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Letter from the Publisher It’s that time of year again! The trees are shedding their final leaves, the weather is getting colder and people are getting ready for the holiday season. But what is the holiday season really all about? Is it about practicing religious traditions? Getting the best deal at the mall? Celebrating the season with friends and family? The answer is: all of the above. A recent report from the Pew Research Center shows that Americans are becoming less religious. In the past eight years, Americans who are “absolutely certain” that God exists has dropped from 71% to 63% and those who consider themselves “religiously affiliated” has dipped from 83% to 77%. Skepticism about religion is especially evident amongst young people. Only about 40% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) say religion is important in their lives, compared with more than 50% for those born between 1946 and 1980 and over 66% for those born before 1946. These numbers will undoubtedly give Bill O’Reilly ammunition for his annual “War on Christmas.” That said, many people of faith will celebrate this holiday season by observing numerous rich and storied religious traditions. Many people think of capitalism during the holiday season. Blockbuster movies open on Christmas Day. Department stores, malls and online retailers give deep discounts on a variety of products from “Black Friday” through New Year’s Day. Throngs of people line up outside of stores on Thanksgiving Day to be the first ones to buy the newest products for the best prices. Some believe this materialism has diminished the

“true” meaning of the holiday season. Perhaps Madonna was right—we are living in a material world. Admittedly, religion does seem to be playing less of a role in American society and capitalism is encroaching on what once was a sacred time of year. But, as Unite Virginia found in its own informal survey of the public, many people view the holidays as primarily a time of year when they get to spend time with friends, family and loved ones. Regardless of faith, or lack there of, it seems a common sentiment shared by our readers is that the holidays are a time of year when people from all different walks of life come together to celebrate the spirit of the season. Our nation, and indeed our Commonwealth, is as diverse as Justin Trudeau’s new Canadian government. I encourage you to celebrate the diversity of our great state and to enjoy this special time of year however you see fit. However, I also urge you to take time during the rush of the holidays to enjoy the simple things in life that really matter. Enjoy the serene moments spent with loved ones and always remember the Golden Rule. May your holidays sparkle and may you feel the happiness of this season all year round. Cheers, Justin Publisher

UNITE Virginia | | 3


with Richmond Symphony

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Volume 1 | Holiday 2015


INFORM PRISM Shelters Homeless LGBTQ Youth in SWVA Silver & Gold: The LGBT Economy Shines ACCESS AIDS Care: 25 Years of Service GayRVA: Making Virginia’s Capital Sparkle

PUBLISHER Justin Ayars, JD

8 10 11 17

CONNECT Virginia Voices – Kenny’s German Christmas Virginia Voices – Adam, Mary, Michael & Laurie Our Top 5 Holiday Events Across Virginia Virginia Voices – Sydney, Dantévia & Morgan


20 21 22 24

ENGAGE Christmas at Liberace’s Roll Out the Barrel: It’s Eggnog Time! Hurrah for the Holidays! O Christmas Tree: From Pagans to Presidents Virginia Voices – Caroline, Ryan, Eileen & Stephen Virginia Voices – Austin, Hortance & Joe Bowman’s Garden Center & Green Bean Café Little Theatre of Norfolk Delivers BIG Results


26 31 33 36 39 41 42 45

LOGO DESIGNER Umbrella Management Group, LLC ADVERTISING MANAGER Robin Goff CONTRIBUTORS Justin Ayars, JD Elaine Colliver Jason M. Gilmore Meredith Jenkins Jesse LaVancher Kenny Schmidt Jonathan C. Zur PUBLISHING OFFICE 1342 Flynn Road Richmond, VA 23225 /uniteva @unitevamag Cover photo of Liberace appears courtesy of ITV/Rex Features. Unite Virginia is published by Unite Virginia, LLC. All rights reserved.

UNITE Virginia | | 5



President & CEO, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities


hat a year 2015 has been in the march toward a more inclusive and just Commonwealth and country. This Holiday Issue of Unite Virginia comes out at a time when LGBTQ people have unprecedented rights, visibility, and acceptance. This progress can be seen from courtrooms to board rooms, from classrooms to living rooms. Yet, there is so much more work ahead to achieve full and lasting equality. Workplace and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people is still legal in Virginia. Transgender people – especially People of Color – face disproportionate violence. Bullying in schools remains a persistent and painful reality for LGBTQ students. And while more people are finding support when coming out to family and friends, too many still face rejection from their parents and religious communities.

It is sometimes hard to assess when to celebrate and when to feel overwhelmed by the work that still needs to be done. I find the history of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities instructive here, especially as we mark our 80th anniversary as a nonprofit organization serving the Commonwealth. Back on November 25, 1935, a group of clergy known as “The Tolerance Trio” who had been traveling the country spoke on the campus of Lynchburg College. Remarkably, nearly 1,000 people were in attendance to hear this Rabbi, Priest, and Minister team speak about the value of interfaith understanding. Imagine a gathering of that size, for that cause, at that time. But the people there did not just come to be passive listeners: they were so motivated by what they heard that they went back to their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities to start local chapters of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ). Those gathered on that Monday night in 1935 could never have known what they catalyzed in the ensuing decades. But it didn’t happen by accident. It happened because people invested their time, their finances, and their passion for a mission that is as critical today as it was 80 years ago: that of promoting understanding and respect. Over the years, NCCJ catalyzed efforts to bring together religious groups during and after World War II, to bridge racial divides in the 1950s and 1960s, to empower women leaders in the workplace, and to address bullying in schools based on sexual orientation. This evolution is part of the reason that NCCJ in Virginia re-launched as the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities nearly a decade ago, to reflect our broad and deep work that helps schools, businesses, and communities achieve success through inclusion. In the same way as that 1935 gathering was a pivotal moment for diverse religious groups, the publication of Unite Virginia represents a key step forward in informing, connecting, and engaging Virginia’s LGBTQ community and allies. With our support, Unite Virginia has the power to be a catalyst for continued progress in the years and decades to come. Let’s get to work! Jonathan C. Zur President & CEO Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities 6 | UNITE Virginia |


news. information. conversation.


