Couple Forced To Cancel Engagement, But 50 Years Later…

August 3, 2018 | Ryan


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The idea of star-crossed lovers has been around for a while. It’s written about in books, plays and movies, sung about in songs and, sadly, it’s also something that affects real people living in the real world. While it creates great drama and emotion in the context of art, it’s one of the most difficult things to actually go through. Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson experienced not only this, but another profound occurrence when they met in college: love at first sight. But this love would be tested…

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Falling in love as a teenager is incredibly powerful. Young couples have to learn how to handle a variety of new and confusing feelings all at once, and because of this, most early relationships don’t last. Even with all of these challenges, some people are still able to make things work, and it’s always nice to hear about married couples who were high school sweethearts. Unfortunately, being totally right for each other, like Janice and Prentiss were, doesn’t mean that life won’t still get in the way…

Romeo and Juliet

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The most famous fiction about star-crossed lovers is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Like many of his plays, it has been referenced and replicated countless times for hundreds of years. As intense as the story is, one of the reasons it is still so present in the culture is that it resonates with people who have had similar things happen to them. Many are lucky enough to admire the narrative without any personal parallels, but for some, it can be far too real…

In the tale, Romeo and Juliet, who fall madly in love as teenagers, have feuding families who make it so that being together openly would be risking not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. While Prentiss and Janice’s story wasn’t life-threatening for anyone involved, there are still striking similarities to Shakespeare’s. This article will show what happened to them, and even feature several other couples who have gone through the same kind of struggle…

Janice and Prentiss

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Janice and Prentiss, like Romeo and Juliet, were enjoying a fairy tale relationship until the unexpected happened. Because they never saw it coming, they were able to take full advantage of their courtship leading up to when everything changed. This has an upside and a downside. On one hand, nothing got in the way of them establishing a deep connection and building the foundation for a long and happy relationship. But on the other hand…

As a result of initially having complete freedom to fall in love, they were in that much worse of a place to be able handle something bad happening. But before we look at exactly what got in the way, it’s necessary to tell their story from the very beginning, especially considering how beautiful the early phase of their relationship truly was. First, let’s set the scene, and learn a little about where they were when their lives changed…

Occidental College

Twitter – @Occidental

The year was 1961. Janice and Prentiss were both students at Occidental College in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. While this means they weren’t exactly high school sweethearts, they were certainly close enough. Occidental College is one of the oldest private liberal arts schools on the West Coast, and one of the best in the country. Students and staff often refer to it as Oxy, and it’s the perfect setting for a love story.

Prentiss Willson

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It was over half a century ago, and Prentiss Willson was studying for what would eventually become a career in law. He was a freshman and just stepping into his new life as an adult away from home for the first time. At the very beginning of the fall semester, Prentiss went to the cafeteria and was blown away by one of the students employees. Prentiss remembers feeling that “she was just too beautiful for me”…

Janice Rude

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Janice was one year older than Prentiss, spending her sophomore year studying for what would eventually become a career in business. She was working the morning shift at the campus cafeteria when a young freshman began coming in every morning and was first in line right when the doors opened. Prentiss remembers laying eyes on her and feeling that they were meant to be. But early on, he was definitely intimated…

First In Line

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College campuses are chaotic, with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of students going from one end to the other at classes from early in the morning to late at night. Janice and Prentiss never ran into each other outside of the cafeteria, but that didn’t matter. Prentiss knew where she’d be at 6am every weekday morning and made sure to take full advantage of that time to get to know her as much as possible before…

Santa Maria

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But when Thanksgiving break came, it would be the first time they’d have to be away from each other. Even though they weren’t officially in a relationship yet, they were both experience it as if they were. Janice remembers dreading the time apart, and when he was absent from the school’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner, Janice asked around and found out he’d gone home to Santa Maria to spend the holidays with his family, so she made a bold move…

A Surprise Visitor

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Janice decided to drive 150 miles from Occidental to Santa Maria to surprise Prentiss at his family home on Thanksgiving. While Prentiss had been working up the courage to ask her out, she was doing the same, and finally decided to act. He couldn’t believe his eyes when she showed up, and remembers that his parents, his mom especially, saw in Janice exactly what Prentiss did. She was invited inside and…

Thanksgiving Memories

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All these years later Prentiss still can’t believe how powerful of a gesture that was. There was clearly something between them that got stronger and stronger all those mornings in the college cafeteria, but to have confirmation of her feelings connected to such a strong romantic statement like driving several hours and unexpectedly popping up out of nowhere was magical. Thanksgiving dinner went so well that the amazing trip didn’t end there…

Plenty Of Time

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After a super successful Thanksgiving feast, which gave Janice, Prentiss and his family plenty of time to talk and get to know each other, she was relieved to know that her big move paid off. It could’ve backfired but whatever it was that motivated her to take such a huge risk was the same thing that made it successful. Now the young couple could enjoy the rest of the break together in Santa Maria…

Romantic Vacation

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Prentiss showed Janice around his hometown and they were so happy to be able to spend time together without her having to worry about finishing her shift in the cafeteria and him trying to fit as much into those few minutes of talking to her as he moved down the line. It would be one thing to experience the first week of their relationship on campus, but definitely better to enjoy it on vacation.

