Young love feels impenetrable, yet it is fleeting. Two teens who grew up in Minnesota in the 1950s had to learn this the hard way. Karen Lehmann and Dennis Vinar were high school sweethearts and after Karen had become pregnant, they wanted to get married. Of course, there were plenty of things that prevented that from happening and even worse, they were forced to give up their baby.
Heartbroken, Karen and Dennis had no choice but to move on. Until one day 50 years later, fate caused them to confront the truth.
Young And In Love
It is said that you never forget your first love. In the case of Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann, the statement couldn’t be any truer. He was a sophomore and she was a freshman in high school when they began dating.
When you’re young and in love, it feels as if nothing can come between what you have with that special someone. But for Karen and Dennis, someone could come between them—and did.
Dennis Was A Football Player
Dennis Vinnar was your typical American teenager. Held back a year due to a childhood illness, he didn’t want anything to hold him back from doing what he wanted ever again. For the rest of his life, everything was achieved with hard work.
In high school, he joined the football team and was quite popular among the ladies. But for him, there was only one girl that ever caught his eye.
Karen Was A Clarinet Player
Karen Lehmann was not as popular as Dennis was in school. Unlike many high school athletes, Karen was more reserved and focused less on her social life. Her priorities in school were studying and playing the clarinet.
Even though they seemed to be opposites, Karen and Dennis did have at least one thing in common: their work ethics. By the end of her freshman year, Karen was a star clarinet player who was sure to get into college early.
They Were Growing Up
Karen and Dennis first met in 1958. She was 13 and he was 15. Due to Karen’s shy and quiet demeanor, Dennis didn’t act on his feelings despite the fact that he was instantly drawn to her. But the two started things slowly and got to know each other over time.
Many of the girls were jealous that one of Brownton High School’s star football players was occupied with one of the most unlikely people.
They Were Smitten
Throughout their courtship, Dennis made a conscious effort to walk Karen home from school every day—even if it meant that he would be late to football practice. He would even carry her clarinet for her. Dennis was clearly smitten and for Karen, the feeling was mutual.
They may have been teens with raging hormones at the time but the growing love they felt for each other was genuine. Then suddenly, any parent’s worst nightmare came true.
Karen Became Pregnant
When Karen was just 15, she found out that she was pregnant. Dennis did what he thought was logical and proposed to her. But their parents stopped the proposal in its tracks, saying that Dennis and Karen were much too young to consider marriage.
Karen was sent to a maternity home for young, unwed mothers to take her pregnancy to term and deliver the baby. Afterward, she was forced to do something unthinkable.
Brushed Under The Rug
Back in the ’50s and early ’60s, a pregnant teen wasn’t considered an expectant mother. Instead, she was an “unwed mother,” which had a serious stigma. Many women who found themselves in situations similar to Karen’s were often sent to maternity homes to have their babies. Instead of spending time with the newborn after it was born, the women were forced to give them up for adoption.
After coming home from the maternity home, many of these young women had to act as if nothing had happened.
Karen Gave Birth To A Girl
Karen had no choice but to obey her parents wishes when they stopped her proposal and sent her to the maternity home. When she went into labor, her parents and Dennis went to the hospital to be there for her. Karen delivered a girl, which she named Denise after the baby’s father. Dennis signed the birth certificate.
Everyone held Denise briefly before she was whisked away by social services to be adopted.
They Went Their Separate Ways
Against her father’s wishes, Karen continued to date Dennis after the baby was born. But after high school, both tried their best to go on their separate paths. Dennis went into the Army and was deployed out to Germany.
Karen went straight to college at the University of Minnesota, where she studied interior design. Dennis would send letters to Karen’s parents house, but her father intercepted and hid all of them. Both Karen and Dennis figured that the other had forgotten about them.
Dennis Returned To Propose Again
When Dennis returned from the Army, Karen was in her senior year of college. He was 24 and she was 22. Their love for each other still strong, they dated again for six months before Dennis proposed again. Karen said yes but again, their dream was thwarted.