PRISM is bigger than any one person or any one group of people. PRISM’s goal is to serve as a sustainable organization that helps our region’s LGBTQ youth forge a path towards a brighter tomorrow for generations to come. I invite you to learn more about PRISM by visiting: www.roanokepride. org/prism-foundation.html.



The PRISM Foundation Addresses Southwestern Virginia’s Homeless LGBTQ Youth Population by Jason M. Gilmore | Chairman, The PRISM Foundation of Southwest Virginia

Need in one’s community is not always as obvious as one may think. Throughout the course of becoming more involved in the local LGBTQ community here in Southwestern Virginia over the last 18 months, the one thing that I have consistently heard feedback on is the need for greater support and resources for two specific groups: 1) young people who are displaced from their homes and, 2) families and older citizens of our community who feel alienated. While the problem of displaced youth within our community has always been apparent, I was astounded to learn that 40% of those between the ages of 12 and 24 identify as LGBTQ. To put that number in perspective, only 7-8% of the population in that age range identifies as LGBTQ. Cyndi Lauper founded TRUE COLORS to address this very issue. She recently addressed Congress on the matter stating, “Basically, the kids come out and they get thrown out. The truth is, they didn’t choose their identity. You know, it’s like you choosing the color of your eyes. You know, you’re born that way.” Addressing the role of faith in this conversation, she said, “I implore you not to pray to God to change your kid. Pray to God to change your heart.” It has recently become obvious to many of us in this region that the long term effects of homelessness for LGBTQ youth are many and varied. Some reveal themselves openly and quickly, while others lay beneath the surface and plague individuals for years before becoming apparent—often too late for those individuals to find the help that they need. The Case of Dewey Lee Summerlin, Jr. & the Birth of the PRISM Foundation In the fall of 2003, several of us here in Roanoke’s LGBTQ community were introduced to a young gay man who was searching for a place to call home. Dewey Lee Summerlin, Jr., or Lee as we knew him, was only 17 years old. After Lee’s mother died of cancer when he was 15, Lee was placed into a very unstable home with his father. One day, his father kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and Lee, threw them into a stolen van and

sped out of town. He was finally tracked down by the police and a high-speed chase ensued from Roanoke to Rocky Mount. The chase ended in a tragic standoff in which Lee’s father committed suicide inside the van right in front of him. At 17, Lee had endured more than many do in a lifetime. When Lee came into our lives, he felt like an outcast, had no stable home and was unable to focus at school or keep a steady job. We did our best to provide him with places to stay and ensure that he had transportation to school and work. Eventually, Lee found stable work and was able to get out of town on his own. Many of us did not see him for long periods of time but when we did it was nice to see he was living a good and happy life… or so we thought. In the fall of 2014, Lee found refuge in a new home on the West Coast. At first it seemed things were finally going his way. Unbeknownst to us, Lee’s “new start” consisted of turning to alcohol and drugs in a desperate attempt to ease his pain and escape his troubled thoughts. Lee was found dead on Sunday morning, March 29, 2015. Sadly, Lee was never able to overcome all the tragedy which befell him at such a young age. Many of us have thought back to the years we first knew him. Did we miss signs? Could we have done more? Would an organization designed to helping people like Lee have been able to help him get on a better path? Lee’s story is just one case study that proves the need for an organization that is dedicated to helping our Southwest Virginia community address the issue of homeless LGBTQ youth. The PRISM Foundation of Southwest Virginia (PRISM) aims to do just that. Pilot programs for LGBTQ homeless youth initiatives are already in place in larger cities across the nation. The national goal is to bring the LGBTQ youth homeless population to a functional zero by the end of 2017. By stepping up to form a new organization to address this very important need within our more rural community, Southwest Virginia is, in many respects, ahead of the curve. UNITE Virginia | | 9

Silver & Gold:

The LGBT Economy Shines this Holiday Season by Justin Ayars, JD $884 billion (with a “B”). This is the buying power of America’s LGBT community. You may be asking, “So what is ‘buying power’ and why should I care?” Buying power is the amount of capital that individuals or households have available to spend and save after paying taxes and pension contributions to the government. This number indicates the economic strength of different groups. As a group’s buying power increases, this can lead to public policy changes that bring greater equality to underrepresented communities. So now you’re wondering, “Is $884 billion really a big deal?” To put this figure into perspective, consider the LGBT community’s market strength compared to that of other, larger demographics.








Purchasing power

$1,200 Billion

N OF THE POPULATIO wer Purchasing po $770 Billion

PULATION OF THE PO wer ng po Purchasi ,500 Billion






sing po wer $884 Bill ion

$884 billion purchasing power with just 4% of the population. Even with my glasses on and calculator in hand, I’m no mathematician. But with numbers like these, I don’t have to be. The average LGBT consumer’s purchasing power is more concentrated than any other minority demographic in the country. Moreover, the LGBT population includes members from every demographic group throughout the nation. The LGBT community’s potent purchasing power and the universal nature of the demographic itself is turning even the most unlikely of heads. Major corporations, small businesses, the tourism industry, nonprofits, the public sector and institutions of higher education are all taking note. I think it’s safe to say that retailers across the country will be paying special attention to the LGBT community this holiday season. If money talks, the LGBT community’s silver and gold is finally making people listen.


