Building on each other’s strengths

Building on each other’s strengths

Not every couple clicks instantly. They might seem too differ-
ent … until they realize that those differences can actually forge a bond between them.

Marlene Hoffman was born and grew up in the Bronx. After attending Queens College, she moved to Manhattan and began working as an ad writer for an advertising agency. It was an exciting job for a young woman, but she sensed there was something more she wanted to do with her life. Philip Rhodes was also a New Yorker: He was born in the East Village and grew up in Riverdale. A graduate of Columbia School of Engineering, he received graduate degrees in finance and polymer chemistry from NYU.

Phil had a dream — he wanted to be an inventor.

Like Marlene, he was living and working in Manhattan in March of 198′, when he met an ex-girlfriend at a party. "I hadn’t seen her for several years," he recalls, "and after we’d been talking a while, she said, ‘I have the perfect girl for you.’"

Marlene and Philip Rhodes

The girl she had in mind was her best friend, Marlene.

"I’d never met Phil," Marlene explains, "because my friend and I went to different colleges and that’s where she dated him."

Within a few weeks of the party, Phil called Marlene and asked her out.

"I wasn’t too nervous about going on a blind date," Marlene recalls. "I thought it might be fun. And on the day of the date, I was so busy at work, I didn’t give it a moment’s thought."

Phil had invited Marlene to dinner and a show — "Amadeus" — but things didn’t go as smoothly as he’d planned.

"A bad cold hit him while were we in the theater," Marlene says. "We ducked out during intermission to buy him cold tablets."

In spite of Phil’s attack of the sniffles, Marlene thought the date went very well. "And he called me at work the next morning to say what a wonderful time he’d had. That impressed me."

Through her ad agency job, Marlene often got comp tickets for concerts, shows, and art gallery openings, and she would ask Phil along. They also enjoyed disco dancing, Israeli folk-dancing, and hiking in upstate New York.

Still, they dated only casually in the beginning; Marlene knew that, while she and Phil had a lot in common, including being Conservative Jews, there were other areas where they were quite different.

"Early on," she says, "we recognized that we admired qualities that the other possessed. Eventually we began to share our strengths. Phil got me to appreciate the sciences, which I’d never liked before. Our friends said I made him more outgoing."

Affection soon matured to love, and the couple were engaged in January of 1983 and married that October. They moved to Riverdale, a place they both liked, but after their sons Avi and Jeremy were born and it was time to buy a house, they hit a snag. "We found a great house in Riverdale, but there was a problem with easements," Marlene explains. "Our real estate lawyer was from Teaneck, and he invited us to his home for Shabbat — and spent the whole time trying to convince us to move there."

They didn’t need much convincing. They’d heard wonderful things about
Teaneck from friends, and some time earlier, Marlene had read an article about the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Miford and had said to Phil, "This is where I want to send our kids."

They bought a house in Teaneck in 1987, and five years later changed homes, but remained in Teaneck.

Once their boys were in school, Marlene wanted to go back to work. That’s when she finally heeded that voice that kept urging her to find a more meaningful career. She enrolled in graduate school at Columbia and received a degree in occupational therapy. She is now a pediatric occupational therapist.

Phil started his own chemical R&D business in Newark, and his companies have invented many chemical solutions to real-world problems, including biodegradable plastic, repulpable release coating, bioresistant plastic, and waterproof concrete.

The couple attend and are active in Cong. Beth Sholom, where they were dinner-dance honorees in 1999. While their children were in school, and even later, they were active in SSDS; Phil is a past board member and treasurer. The entire Rhodes family was also active with the shomer Shabbat Boy Scout troop in Teaneck. Both parents continue to give their time to the troop. Avi, ‘0, attends Brandeis, and Jeremy, 19, goes to Colgate.

After ‘3 years of marriage, Marlene says there are certain things that keep a couple connected. "A sense of humor, having things in common, and most important, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to complement each other."

Phil shares his own secret with a grin. "I never listen in on my wife’s conversations." Then he adds, "Marlene’s a great mother. She keeps our social life active…. She’s a very good wife."

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