Her father told them they couldn’t get married and if they did, he would cease paying for Karen’s college tuition. Karen and Dennis had no choice but to end things.
They Moved On With Their Lives
“I went through hell to be with her, but I couldn’t. We couldn’t be together,” Dennis recalled in an interview. After they officially ended their relationship, Dennis and Karen went their separate ways. She graduated with a degree in interior design, got married, and had a son.
Dennis also married someone else and had three kids of his own. Fifty years passed by as they lived their separate lives, hardly thinking about one another. Until one day, a question was posed at a party.
The Question That Brought Her Up
In 2014, Dennis was at a party where a woman suggested they take turns answering this question: “If your doctor gave you 60 days to live, who would be the one person you’d like to meet?”
While most of the people named politicians, celebrities, or inspiring figures, the first person that came to Dennis’s mind was Karen Lehmann. “She was my very first love,” he recalled at the party. The thought stuck with him since that night.
He Finally Found Her
A few days later, a friend encouraged Dennis to create a LinkedIn account. He noticed the search bar, the thought of Karen still on his mind. He decided to search for her name. He laid eyes on the third result and said, “That’s my lady!”
Dennis instantly reached out to Karen and left a message with her receptionist. He got a call back from Karen a few minutes later.
Karen was stunned that Dennis had reached out to her. “How did you find me?” she asked him, to which he replied, “Whatever happened to: hi, hello, how are you, what have you been up to?” They caught up with each other’s lives.
Karen was a widowed mother of an adult son, working in Washington state as an interior designer. Dennis was a divorced father of three adults. They then embarked on a three-month digital courtship.
They Rekindled Their Past Flame
Finally, after months of reconnecting online, Dennis flew out to Washington to see Karen for the first time in 50 years. Though they were both nervous, they immediately leaped into each other’s arms when they first saw each other.
They stayed up all night rekindling their past romance, until the subject of marriage came up. They recalled that Dennis had already asked her twice and Karen wondered if Dennis would ask her again.
Third Time’s The Charm
When the topic of marriage first came up, Dennis told Karen that he never wanted to marry again since he already had his heart broken. Karen asked Dennis point-blank if he would consider asking her to marry him again.
“I said no—because it’s like baseball, three times and you’re out,” Dennis recalled to HeraldNet. But Karen countered his analogy by reminding him “third time’s the charm.” That night, they decided to get married again.
They Remembered Their Daughter
After they finally tied the knot, Karen packed up her things and moved back to Minnesota with Dennis. The high school sweethearts were together at last but their marital bliss only lasted until a thought popped into Dennis’s mind.
He remembered their daughter and that he wanted to find her. Karen was not gung-ho with the idea. Though she thought about her long-lost daughter too, she couldn’t bear the thought of upending their now-adult daughter’s life for their own selfish reasons.
Our Life Will Be Complete
Dennis was relentless in trying to get Karen to agree to look for their daughter. Each time, she was resistant until finally, he said, “I found you now, and my life will be complete if we find our daughter.”
The statement was so moving that Karen decided to let Dennis contact the adoption agency. Fortunately, the agency located her easily, since the woman had recently contacted them to look at her file.
An Unexpected Letter
Their daughter was a woman named Jean Voxland, who had previously contact the adoption agency as an adult to get information on her medical history. The 56-year-old mother of three never really took action on trying to locate her biological family throughout her life.
But one day, she received a letter from the agency saying that a relative was looking for her. She nearly threw the letter away thinking it was a scam, but it was her husband that convinced her to look into it.
She Started To Cry
After realizing it wasn’t a scam, Jean asked the adoption agency for more information. They sent her a letter that Dennis and Karen had written themselves, along with some photos. Jean started crying after seeing people who she looked like for the first time in her life.
Soon, Jean, Dennis, and Karen worked with the adoption agency to set up a meeting. It was nerve-wracking for all three of them.
They Braced Themselves
In May 2016, Jean braced herself to meet her biological parents, who she was surprised to learn were recently married and wanted to meet her. For their part, Dennis and Karen were anxious to see the baby they hadn’t seen since the day she was born.