In 2006, a merger between Full Circle AIDS Hospice Support and CANDII formed AIDS Care Center for Education and Supportive Services. The two agencies came together with a common mission: to serve more individuals and families that are impacted by HIV/AIDS in Hampton Roads. Now called ACCESS AIDS Care, the organization provides services ranging from medical case management, HIV testing and education to providing transportation, housing and financial assistance to those impacted by HIV. The most difficult challenge the AAC faces is awareness. “Many people have put HIV on the back burner because it’s not as prevalent as it used to be,” Mercedes explains. AAC hosts events like the Reel it OUT Film Festival and Dining Out for Life. The latter, AAC’s largest event of the year, will take place on April 28, 2016. According to Mercedes, “Ambassadors will sit in restaurants and talk about the organization and let diners know that restaurant they’re in is donating 25% or more to AAC. This event happens all over United States and Canada, but we coordinate the event for the Hampton Roads region.”


25 Years of Service in Hampton Roads by Meredith Jenkins


ercedes Bathrick is the Marketing Manager for ACCESS AIDS Care (AAC). Although, AAC has only gone by that name for a few years, the organization’s roots can be traced back over 25 years. In 1989, CANDII (Children’s AIDS Network) and Full Circle AIDS Hospice Support were two individual agencies working in Hampton Roads to better the community and help those affected by and infected with HIV/ AIDS. Full Circle AIDS Hospice Support had an excellent reputation of serving individuals who were at the end stages of their disease and needed hospice support services. CANDII focused its efforts on women and children impacted by the disease and provided family-centered services throughout all stages of HIV, including case management, day care and support groups.

In 2011, AAC opened the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads (the Center) with the mission of providing a safe space, resources and education to the region’s LGBT community. The Center is connected to the AAC building and sees over 200 people every week. The Center offers support groups, youth programs and a variety of educational resources. Recently, AAC participated in the My Family Project, a photo essay-style project that showcased LGBT families in Hampton Roads. About 15 families participated in a photo shoot designed to illustrate the diversity of the region’s LGBT families and erase stigmas and stereotypes. The My Family Project will be shown in Work |Release, an arts venue, exhibition and events space located in the historic Texaco building in the NEON (New Energy Of Norfolk) Arts District (759 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23510). For more information, contact AAC.

< <

ACCESS AIDS Care 3309 Granby St. Norfolk, VA 23504 757.640.0929 The LGBT Center of Hampton Roads 247 West 25th Street Norfolk, VA 23517 757.200.9198

John: Tell us about GayRVA. Kevin Clay started GayRVA around 2006-07. Inkwell Ventures purchased GayRVA in 2012. Inkwell Ventures owns RVA Magazine, GayRVA, RVA on Tap and other things. As the President of Inkwell Ventures, I oversee all of our media.

Brad Kutner

John Reinhold

: A V R Gay

s ’ a i n i g r i V g n i k a M e l k r a p S Capital ith by Mered


“Gay media outlets must tell the stories that aren’t being told or properly explained.” Richmond (known by locals as “RVA”), our state capital and the former capital of the Confederate States of America, has recently come into its own as a 21st century city that attracts millennials, history buffs and sports fans, alike. RVA is also home to a thriving LGBT publication, GayRVA. Unite Virginia recently spoke with John Reinhold—President of Inkwell Ventures, GayRVA’s parent company—and GayRVA’s Editor-in-Chief, Brad Kutner, about GayRVA and LGBTQ media.

How often is GayRVA published? GayRVA exists primarily as a website. We’re 24/7 when it comes to content on We have a weekly newsletter. We try to have daily articles that deal with the Richmond community and the LGBT community. We printed two issues in the past, but have not done so for over two years. However, we did print the Pride Guide for this year’s Virginia Pride Festival. What is the readership of GayRVA? Our demographic is primarily between 25-35 years old, both LGBT and allies. Because GayRVA and RVA Magazine share content, there is some cross-pollination of readership. Do you think having an LGBT publication is important? I think it’s important to have a place where people can have a voice, be accepted and talk about the issues, especially in Richmond, the former Capital of the Confederacy. As an ally, my experience with GayRVA has been truly profound. Brad: Do you think having an LGBT publication is important? Three years ago, LGBT issues were covered primarily in LGBT news outlets, not the broader news media. Now all media is covering LGBT issues. Gay publications, like gay bars, have to evolve. It’s good that there is a broader societal interest in LGBT issues. But, bigger news outlets might not fully explain the issues or cover every side of a story. Gay media outlets must tell the stories that aren’t being told or properly explained. John: What obligation do you feel GayRVA has to the public? We have an obligation to be a supporter of the community and to cover issues that are important to the community. It’s not easy to do this, especially when there are divisions within the LGBT community. We’re always trying to learn, adapt and provide really good content for people.

UNITE Virginia | | 17


your voice. your community. your virginia.

Our Commonwealth

is as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. The holiday season, arguably more than any other time of year, conjures up many deep feelings, emotions and memories. Unite Virginia wanted to see firsthand what people throughout the state think about the holiday season. We decided to take our own pulse of the general public and asked people from across Virginia these three questions: 1. How do you celebrate the holidays? 2. What is your favorite childhood memory from the holiday season? 3. How do you think religion plays a role during the holiday season in 2015? I invite you to ponder the three questions and submit your answers, along with a photo of yourself, to Throughout the holiday season, we will sift through the responses and post some of them on our website: Thank you for your submissions and I hope you enjoy our interviews!

