Bermuda love affair since 1959
Bottled, the magic of Helen and Ernie Reigstad’s Bermuda would make a fortune.
At the moment it lives in the stories the Sparta, New Jersey couple share with “just about everybody”.
They spent their honeymoon here in 1959, at Inverurie Hotel on Harbour Road. Sporadic trips to the island followed, with four children and various extended family members in tow.
Fifteen years ago, they began coming every January to spend six weeks at Greenbank Guest House & Cottages.
It is as part of that annual pilgrimage that they are here now, celebrating Valentine’s Day in their “second home”.
“To me, the magic is you come to an island with beautiful water where just about every house has a white roof, most buildings are in pastel colours; there are palm trees, the greenery is beautiful — that’s a story all by itself.
“It puts you in a mood, it makes you feel at ease and comfortable,” Mr Reigstad said. “And then, the people are so friendly.
“The people on the bus, on the ferry, storekeepers, store owners — everyone says good morning, good afternoon and how are you. The atmosphere is really nice. I think that’s the magic.”
A “look out of the window at the blue water” assured he and his wife that they had chosen the right place for their honeymoon even before the plane landed on June 7, 1959.
Advertising had helped sway their decision, as had Bermuda’s proximity to New York and the fact that everyone spoke English.
Mr Reigstad believes he may have also been inspired by events that happened three years prior.
In 1956 he had a 50 per cent chance of being stationed here with the US Air Force. He was sent to the Azores instead.
“Enlisted men were paid $79 a month and a great part of that went when they went into Hamilton or wherever they went for dancing, for bars, etc. By Monday, they were broke.
“Meanwhile I’m sitting in the Azores; there is nothing there. I got my $79 and would send $50 back home to put in the bank.
“But it’s funny, I always said I wished I had gone to Bermuda.”
He met his future wife at a party the night before he headed out to boot camp.
“I met her on a Saturday night and we danced a little bit,” Mr Reigstad said. “My friend, who joined with me in the Air Force, went to the same church as her and said, ‘Why don’t you write to Helen?’ Meanwhile a girl in her church said, “Why don’t you write to Ernie?’”
They fell in love when he returned to the US for a six-week break a few months later. Marriage came two years after that.
“For our honeymoon in 1959 we decided to come to Bermuda. I’m sure some part of it was because I went to the Azores and never got here,” Mr Reigstad laughed.
On that first trip they vowed they’d return in five years but a decade passed before they made the journey.
According to Mrs Reigstad, they were busy “having kids, setting up our house”.
Eventually, they brought their children — Ernie, Bert, Helene and Laura — three of whom also honeymooned here.
One of their more memorable vacations was one they had booked at Mermaid Beach Club. The chairman of the board of IBM, the American technology company, had a home near the South Shore, Warwick property with a long path that appealed to the family.
“We wanted our children to be able to ride pedal bikes but we were afraid of the [main] road and so we asked if we could use the driveway,” Mr Reigstad said.
To their surprise, the business executive invited them to move into the property for the rest of their stay.
“It was gorgeous. We had all of Astwood Park as private property and two little beaches and used [another hotel’s] pool.
“At the Linen Shop in Hamilton, we bought a nice tablecloth and the first night we moved in we had dinner — hot dogs or something — in the beautiful dining room. We laid that out and Mermaid gave us a bottle of champagne.
“The caretaker comes in and cracks up. He could not stop laughing. He said he had been polishing the furniture for 30 years and no one had ever eaten in the dining room before.”
Subsequent vacations were spent at hotels across the island. The Ducking Stool in St George, Fort Hamilton, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, the Botanical Gardens and the Bermuda Craft Market in Dockyard remain among their favourite places to visit.
Although the Reigstads have travelled elsewhere — through most of Europe, to China, to Russia, to the Caribbean, to Alaska, to Hawaii — Bermuda sits at the top of their list.
“We come here in the off-season. It’s quiet, the temperature is just perfect. It’s beautiful,” Mr Reigstad said.
Now 81, he retired from a career in IT 20 years ago.
“The Air Force sent me on a computer training course and once I got out of the Air Force, I [was hired by a New York company] in Times Square to work as the mail boy. When I told them about the training I had, I was raised five levels with five times the pay.
“I then joined a pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert, now Pfizer, and was with them for the rest of my career.”
Meanwhile, four children and “a lot of volunteer work” kept his wife busy. Mrs Reigstad said working together as a team had helped keep them together for nearly 60 years.
“There was a lot of ‘yes, dear’,” she smiled. “And I think just working together raising four kids. I was lucky enough to stay at home. I did a lot of volunteer work in schools and he was active in Cub Scouts. I had Brownies and Girl Scouts and was very active in the church. We’re very family oriented and I think it all helped us.”
Although the couple have no plans for their June 6 anniversary, their stay here next year is already booked.
Laughed Mr Reigstad: “We’ll keep coming til we croak.”
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