Would Jean, a mother of three herself, understand why her parents could possibly give her up? Karen and Dennis hoped that she would and were prepared to explain everything.
It Was A Bit Of A Shock
“It never crossed my mind that I’d have the opportunity to meet both of them—and they’d be married,” Jean told HeraldNet. “For me, having been sought out at age 54 was a bit of a shock.”
Jean grew up in a small Minnesota town called Hayfield with a wonderful family. Her brother was also adopted. While her adoptive mother has died, her father was still living at the time her biological parents started looking for her.
She Didn’t Say Anything
Jean was speechless when she faced her biological parents for the first time. “I didn’t say much in the beginning. In fact, I didn’t do much talking at all,” she recalled to Post Bulletin.
After the tearful reunion, it was Dennis who did most of the talking. He was the one who told his daughter all about his and Karen’s love story and why they had to give her up. “Oh, boy, was that an emotional day, a very emotional day,” they told KARE 11.
She Understood That It Had To Be Done
After hearing about Dennis and Karen’s past and how it was her biological grandparents that kept her parents apart, Jean came to terms with why she was put up for adoption. She still had a wonderful upbringing with her adoptive family.
But now, Jean and her biological parents Dennis and Karen felt that divine intervention had brought them all back together. Their story amazed everyone who heard of it, and they eventually decided to go along with something people kept suggesting.
One Big Happy Family
Everyone who heard of Jean’s and her biological parent’s story said that they should turn it into a book. In 2017, Dennis and Karen, along with Jean and her husband Andrew, co-authored How Did You Find Me… After All These Years?: A Family Memoir, about their tale of lost love and reunion.
They were now one big happy family. Jean not only gained four new siblings, Dennis and Karen also gained three new grandchildren and some great-grandchildren as well.
Dad Called Off Her Wedding, But She Found Something In Mom’s Purse 50 Years Later That Changed Everything
It was love at first sight for college lovebirds Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson. After weeks of shy glances in the cafeteria, the two would eventually fall in love. The crazy students were so infatuated that they would end up getting engaged. It seemed that everything was working out for the pair – until an angry force caused them to break off the engagement and move in different directions with their lives.
Almost half a decade later, tragedy would strike and bring them together again, but the second time around things were incredibly different.
A Classic Love Story Begins
Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson were just two unsuspecting college students back in the early ’60s. They would eventually fall in love while studying at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.
Rude was a sophomore working towards a biology degree, while Willson was a freshman getting acquainted with college life. They didn’t know of each other’s existence until one day, Willson caught a glimpse of Rude at the campus cafeteria. From that moment, he couldn’t look away. Little did he know, but they were about to embark on the romance of a lifetime.
Of Course, It Was Love At First Sight
Prentiss Willson and Janice Rude’s first encounter happened in that same cafeteria. It was a chance meeting in 1962. Rude was at the cafeteria working her shift when Willson dropped in to grab a bite to eat.
Neither knew that the other would be there, but the moment that they locked eyes, something clicked. That something would turn out to be love at first sight. Unfortunately, both Rude and Willson were shy at the time so they didn’t even say a word to each other! They couldn’t even look at each other without blushing.
Janice Rude Was Taught A Very Important Lesson
Before we get into their romance, let’s backtrack a bit. Prior to enrolling at Occidental College, Janice Rude was a humble girl born and raised in Reno, Nevada. At an early age, Rude’s father taught her that she must work hard in order to be successful in life.
Since Rude deeply respected her father, that was an important lesson that she carried with her into her adulthood. Though her parents never pushed her to go to college, they supported her when she made the decision. For her, being successful meant obtaining a college degree.
Prentiss Willson’s Future Was All Laid Out
Prentice Willson came from the other side of the tracks. Willson was brought up in a family that was well off, so suffice it to say that he was set on a certain path in life. When he first got to Occidental College, Willson joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity as part of his plans for a bright future.