VIRGINIA Kenny Schmidt, 23 1. In Germany, the Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) comes into the house on December 24th and brings presents. Each person who gets a present has to sing a Christmas song or recite a poem. After Santa is gone, we open the presents, drink Glühwein (hot wine) and have the traditional Christmas Eve meal, herring salad. On Christmas day we enjoy being together, playing games, singing, watching movies drinking more Glühwein and enjoy another traditional meal, Christmas goose. For Germans, December 26th is also a Christmas holiday. On that day, I usually go to a restaurant with my parents for lunch .




2. One year, just a few days before Christmas, my aunt’s apartment burned down. My uncle, aunt and cousins got to stay with us for a few months. It was a hard time for my aunt’s family, but we all had a few hours when we just forgot about the horrible incident and enjoyed being together around the Christmas tree.

3. I think whether or not religion plays a role during the holiday season depends on if you are actually religious or not. I think Christmas has become more traditional rather than religious.


< Michael Hill, 24

1. I spend the holidays with my family. We go to the houses of our other family members and have dinner together. 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holidays was being excited about what presents I was going to get. 3. I’m not sure if religion plays a role during the holiday season. For me it does not.

Laurie Wacks, 24

1. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Christian. We celebrate the holidays for traditional rather than religious reasons. We don’t celebrate Hanukah unless we are with lots of my dad’s family. I actually prefer Thanksgiving, especially when extended family members are around.

< 2. As a kid, I loved the anticipation for Christmas Day and the excitement about what was going to be under the tree.

3. For my family, the holidays have become more about tradition than religion. There is so much commercialization that the season feels less about religion than it used to.

< Mary Shelden, 51

1. To celebrate the holidays, my partner and I go back to Illinois where we spend late December to early January. 2. When I was six years old, I thought I got a new bike from my older sister for Christmas. It turns out it was really just my old bike with a new seat and butterfly handlebars on it. It didn’t matter. She made me the girl who had the coolest bike in the neighborhood! 3. Religion can bring people together around the holidays but, sadly, sometimes people come into conflict over differing religious views.

Adam Turner

1. I plan on spending the holidays with my family in my hometown of Louisville Kentucky, for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal at my uncle’s house in Old Town Louisville in a 3-story Victorian mansion where he hosts the entire family. For Christmas, I’ll probably be at my grandmother’s across the river in Indiana exchanging gifts.

< 2. I fondly remember decorating the Christmas tree and listening to Nat King Cole with my grandmother and also going to see The Nutcracker with her.

3. I do go to church on Christmas Eve, but just for the music. This year, I’ll go to a carol service, probably at St. Paul’s here in Norfolk. Then I’ll go to a Christmas Eve service back home in Louisville. It’s all about the music for me! After all, I do conduct for the Virginia Opera! UNITE Virginia | | 21





Harrisonburg Holiday Parade & Tree Lighting Ceremony December 4th | 7:30 P.M. Downtown Harrisonburg 540.433.9168 This year’s Winter Wonderland holiday parade begins at 7:30 P.M. at the corner of Grattan and Main Streets and ends at the Rockingham County Office Building on Gay St. After the parade, Mayor Christopher B. Jones will host a tree lighting ceremony in Court Square, followed by a holiday concert performed by the JMU Marching Royal Dukes!

Christmas by the Bay: Northampton County Chamber Holiday Tour December 5th | 1:00 P.M. – 5:00 P.M. Cape Charles, VA 757.331.1660 Come out to the Eastern Shore to celebrate the 20th annual Christmas by the Bay Holiday Tour! Take a step back in time to visit beautifully decorated historic homes in the quaint, historic beach town of Cape Charles. Stroll down Mason Avenue and venture into the local shops or pause with a wonderful meal inside one of the town’s many restaurants.

Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial Annual Christmas Open House December 6th | 2:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. 1250 Red Hill Rd. Brookneal, VA 24528 434.376.2044


Guests will be treated to FREE docent-guided tours of the historic buildings at Red Hill, including Patrick Henry’s house, Law Office and other buildings, all decorated for the holidays by the Red Hill Garden Club. Complimentary hot mulled cider, Brunswick stew prepared by the Charlotte Lions Club and cookies will be available throughout the afternoon. The gift shop will be offering a 10% discount on its regular merchandise. The Museum Shop has many items that are perfect for gift-giving, including the award-winning Red Hill Wine collection. The annual sale of local boxwood wreaths and boxwood kissing balls begins in mid-November.

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights Nov. 13 – Jan 3 | Light walks run every 30 minutes beginning at 5:30 P.M. and ending at 10:00 P.M. Meadowlark Gardens Ct. Vienna, VA 22182 703.255.3631 This festive walk-through light show boasts over than 500,000 lights and displays! It has quickly become a family holiday tradition in northern Virginia. Be sure to dress for the outdoor weather!

Holidays at the Village Nov 27 – Dec 27 | Daily Village Market Blvd. SE & Balch Dr. SE Leesburg, VA 20175 Join the Village for FREE holiday fun all season long! Come see the daily Spectacular Tree Shows from a 5-story tall musical animated tree, enjoy weekend horse-drawn carriage rides and visit with Santa!

Purchase a Gift Certificate! The Official Opera Company of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Get your tickets before everyone else does!