Young Couple In Love

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His mother spent some of the visit walking around Santa Maria with them and after no time at all she knew they had something special. But she wasn’t with the young couple every moment. It was while they were alone that they got to finally hold hands and have their first kiss. These milestones were everything they wanted them to be, so much so that they were sure they wanted to be together for a long time…

The Ultimatum

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But the relaxing Thanksgiving break would eventually come to a close, and the students had to return to Occidental and get back to their lives and studies. This is where they decided to get engaged. But when Janice’s father found out, he told her he would stop paying for school if they got married. As devastating as this was, they knew she couldn’t throw away her future. Tragically, Janice and Prentiss decided to break up and move on…

Never Forget

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Decades passed, Prentiss went to Harvard and became a married tax attorney in Northern California, while Janice also wed and ran her own swimming pool business in Reno, Nevada. They stayed in touch, but not as much as either of them would’ve liked. Still Janice and Prentiss never forgot about how magical their relationship was and how hard it was to let it go. It would take something incredibly powerful to show them how special their love really was…

The First Sign

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Sadly, after a number of years, Prentiss’s mother passed away. He was much older at this point and took on the role of going through all of her things. It was while he was organizing her stuff that he came across something she’d been saving since the early ’60s. His mom had cut out and kept his and Janice’s original engagement announcement from the newpaper. She was always a big supporter of their relationship. But then…

The Second Sign

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Around the same time, Janice’s mother also passed away. Amazingly enough, even though she’d never met Prentiss’s mom, they had something very important in common. When Janice was going through her mother’s things, organizing them just like Prentiss had done with his mom’s stuff, she found that her mom had also saved their engagement announcement. Not just that, she had even kept it in her wallet the whole time. The long lost couple couldn’t ignore these signs, but…

Engagement Announcements

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Even though Janice and Prentiss had done everything they could to move on after their forced breakup, their mothers hadn’t. While the former couple found new significant others, the moms knew that no relationship would ever mean as much as their first love. Even after the two found the engagement announcements in their moms’ things, yet another decade would pass before they decided to finally follow the signs…

Time Travel

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Over the course of the ten years after their mothers passed away, Janice and Prentiss though about each other constantly. Finding those engagement announcements brought back a lot of memories from their time back at Occidental college. Reliving their fond moments together as young students in the ’60s would slowly but surely push them to act on their feelings. As time went by, the two got closer and closer to finally reconnecting.

Another First Date

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They’d lived entire lifetimes without each other, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t meet up and see how they felt after so many years. Prentiss invited Janice to the Bay Area for a date at The Cliff House in San Francisco. It was a perfect setting to sit back, relax and catch up. It was like no time had passed at all before everything they loved in each other as teenagers clicked again…

Back In Time

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It was like they time traveled back to when they first met, and the present day Cliff House became the one from half a century ago. First love is a beautifully profound experience for any young person. Something that’s almost as powerful for an older person is feeling young again. Janice and Prentiss got to go through both of these awesome things at the same time, but would it be enough?

The Conlons

The Press Democrat – Conlon Family

Before we find out what happened to Janice and Prentiss, let’s look at some other couples who reunited after many years apart. Alan and Courtney Conlon also met in college, specifically biology class. He was a couple years older, but they hit it off, started dating, and fell madly in love. Sadly, they were forced apart by her father, just like Janice and Prentiss. But would that keep them apart?

Secret Love

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Unlike Janice and Prentiss, who respected the wishes of her father, Alan and Courtney refused to break up. Over the next several years they continued to see other, sneaking around and trying their hardest to keep it from her dad. Things got more complicated when he decided to strongly intervene in their relationship, causing Courtney to choose one or the other. Again, they went a different way than Prentiss and Janice. Courtney picked Alan.

A Similar Ultimatum

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Alan and Courtney have been together ever since, but she’s also been out of her dad’s life. Even though Janice’s father was able to separate them, Courtney and Alan feel that her dad’s reluctance only pushed them closer. They had two daughters together and also have four grandchildren. Courtney eventually forgave her father, but he definitely missed out on a lifetime of happy memories. These couple’s aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through something like this…

A Fork In The Road

AARP – Gayle King

Gayle King and Frank Edwards hit it off instantly when they met back in the late ’70s in Chicago. They were together for seven years before Gayle brought up the idea of starting a family. When she did, Frank said he wasn’t ready for that step but still wanted to be with her. Despite how much she loved him, having kids was a huge priority and she decided to end the relationship while she still had time…

King and Edwards

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Gayle moved on, married a new man and had a daughter while Frank stayed single. Decades passed, but Frank always kept up with Gayle’s life, asking mutual friends to let him know how she was doing every so often. In 2011, Gayle got divorced and Frank, who had gone through a near-death experience, knew he should’ve never let her go. They went on a date and have been together ever since.