Willson’s well-to-do parents had very high expectations for their son. He was enrolled as a law student and quickly became the president of his fraternity. It seemed his future was all laid out – that is, until he laid eyes on Rude.
Willson Starts Building His Reputation
But before Rude entered the picture, Prentiss Willson was already making a name for himself at Occidental College. When black student Gene Grigsby wanted to join Kappa Sigma, the national fraternity union refused Grigsby’s pledge on the sold basis of his skin color.
Seeing the injustice of this, Willson – as president – took the frat out of the national fraternity union and made it an independent chapter so that Grigsby could join. Willson’s freshman year was already monumental in that he became president, but now he was making waves at his school.
Willson Woke Up Early Just To See Rude At Work
Meanwhile, Janice Rude was hard at work. Coming from a humble background, her father provided some financial support for her college tuition but it wasn’t enough. To help pay for all of it, Rude took an on-campus job and started working shifts at the cafeteria.
It was a job that required Rude to come to school quite early in the morning. By this time, Rude and Willson had seen each other. When he realized how early she would go into work, Willson started waking up extra early in order to be the first one in line at the cafeteria.
Their Crushes Blossomed Into Something More
Eventually, Rude and Willson would get over their shyness. Soon, their demure glances had evolved into small talk, and even that eventually progressed into full-blown conversations. Willson – who remembers the encounters as “love at first sight” – would wake up early every day to see Rude.
“I believe we were simply meant to be. I even remember the first time I laid eyes on Janice,” Willson would later reminisce to the press. Their morning encounters became a routine and on days where Willson didn’t show up, Rude would start to grow concerned.
They Looked Forward To Seeing Each Other Every Morning
Willson’s crush became so intense that he’d routinely head to the campus cafeteria “every day, at 6:00 am, because I just wanted to see her and have our little early morning exchange,” he would later recall.
Little did he know in those days that Rude looked forward to those encounters as well. Every morning as she got ready for her cafeteria shift, she would secretly hope that Willson would be in her line. Her favorite station to work at was the cereal bar, because she was sure to run into Willson there.
Rude Gave Willson Motivation
Though Willson was a freshman, he was settling into college life with ease. As a law student and fraternity president, he was already doing much more than the average college freshman. He even avoided the Freshman 15 by going on morning runs!
What gave him the motivation for these early runs was the hope of seeing Rude later that morning. It was usually after his runs that he’d go to the cafeteria to have breakfast and of course, see his crush. Surprisingly, this had gone on for weeks but neither of them even knew each other’s names!
The Freshman Didn’t Think He Had A Chance With A Sophomore
As a freshman, Willson was already somewhat of the “Big Man” around campus. But that didn’t mean he was entirely confident he could score the girl. In fact, he didn’t think he stood 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 would later recall. Little did this freshman know, that his crush was feeling the same way. Their daily morning encounters were making Rude fall for Willson just the same, even if the meetings were just for a few minutes.
It Took Almost A Month For Them To Learn Each Other’s Names
After three and a half weeks of wistful glances and casual flirting, Prentiss Willson finally learned his crush’s name: Janice Rude. Willson would never forget that name for the rest of his life and hoped that she would learn his name too.
Rude actually learned his name already, when she saw the story in the news of how Willson helped Grigsby pledge into his fraternity. The publicity surrounding Willson’s revolutionary act only made Rude fall for him even more. The crush grew so strong that by Thanksgiving break, Rude would do something completely crazy!
The Thanksgiving Dinner That Ended In Disappointment
Thanksgiving is often students’ first break from classes out of the school year. Occidental College hosts a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for all its students as a way for them to get to know each other better before they leave for the break.
Janice Rude was one student who was quite excited for this campus event. She was particularly looking forward to this dinner so that she could get to know Prentiss Willson. She arrived at the campus cafeteria for her shift during the dinner only that time, something was amiss. Prentiss Willson never showed up.
She Went To Great Lengths To Find Out Where He Was
Janice Rude was so struck by Willson’s absence that she needed to find out where he was or if something had happened to him. Luckily, she ran into one of his friends, who told her that he had left campus early to go home and be with his family.