Special Holiday Pre-Sale December 14th-23rd, 2015

Romeo & Juliet The Flying Dutchman with performances in:

Norfolk Richmond Fairfax Contact our Jolly Box Office 866.673.7282 | UNITE Virginia | | 23



Sydney Meers

1. For the holidays, I don’t do anything that “sheeple” do. However, I did make an exception for Halloween because it marked our restaurant’s 9th year in business (Stove in Port Norfolk, Portsmouth). 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holiday season was learning that Santa wasn’t real. One day in the car, my mom and dad told me that when we got home I had to hurry up and get to bed. I asked, “Why? It’s only 6pm.” They told me, “Santa’s already left the North Pole and he’ll be here soon.” I told them, “Santa can’t possibly get down here in the next hour, so I don’t need to go to bed.” My dad said, “If he shows up on the roof and you’re awake, you’ll be in trouble!” Then I asked, “But if he shows up on the roof, how’s he going to get down here? We don’t have a chimney! Wouldn’t he just land in the yard?” My mom said, “Darlin, if he comes down into the yard, the dogs will bark at him.” At that moment I KNEW that the whole Santa Claus thing was all make believe, damn it! 3. I don’t see religion playing much of a role during the holiday season anymore. Everybody who goes to church is a sinner anyway.


Morgan E. Rittenhouse, 23

1. Christmas is my favorite holiday. Togetherness is a big thing for my family. I especially enjoy spending time with family members I don’t see that often. 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holidays was waking up on Christmas morning and feeling the magic of the moment. 3. Religion doesn’t really play a role for me or my family during the holiday season.

Dantévia Slaughter, 19


1. Usually my entire family gets together either at my dad’s or aunt’s house. Everyone, literally everyone, sleeps over on couches and even on the floor! 2. One year for Thanksgiving we went to Florida and all of the kids slept on the floor. I remember waking up to the smell of the amazing food which my family made. 3. I’m not religious. Some of my friends always go to church, but I don’t.


engage culture. style. stuff.


Christmas at Liberace’s b y j u s t i n a y a r s, jd “You know what the golden rule is?” Liberace asked me with his nasal, high-pitched voice as I stared up at him as a young child in Las Vegas. “It’s that everyone should be nice to each other,” I said, with a level of certainty beyond my years. “No,” he cackled waving his golden, diamond-studded rings in front of my eyes, knowing full well that my attention could not be diverted from my absolute favorite ring in his collection—the one shaped like a giant grand piano. “It’s whoever has the gold makes the rules... and look who has all the gold!”

Photo courtesy of Bettmann/CORBIS

Liberace Who?

For the uninitiated (sadly, some people don’t know who Liberace was), Władzio Valentino Liberace (or “Lee” as his friends knew him) was born into a poor family outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1919. He began playing the piano at age 4. After paying in speakeasies during the Great Depression, Lee began performing in a sleepy little desert town called Las Vegas. His musical repertoire included a unique mix of classical, boogie woogie, movie themes, cocktail jazz and sentimental ballads. He knew thousands of songs and could play almost any request on demand. As Vegas grew, so did Liberace’s fame. In the early 1950’s, Lee had his own variety show on television—a medium still in its infancy. In many respects, Liberace was the first TV star. His television program, coupled with his growing fame in Vegas, catapulted Lee into stardom. In 1955, Lee opened at the Riviera in Las Vegas making $50,000 per week ($439,723 in today’s dollars), thus becoming the city’s highest paid entertainer.

As Lee was beginning to make it big (really big), he also began to craft an image of himself that would come to redefine show business. In the 1950s, every concert pianist performed at a black grand piano wearing a traditional black tuxedo. Not afraid to break from tradition, in 1952 Lee walked out on stage at the Hollywood Bowl in white tails “so they could see me in the back row.” Returning to Vegas, he added a gold lamé jacket to his concert wardrobe. Lee recalled, “They crawled out of the woodwork when they saw it!” Soon, Elvis Presley was wearing a suit of gold lamé. “What started as a gag became a trademark,” Lee once said in an interview, “and trademarks are hard to come by in show business.” Over the years, his trademark grew to include outlandish entrances, including riding on stage atop a massive elephant or in a RollsRoyce covered in tiny mirrors resembling a disco ball. His wardrobe expanded to include some of the most elaborate and expensive costumes ever made and jewels that could put half of America through college. At least six times during each performance, Lee would leave the stage announcing that he was going “to go slip into something a little more spectacular.” Each time he made another grand entrance in a new outfit, he’d invite a few women on stage to admire his furs and diamonds. “I’m glad you like it,” he cracked. “You paid for it!” Lee regularly defied gravity by floating towards the theatre’s balcony in a hot air balloon and swooping over his adoring audiences on a flying harness. Soaring over a sold-out house during his debut UNITE Virginia | | 27

at Radio City Music Hall in April of 1984, the rustle of his 135-pound, $300,000 Norwegian blue shadow fox cape, which included a 16-foot train studded with bands of Austrian rhinestones, was completely drowned out by the crowd’s “oos” and “ahs.” “Well, look me over,” he said with a boyish grin. “I don’t wear this to go unnoticed.” The audience roared with delight, completely intoxicated by the gleeful absurdity of it all. “My costumes are a joke,” Lee told one reporter. “A $5 million joke. And people love it!” Why did Lee feel the need to put on such a spectacle? “The public in today’s world needs all the fantasy it can get,’’ Liberace once said. ‘’That’s why we have entertainment, to make people forget all the troubles of the world. I like to feel that I run the gamut of emotions in my shows. It isn’t all spectacle and laughter; it’s a combination with tears and pathos.’’ Lee’s musical prowess, over-the-top costumes, novel stage antics and ability to woo audiences across the globe made him the world’s highest paid performer in show business for over 40 years and earned him the title, “Mr. Showmanship.” Not everyone enjoyed Liberace’s unorthodox musical repertoire and over-the-top showmanship. In 1956 a British tabloid called Liberace a “deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scentimpregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” The writer concluded that Liberace was “the biggest sentimental vomit of all time.” Lee famously responded to this harsh critique by saying, “I cried


all the way to the bank.” He later amended his response: “Remember that bank I used to cry all the way to? Well… I bought it.”

