A Literary Life Leads to Love


Beth and Hugh

First Connection:
May 1996 at Sibley’s in
Buffalo, New York

Wedding Date:
May 25, 2001

Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo

Westminster, Maryland

Favorite Activity:
Working on their
house and yard

“Who’s that guy sitting across the table from us?” Beth Rheingold asked her girlfriend, as they sat in their Civil War literature class at the University of Buffalo in 1996. Beth remembers she was intrigued because “it was a small community of graduate students. You pretty much knew all the other students. But I hadn’t seen him in any other courses.”

Beth recalled her girlfriend told her: “His name is Hugh Rheingold. And he’s a bodybuilder.”

While the other comparative literature and English students “looked like Sartre: wearing berets, smoking cigarettes and drinking,” Beth said, Hugh was “into personal health and wellness and eating right and  exercising.” He was “very different from everyone else I met,”  she said. “I just liked him  immediately.”

Beth made an impression on Hugh, too. He was struck the first time he saw her in class, and when he found out she worked as a barista at Café Aroma, that coffee shop quickly became Hugh’s regular haunt. He didn’t want to look too obvious, however. “I’d go with my friend so I’d have an excuse,” he said.

Finally, Hugh made his move. Beth remembered: “He is 11 years older than I am. He had not been on the dating scene in a long time. He was very, very nervous, moreso than most guys. I just thought he was so sweet and kind whereas everyone else my age was just not. But he called and said, ‘I really enjoyed talking to you, and I thought we could go out for dinner.’” Accustomed to receiving less impressive offers — “I was used to guys at parties going, ‘Hey,’” Beth said — she was pleasantly surprised.

The pair went to a restaurant called Sibley’s in an artsy area of Buffalo. The two fell in love quickly, and on Valentine’s Day two years later, Hugh  proposed.

Except that night, the plan veered off Hugh’s script.

“I knew that Hugh was going to propose at some point,” Beth said. The pair had visited Beth’s hometown in West Virginia. “We used my parents’ jeweler because they were friends from our synagogue — believe it or not, there’s a synagogue in Morgantown,” Beth laughed. “The jeweler was mailing it to us. Hugh had this amazing plan. The ring was going to arrive. He was going to propose on Valentine’s Day at our favorite restaurant, the Old Orchard Inn, which was a half-hour out of Buffalo in East Aurora, New York.”

By the day before, the ring had not arrived. The day of, the ring did arrive, but Hugh wasn’t home to sign for it, so the mail carrier left a slip saying the package could be picked up at the post office, which was about to close for the day.

While Beth wondered if this night would be the special one, Hugh, “who has for over 17 years had a very hard time surprising me, was suddenly like, ‘I’ve got to go get something. I’ll be right back.’”

Hugh waylaid a postal worker who was leaving and, explaining that his engagement ring was in his package,  charmed her into going back into the post office and  retrieving the box.

By then, snow had started falling. A common enough occurrence in Buffalo in February, this storm was, Beth remembers, a blizzard. “We’re talking 3, 4 feet,” she said.

They wouldn’t make it to East Aurora, and, since it was Valentine’s Day, their dining options were limited. “We ended up going to a restaurant we’ve never been to,” said Beth. “Let’s just say it was a little  rustic.”

Nonetheless, said Beth, the entire evening was “totally romantic,” and the snow that had snarled their plans provided a perfect backdrop for Hugh’s proposal. In addition to thrilling Beth, the bended-knee proposal succeeded in shaming the men in the three couples at the table behind them. “They all congratulated us,” Beth remembered.

Beth and Hugh married in Buffalo, a central location for their families, who would be traveling from New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. While Beth planned the wedding, Hugh planned the honeymoon in Greece. “It was a dream of ours,” said Hugh, who had been an avid student of Greek philosophy.

The synagogue where they held their wedding, Temple Beth Zion, is one of the oldest Reform synagogues in the United States, Hugh said. Beth added: “It was a beautiful ceremony. The cantor was David Goldstein, one of the most  remarkable cantors in the country.” They held the reception at the Roycroft Inn in East  Aurora.

Beth and Hugh moved to the Baltimore area when Hugh took up a job teaching at the McDonogh School. Beth soon joined him as a teacher there as well.

For 15 years, Beth and Hugh lived on the McDonogh School campus “as part of the boarding community,” said Beth. “We were really the only  Jewish family that lived there.” The two raised their two children, Jacob, 15, and Isabella, 10, on the campus of the school the kids would  eventually, and still, attend.

“We loved it,” said Beth. “But we just bought a home in Westminster. We have longer commutes but it’s worth it. I love Westminster. It’s a lot like where I grew up.”

Hugh still teaches English at McDonogh, while Beth now works as the director of school and community engagement for CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., an agency of The Associated:  Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The two are busy making the new home their own. It takes a lot of their time, “but we love it,” said Hugh. “We enjoy doing yardwork, landscaping. We love to do that ourselves.”

It’s a labor of love for Beth as well. She said of her husband: “His kindness stands out. Kids are drawn to him as their teacher, as a leader and for his wisdom.”

For Hugh, Beth “is one of the most loving and devoted and beautiful people I’ve ever met. I said to her the other day, the years we’ve been together have been the happiest of my life. And they keep getting  better.”

Buying the house “renewed this sense of partnership for us,” said Hugh, and he said the move felt fated. With a symmetry generally found in novels English teachers assign, Hugh and Beth found their home on an important anniversary to them. “We came to see the house, and put in an offer pretty quickly,” Hugh said.

The date was “20 years to the day I proposed.”

Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.


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