 years of life. “The mothers got it,” said Willson. “The mothers simply knew, and I think we [he and Rude] also knew.” Six months after their reunion, they were engaged once more.
A 50 Year Engagement
On August 19, 2012, Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson returned to the place where the magic began, and finally tied the knot. As an homage to their late mothers’ insight, they used their original engagement announcement on their new wedding invitations, only this time, the specified that a date had indeed been set. With several of their Occidental classmates in attendance, the stars at last shined down on the two lovebirds as they pledged their love to one another for all eternity.