Seaside played a part in an elaborate and carefully coordinated marriage proposal over Memorial Day weekend, as a South Carolina man in love popped the question to the love of his life in Ruskin Park.
Dr. David Albenberg, a family practice doctor, and Samia (Sam) Hanafi Nettles, an attorney, met online in early 2016 “the way everyone meets these days.” “There are those couples who meet online and those who lie about it,” Dave jokes.
For Sam, the relationship was a slow progression. “At our age you’re excited and hopeful about love, but also are waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she says. “But with Dave it didn’t. Everyday I got another confirmation of what a great person he is.”
Both are Charleston, S.C., denizens, who have been enjoying a budding romance that includes mountain climbing and other thrill-seeking adventures, thanks to Dave’s love for planning epic dates for his beloved Sam. Dave knew he had found the right woman when she was a perfect match to his adventurous spirit. He knew his time to propose would be when the couple, along with Dave’s daughters — Zoe, 12, and Sydney, 10 — met with Sam’s extended family in WaterColor and Seaside in May. He hatched a painstaking plan that needed the help of a handful of people, as well as a few props.
The idea came to Dave in the middle of the night. “Sam likes to paint. So I thought I’d use that to propose,” he says. “So we’d do a painting class and then do our respective reveals.” He couldn’t find a painting teacher who would get in on the ruse. But he did learn that a comedic improv actor who could play the part of a painter was an even better idea. He recruited his friend, Vince Graham, who is friends with Seaside founder Robert Davis. Davis then asked for assistance from The Seaside Repertory Theatre (The REP), which has a talented team of improv actors who perform regularly in Seaside. The REP’s director, Erinn Stranko, then concocted a scheme whereby improv actor Brook Stelter would play a world famous watercolor artist known as Claude (pronounced “Cloud-Dè”) Dechappelle, who would give expert painting instruction to Dave and Sam.
Dave shared the plan with his daughters, insisting it was top secret, which proved difficult for the excited girls. “Things were getting squirrely there for a bit,” Dave recalls. “I had to ditch the kids and get a way for family to meet up afterward. Thankfully a kind friend came down to take care of the kids.”
With the plan set, this was Dave’s moment to put all of his heart and creativity into his epic proposal. Dave and Claude went over the script, got the props — easels, paints, even some fancy French berets for the couple to wear, because, well, it’s French. Dave, and the unsuspecting Sam, set out to Ruskin Park for a watercolor painting session. Claude asked them to paint on canvases facing each other, so as to obstruct Sam’s view of what Dave was painting. After some brush strokes that painted the big question on a backdrop of the blues and greens of the nearby gulf, it was time to see each other’s paintings. As Sam’s eyes focused on Dave’s watercolor painting, she understood that the moment was bigger than any of their previous elaborate dates. After the big reveal, Dave got on one knee and proposed, asking, “Will you marry us?”
Dave credits Seaside with being such an ideal setting in which to propose. “The people in Seaside are awesome,” he says. “People started gathering around as they figured out what was happening, seeing what I was painting but that Sam was unaware.”
As Sam said, “Yes,” the couple had marked a special memory they will share for the rest of their lives. “The reason it took me 50 years to find the right girl is because I wanted someone who would also love adventure like I do,” Dave says. “She’s been amiable to these strange antics.”
Wedding plans are in the works, with something planned for later this year. “I think it will outshine the proposal,” Dave predicts. “It will be historic.”