Just Friends

AARP – Debby Klein

Debby Klein and Jeff Stiel also met when they were teenagers at college in New York. They spent the summers as camp counselors, but at the time, they were just friends. Jeff always had feelings for her, and Debby shared those feelings, but was in a relationship with another person. They meant a lot to each other and made sure to stay in touch, but both went on to live their own lives apart until…

Klein and Stiel

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After 30 years, Jeff asked Debby to meet as friends so they could see each other and catch up. It was over the course of that casual date that they realized they’d been perfect for each other all along. They’d never had the chance to be with each other romantically, but knew it was the right move. Debby and Jeff had so much in common when they reconnected, and after no time at all, they wed.

Nerheim and Ugland

AARP – Marvin Ugland

Diane Nerheim and Marvin Ugland met at the University of North Dakota in 1964. They dated briefly but remained in each other’s lives as a result of their mothers’ friendship. 50 years after they went to college together, Marv took his mom the Diane’s mom’s funeral. As sad as the occasion was, it gave the former couple a chance to see each other again. Years later, he would finally work up the courage to reach out to her…

A Romantic Gesture

AARP – Brent Humphreys

At 70 years old, Marv drove 800 miles to see Diane. They went on a date and he told her how much she meant to him over the years. It was a bit of a surprise, but when Diane started thinking about it she realized she felt the same. They planned a trip overseas together and the rest is history. These lucky couples found each again, but would Janice and Prentiss follow through on their reconnection?

The Cliff House

AARP – Brent Humphreys

Back at The Cliff House in San Francisco on the night of their first date in several decades, Janice and Prentiss felt like they hadn’t missed a beat. Prentiss was early, as usual, and Janice was late, as usual, but that never bothered either of them. When she arrived, he noticed something amazing. She was wearing the same color pants she’d worn at Thanksgiving all those years ago. She couldn’t believe he remembered.

Another Second Date

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Janice and Prentiss had such a great time at The Cliff House they immediately planned a second date. It would’ve been impossible for them to talk about everything they’d been though over a single brunch, and they wanted to hear all about each other’s families, careers and adventures. Even before they embarked on their adult lives apart, there were even a few years back in college that they missed out on spending together…

Revisiting Occidental

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There’s no way to know how much the forced breakup really hurt their individual college experiences, but it’s safe to say it couldn’t have possibly been easy. They had to deal with heartbreak while being away from home for the first time and adjusting to university life. Luckily, they were able to recover and salvage some very happy memories through school and beyond, but not having each other there was always hard.

Looking Ahead

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After they were done looking back, it was time to look forward. Sharing their life experiences with each other was just further proof that they needed to be together. They had a lot of lost time to make up for, and without wasting a breath, they were ready to plan their future as a couple. Janice and Prentiss ended up in the same city and were basically inseparable…

So Many Memories

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Now that they knew everything about what the other had been through, Janice and Prentiss wanted to try to recreate some of the memories they shared together. They were only a couple for a short time, and engaged even less, but that only made their happiest moments even happier. It all started at that Thanksgiving dinner in 1961, and they continued to cook for each other back at school and into their engagement.

Past To Present

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Cooking dates were a great place to start over. Just like they had 50 years before, Janice and Prentiss spent a lot of time together in the kitchen. It’s crazy to think in the weeks leading up to their meal at The Cliff House, neither one knew what the future held for them. Janice even remembers telling her daughter that if it didn’t go well, that probably meant they would have to say goodbye forever.

Engaged Again

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Thankfully, it went better than they could’ve possibly imagined. After relocating and going on several special dates, they decided to try out their engagement again. Unlike the first time, when they faced a problem so big they weren’t able to persevere, the second attempt finally led to marriage. It’s definitely powerful to see the new announcement, especially considering that their moms keeping the original one was so crucial in them getting back together.

An Occidental Wedding

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They could’ve gotten married anywhere in the world, but only one place made sense. Prentiss and Janice knew they had to have their wedding back at Occidental College. They choose a courtyard that was connected to the student center and eating facility where they had first met during those early morning breakfast shifts. The only thing more appropriate would’ve been getting married in the actual cafeteria, but it’s clear they made the right decision.

17,500 Days

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Janice and Prentiss did the math and discovered they’d been apart for around 17,500 days, and still struggle with accepting all that lost time. This motivates them even more to take advantage of every single day they spend together, regardless of how many they actually have left. They’re both currently retired and living in Yountville, located right in the heart of Napa Valley…

Married Life

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According to the happy couple, their marriage is perfect, and they absolutely love being able to spend the rest of their loves together. Now in their 70s, they can’t believe how well they still get along and often imagine what life would’ve been like if they’d never separated in the first place. If anything, their story should make anyone who hears it think twice about their next breakup.

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