Growing Up with Liberace

Mr. Showmanship was not just a cultural icon; he was a family friend and godfather figure to me and my brother. My father, a classical pianist, conductor, composer and musical arranger, had worked his way through the music and showbiz circuit from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. During this time, he worked with some of the biggest names in show business and even toured with Elvis Presley. In 1973, Liberace hired my dad as his conductor and musical director. For the next 13 years, my dad served as Lee’s musical right-hand man and an integral part of the most influential inner circle in the showbiz industry. My mother, a Washington, D.C. insider, is a classical pianist who was trained by the protégé of Sergei Rachmaninoff. In the late 1970s, she attended a Liberace concert and was reluctantly dragged backstage where she met my dad. It was love at first sight. Within months, she moved to the West Coast and found herself thrust into the extravagant world of Liberace’s inner circle. After my parents were married in 1979, they moved into a house next to the 18th hole of the Hilton Hotel’s golf course in a gated community just one block off the Las Vegas strip. A few years later, on the day I was born, Liberace announced my

birth on stage at the Las Vegas Hilton and the Las Vegas Sun newspaper welcomed me into the world as the newest member of the “Liberace Family.” In the first half of the 1980s, our neighbors in Las Vegas were among the who’s who of show business, including Bill Cosby and Jerry Lewis. Other stars, including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Diahann Carol, Sammy Davis Jr., the Rockettes and many others, were figures in our lives over the years and sometimes guests at our home. My younger brother and I were the only children in this celebrity in-crowd. As we ran through the throngs of entertainers at various homes across town (including Lee’s), we were oblivious to the number of famous people we happened to trip over. Part of me regrets not being older during those years so that I could fully appreciate the grandeur of the era and my family’s place in the middle of it all. Like many superstars, Lee guarded his privacy as fiercely as the Soviets patrolled the Berlin Wall. When not on stage, Lee could often be found sitting alone in the corner with a bottle of Smirnoff vodka and a glass of ice. He insisted that people within his cadre not take pictures of him when he was not on stage. That said, some of the photos in this article are extremely rare and I’m lucky that my mom managed to snap a few candid shots when she could.

Christmas with Liberace

Typically, Thanksgiving was the end of Lee’s performing season. My dad recalls, “Around Thanksgiving I would get word from Seymour Heller (Liberace’s manager) about what next year’s calendar would look like. After Lee and I said goodbye before Thanksgiving, we didn’t see much of each other until late January.” Lee would make occasional appearances at his restaurant, Tivoli Gardens, and sometimes attend smaller holiday parties. Generally, however, “he kept a low profile,” my dad explains. One year, my parents hosted a big Christmas party for the neighborhood. Although Lee was no stranger to our house, my mom recounts that his appearance at this particular party was out of the ordinary because “it was mainly just plain, neighborhood people in attendance—doctors, lawyers, casino pit bosses, the bandleader from the Hilton (who was a mobster), rich retirees and a handful of celebrities, including Lola Falana—not the high show biz people he normally surrounded himself with. He stayed for a short while drinking his usual straight Smirnoff on the rocks. He’d been in show business so long that he didn’t get invited to normal neighborhood parties. He was clearly outside of his comfort zone.” Although Lee “didn’t perform much during the holidays,” my mom recalls, “he did throw Christmas parties at his house.” For my mom, one Christmas party in particular stood out from all of the others.

UNITE Virginia | | 29

A Christmas Story | by Elaine Colliver

In 1981, Lee hosted an intimate Christmas dinner for about 12 people at his house in Vegas. Guests included George and Dora Liberace (George was Lee’s brother and his wife, Dora, used to run the Liberace Foundation & Museum); Dominick Allen (a musician who regularly performed with Lee) and Kathy Lee (Dominick’s girlfriend at the time); Dominick’s parents; your father and me; a stripper named Suzy Midnight; and, two other women. Not to be rude, I wanted to present our host with a gift. When I went shopping before the party I thought, “What on earth do you get Liberace for Christmas!?!” I ended up buying a 3-foot tall ceramic white dog. I diligently wrapped it in magenta pink foil and placed it under Lee’s Christmas tree upon our arrival. Unable to find a babysitter, we brought you with us, showed you around and then put you to sleep in a side bedroom where Liberace’s sister, Angie, stayed. After a lovely dinner, it was time to open gifts. Liberace instinctively moved to open the gift from me first. He loved the wrapping and simply adored the gift! Instead of “re-gifting” the present to someone else—a practice he turned into an art form—he gave it a permanent home in his front hallway! Lee, ever the gracious host, showered his female guests with particularly lovely gifts. Dora Liberace received a $5,000 gift card for Neiman Marcus; Kathy Lee received a gorgeous cocktail ring with huge emeralds. When it came time for Lee to present me with a gift, I was expecting something equally lavish. The room was filled with electric anticipation as Lee walked over to me and handed me a beautifully wrapped gift. As the wrapping paper and ribbon fell to the ground, the room went silent and a wry smile crept across Lee’s face. To my dismay, Lee had not given me an extravagant gift; rather, he gave me a doorbell that played 87 different tunes! I was not amused. Who gives someone a dumb doorbell?!? My stupefied dinner companions looked back and forth like spectators at a tennis match between me, as I held my new doorbell in disbelief, and Lee, who was sardonically smirking. I politely smiled and thanked him for the generous gift. The evening continued without further incidents… or doorbells.