This is when she went to great lengths just to see her crush. Determined, she found out where Willson lived. With his address in hand, she wondered what she should do with it. Should she try to go see him? Or should she just wait and see him after break was over?
She Decided To Go For It
For Janice Rude, the answer was clear. She had fallen for Willson, which is why in the end she decided to go see him. Willson lived 160 miles away from campus in Santa Maria, California. Rude got into her car and drove there on a whim.
For her, the distance was no issue and the three hours it took her to get to Willson’s house breezed by. But by the time she arrived in Santa Maria and rolled up to the Willson residence, the weight of what she had just done set in.
She Decided To Knock On The Door Anyway
Janice Rude froze at Prentiss Willson’s doorstep. She realized she was completely nuts for driving all that way to see someone she only had passing conversations with in the cafeteria. She hadn’t even called him to let him know she was coming!
You’d think having that much doubt would just prompt her to walk away at that point. But Rude wasn’t going to have driven all that way for nothing! She decided to just knock on the door and see what happened. When it opened, her heart nearly stopped at who she had seen!
Rude Met The Entire Willson Family
When Janice Rude knocked on the door of the Willson residence, none other than Prentiss himself answered the door. Rude’s heart skipped a beat and Willson was shocked. Ultimately, however, he was pleased that she came all that way to see him.
In fact, he says that he was thinking about her when she happened to knock on his door! What would have been an awkward encounter turned out to be a delight as Willson’s parents even invited Rude to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. Everything was working out for the crushes, but it wouldn’t last long.
Prentiss Willson’s Family Really Liked Janice Rude
Thankfully, Willson’s parents were just as taken with Rude as he was. Willson’s mother in particular felt an instant connection with the young woman, which was a huge relief to both of them.
Rude’s bold move had worked in her favor. After thanking the Willsons for a lovely dinner, Rude knew not to overstay her welcome and drove the three hours back to campus. A few days later, Willson would return too, but neither of them knew that Thanksgiving night had been a turning point in their blossoming romance. Soon, things were about to change.
Rude And Willson Were Young And In Love
When Rude and Willson returned to campus following Thanksgiving, everything changed. Their crushes had developed into a full-blown relationship. Those weeks of chatting in the cafeteria for a few minutes had immediately blossomed into a courtship.
The new couple was inseparable and spent all of their free time together. Nothing could come between them. Everyone on campus knew they were together. Whenever people saw Rude and Willson together on campus, the couple was always smiling at each other. The lovebirds felt as if they were meant to be together, which led them to do something crazy.
Prentiss Willson Decided To Propose To Janice Rude
Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson were so in love that one day, Willson decided to follow his heart, take the leap, and propose to Rude. The moment Willson got down on one knee, Rude knew she would say yes.
It’s crazy what you would do when you’re young and in love. After all, they had only known each other for a few short months before deciding to get married. Much of that short period of time was spent merely staring at each other and it had taken weeks before they started talking to each other and even learned each other’s names.
They Announced The Engagement In The Paper
Prentiss and Rude’s engagement was so exciting that it was even announced in the local paper. They couldn’t have been happier to be engaged, despite the fact that they only knew each other for a few months before taking the plunge.
The more time they spent together, the more they got to know each other. And the more they learned about each other, the more they fell in love. It seemed that nothing could stand in the way of their young love — that is, until the following January when Rude’s father found out and felt the need to get involved.
Rude’s Father Gave Her An Ultimatum
Mr. Rude wasn’t the least bit pleased to discover that his daughter Janice had decided to get engaged. He thought that she was too young and that this was not a wise move, especially while she was in the middle of working toward her degree.
He gave Janice an ultimatum: she would either have to break up with Willson or he would stop helping her pay for her college tuition. Janice’s fate was now in her own hands. She was being forced to choose between the two things in her life that she loved the most.
Rude Was Faced With Some Major Decisions
Janice Rude was completely flabbergasted by her father’s reaction to her engagement. She couldn’t afford to go to college on her own, but she had finally found true love. For a while, Rude didn’t know what she should do.