I never installed the doorbell. It sat in its box for years collecting dust until I finally threw it away when we moved to Virginia. Anyway, after the party (and despite my disappointment), I sent a note to Lee thanking him for a lovely evening and for the thoughtful gift. Some weeks later, Lee mentioned that he thought my thank you note was very sweet. In fact, he told me that I was the only person who had sent him a thank you letter. He also admitted that he liked the present I got him the best. Too bad I couldn’t say the same for that damned doorbell! At this early point in their relationship, my mother believes that Lee was testing her resolve as the only non-showbiz member of his inner circle. Although it took a few years for Lee to warm up to this East Coast “outsider,” my mother became one of the very few people that Lee actually opened up to emotionally. To this day, she remembers him very fondly and laughs about the infamous Christmas party of 1981. Visit to read about Lee’s homosexuality & Behind the Candelabra.

Lee’s Legacy

Liberace was Mr. Showmanship. His impact on musical entertainment cannot be overstated. Performers today, ranging from Lady Gaga and Elton John to Madonna and Beyoncé, have been inspired by his talentand ability to connect with audiences. “Lee was totally at home on stage. It was where he felt the most comfortable,” my dad explains. “But,” he continues, “I tell people that if you take away the lifestyle and the bling, you still have a guy who was an incredibly talented musician. As a member of the Advisory Board for the Liberace Foundation, my goal is to help people remember this.” As a child, Lee would tell me, “Know your audience.” Although I did not understand the universality of his words at the time, I have adopted this motto as my mantra. I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of the “Liberace Family,” to have spent my early childhood in a world that very few people get to experience and, of course, to learn about the Golden Rule from Mr. Showmanship himself… as I played with his shiny rings. Cover photo of Liberace on page 26 courtesy of Bettmann/CORBIS. All other photos in this article are copyrighted by An Image Apart and courtesy of the Ayars family.


Rich, creamy and incredibly potent. That’s my rule of thumb when making eggnog. As I was thinking about my traditional hangover-inducing recipe, I started to wonder, “How did humans first think chugging a spiced and spiked egg and milk mixture was a good idea?” Believe it or not, eggnog has charmed drinkers for nearly a millennium. Most culinary historians agree that eggnog originated from the early medieval England “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink, sometimes made with wine or sherry. In medieval England, milk, eggs, and sherry were foods that only the wealthy could enjoy. As such, eggnog became used in toasts to prosperity and good health. What is less clear is the etymology of the word “eggnog.”

< • • • • • • • •

George Washington’s Eggnog Recipe 1 Pint Brandy ½ Pint Rye Whiskey ½ Pint Rum ¼ Pint Sherry 12 Eggs 12 Tablespoons Sugar 1 Quart Milk 1 Quart Heavy Cream

Mix liquor first. Then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks and mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently. As you prepare to celebrate this holiday season, I encourage you to try this fine Virginia recipe and revel in the flavor and history of this frothy brew. But please drink responsibly. GW’s recipe not only has a lot of alcohol, it also packs about 400 calories per cup! But that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Right?

When the various milk and wine punches from the Old World made their way across the pond in the 1700s, the drink got a lot more potent. American colonists replaced the wine with something they had in abundance: rum. In Colonial America, rum was commonly called “grog.” Some believe the egg-based drink, “egg-and-grog,” eventually became just eggnog. Others believe the “nog” comes from the word “noggin,” which was a small, wooden mug used to serve drinks at tables in taverns. Whatever its origins, by the late 1700s the combined term “eggnog” had stuck. Eggnog quickly became a popular holiday drink throughout Colonial America because it’s rich, spicy and alcoholic nature kept colonists warm and merry during the winter. George Washington was a huge fan of eggnog. He even concocted his own recipe that was reputed to be a stiff drink that only the most courageous were willing to try.

UNITE Virginia | | 31

Hurrah for the Holidays: Three Cheers for Virginia’s Leading Family Theatre Company! by Meredith Jenkins


hen you study theater, you learn lessons about life.” This philosophy has been the bedrock of Hugh R. Copeland’s life work as a performer, educator and community leader. Raised on a small farm in Eastern North Carolina, Hugh grew up with what he calls, “a farmer’s work ethic.” This work ethic helped him earn a Masters Degree in acting from Smith College. His love of teaching and directing brought him to Hampton Roads to work with the Norfolk Public School system, teach at Old Dominion University (ODU) and found the Hurrah Players. The Hurrah (“Hugh R.”) Players Hugh founded the Hurrah Players (a name derived from combining his first name and middle initial “Hugh R”) in 1984 to be a shining example to both its students and

the community that theatre arts can enrich the lives of its participants educationally, emotionally and socially. The Hurrah Players (Hurrah) focuses as much on education as it does on producing great family-friendly theatrical productions. “All anyone has to do to be in Hurrah’s educational programs is to want to be there,” Hugh says. If they have no money, Hurrah will find a place for them. Hugh adds, “Our performers range from age 5 to 84. Our very own Co Harrison, who is 84, was a USO dancer in WWII and is now our Musical Theatre and Babes on Broadway Instructor, as well as our Dancing Mrs. Santa Claus!” Some of Hugh’s students have made it big, including as cast members of Glee, Stomp and many Broadway plays. Hugh has won a slew of civic and artistic awards over the years, including Equality Virginia’s Outstanding Virginian.