Even more awkward, the engagement was already announced in the local paper, so everyone knew. Calling it off would be a social embarrassment. Rude looked at the announcement again and studied the last words: “no date has been set for the wedding.” It seemed like a warning at the time, but it was also a sign.
Rude Didn’t Know If She Should Follow Her Dreams Or Follow Her Heart
Rude and Willson were heartbroken by her father’s imposition. For Rude, her education was incredibly important to her — especially since her father had taught her to work hard to be successful. It wasn’t like she was just going to give that up.
At the same time, however, she knew she was madly in love with Willson. Anyone who experienced that feeling knows that that isn’t just something you can give up. It changes you for the rest of your life. This made the decision even harder, but suddenly, Rude’s mother intervened with a solution.
Her Mother’s Help Wasn’t Enough
Rude’s mother decided to take out a second mortgage on the family home in order to help supplement her daughter’s college expenses. This was all done with the hope that her daughter could follow her heart and be with Willson.
Sadly, Rude’s mother’s efforts were fruitless and it wasn’t enough. She was again faced with the decision to follow her dreams or follow her heart. Rude at least had enough sense in her to know that the wise decision was to follow her dreams. As much as it hurt, she called off the engagement and broke up with Willson.
Willson Didn’t Understand Rude’s Dilemma
Janice Rude later recalled, “My father forced us apart the following January by refusing to pay my tuition if I didn’t ‘stop seeing that boy.’ 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.”
Willson’s inability to empathize with Rude was the final nail in the coffin. Rude decided to complete her degree and leave Willson behind. But she would never forget him.
Their Lives Grew Apart
After breaking up, Rude and Willson’s lives drifted further apart. After getting her biology degree, Rude went on to run the family business. The Rude family operated a diving board company. Their success was hallmarked by Rude’s induction into the USA Diving Association Hall of Fame in Seattle.
For Willson’s part, after leaving Occidental College, he moved on to Harvard Law School. Becoming a tax attorney, he moved back to the west coast and settled in the Bay Area. They both had accomplished their career goals. Little did they know, but fate would bring them back together.
They Both Moved On With Their Lives
Following the breakup, Rude and Willson would still run into each other on campus, but they acted as friends. Their whirlwind engagement was buried deep in the past. After leaving Occidental College, their lives grew even further apart.
Once they accomplished their career goals, they even went on to marry other people. Forty-seven years later, both of them were divorced yet their paths had never crossed since college. But one day after tragedy struck in both of their lives, they’d make shocking discoveries that would cause their worlds to intertwine once again.
Their Mothers Had Kept The Engagement Announcement
Both Rude’s and Willson’s mothers died within a few short months of each other. They both had to sort through their mothers’ belongings and found something that caused all the memories to come back.
Rude and Willson discovered that each of their mothers had kept the couple’s engagement announcement from all those years ago. Rude’s mother kept it laminated in her purse! Rude and Willson hadn’t even thought of each other much since they moved on, but this discovery brought it all back. “The mothers got it. The mothers simply knew, and I think we also knew,” they’d recall.
They Decided To See Each Other Again
Being reminded of that special time in their lives, Willson decided to reach out to Rude. She agreed to meet him in San Francisco, at a restaurant called Cliff House. June 20, 2010, was the date they reunited.
From the moment she saw Willson for the first time in 47 years, Rude knew that there was still something there. Willson felt the spark too and they pretty much just picked up from where they’d left off. They began dating again for six months before getting engaged for a second time!
They Got Married Where It All Started
This time, there was a date set for the wedding. Janice Rude and Prentiss Willson wasted no time this go-around and got married on August 19, 2012. Their relationship had come full circle, as they decided to get married at the Occidental College campus surrounded by family, friends, and their former classmates.
“We lament every day that we missed being together. That’s about 17,500 days – but who’s counting?” Rude said in an interview. If there’s anything this story will teach you, it’s that true love always finds a way. It took almost 50 years, but Rude and Willson found their way back together.