UNITE Virginia | | 33

Hugh recently married his partner of 21 years, Jerry Duck (who is Hurrah’s treasurer). When it comes to his sexual orientation, “I never pretended to be anyone other than who I am,” Hugh says. “To the children we’re just Hugh and Jerry. They know we’re a team.” Capital Improvements For years, Hurrah operated out of a church basement and out of a rented warehouse in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, performing at various venues throughout the region. In 2001, the company started performing regularly in the newly-renovated Roper Performing Arts Center at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk (Roper Theatre), which seats about 860 people. In June 2009, the company purchased the historic Old Norfolk Academy building in Downtown Norfolk. Constructed in 1840, the Greek-revival building served as a military hospital during the Civil War, a Red Cross building in World War I, a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courthouse from 1920-1970 and as the City of Norfolk’s Chamber of Commerce since 1973. According to Hugh, “It was also the site of Edgar Allan Poe’s last public lecture.” In 2010, after months of renovations, Hurrah moved into the building, which now houses two large rehearsal halls, a student resource center, a box office, costume and prop storage and the Perry Family Theatre, a 100-seat performance venue where the company stages smaller productions and workshops. “Thanks to our new home and the generous support of our community,” Hugh beams, “we are able to conduct more outreach and educational programs than ever before.” Continuing their growth phase, in 2014 Hurrah purchased the former Sutton Manufacturing building on Wilson Avenue in the NEON (New Energy Of Norfolk) District, Norfolk’s

first official arts district. This 12,000+ square foot building, which will be named the Hugh R. Copeland Center, will provide additional classrooms and a rehearsal studio for Hurrah’s ever-growing educational programs, as well as house a permanent design and creation workshop for performance scenery and props.

Hugh R. Copeland photo courtesy of the Hurrah Players

Hurrah’s Theatrical & Educational Activities “Everything we do is built upon our mission statement, which is to inspire and empower the Hampton Roads community through affordable, professional quality musical theatre education and family friendly entertainment,” Hugh explains. Every year, Hurrah puts on six main stage shows at the Roper Theatre (mostly musicals) and four smaller studio shows at the Perry Family Theatre. Hugh notes, “We also do lots of community shows for hospitals, schools, community centers, civic groups and nursing homes. That’s very much a

part of our mission.” Outside of Norfolk, Hurrah performs throughout the region, on the Eastern Shore, in North Carolina, DC, New York City, Disneyworld and has even performed at Pearl Harbor and the American Embassy in London. One of the more interesting educational components of Hurrah is the Hugh School. In this school, Hugh notes, “we teach students how to greet people, how to acknowledge others and how to act in different social situations. It’s more than an etiquette school. It’s really about social awareness and development.” Hurrah for the Holidays!! So what’s in store for this holiday season? From December 11-13, Hurrah is staging Hurrah for the Holidays at the Roper Theatre. This big holiday musical review features all of the best music of the season, a 20-foot tree, a 6-foot dancing snowman and a renowned precision kick line. Additionally, “For the 24th year we are doing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Hugh says with a big smile on his face. Based on Barbara Robinson’s book, this production tells the funny story of what happens when a church play is hijacked by six of the worst kids in the history of world! This Hampton Roads holiday tradition is being performed on December 12 at 7:00pm at the Roper Theatre. “For years,” Hugh recalls, “Hurrah was referred to as ‘that little theatre company.’” Now in its 32nd season, anchored in two prominent buildings in Norfolk and having achieved international recognition, the Hurrah Players has earned the rightful moniker of Virginia’s leading family theatre company. Hip Hip, HURRAH!! The Hurrah Players 485 St. Paul’s Blvd. Norfolk, VA 23510 757.627.5437

Photography © Eze Amos

Breakfast · Lunch · Brunch · Baker y · café 700 Rose Hill Dr., Charlottesville · 434.529.6118 ·

OChristmas Tree:

How a Pagan Ritual Evolved into a Beloved White House Tradition by Justin Ayars, JD

Why Do We Have Christmas Trees? For millennia, long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year long have had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just like we decorate our homes during the holiday season with pine, spruce and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. Many ancient civilizations believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the winter solstice because it meant that the sun god would begin to heal. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god regained his strength. During the winter solstice, Ancient Egyptians filled their homes with green palms, which symbolized the triumph of life over death. Ancient Romans celebrated the solstice by decorating homes and temples with evergreen boughs and holding a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Ancient Celts and Vikings decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. Other cultures believed that decorating their homes with evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

< Did You Know? Christmas trees generally take 6-8 years to mature. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition. In the 16th century, devout Christians started bringing full evergreen trees (not just boughs) into their homes and decorating them. Germans brought this tradition to America when they settled in Pennsylvania. The first public Christmas trees in the U.S. were seen sometime in the 1830s.

< Did You Know? In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day. Interestingly, up through the mid-1840s most Americans thought Christmas trees were un-Christian, pagan symbols. Everything changed in 1846 when Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched with their children standing in front of a Christmas tree. Copies of the sketch quickly made their way throughout the British Empire. Given Queen Victoria’s immense popularity, the Christmas tree instantly became seen as fashionable in the U.S. The Christmas tree fad quickly expanded across the North American continent, from the gold mines in California to the White House.


Did You Know? Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850. The National Christmas Tree Tradition According to the White House Historical Association, President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to set up an indoor Christmas tree for his family and visitors to enjoy in 1889. It was decorated with ornaments and candles. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland was the first president to decorate the indoor White House Christmas tree with electric lights.


< Did You Know? Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward

Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890. In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees. On Christmas Eve of 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to The Ellipse and pushed a button to light up America’s first National Christmas Tree as 3,000 enthusiastic spectators looked on. That 48- foot tall Balsam fir was not only the first White House “community” tree; but, it was also the first to be decorated with electric lights—a strand of 2,500 red, white and green bulbs.

< Did You Know? Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska.

President Gerald Ford lit the first live tree in 1974 (cut trees had been used since 1954). Since then, the living National Christmas Tree has been central to the season’s celebration. Today, the National Christmas Tree (a Colorado Blue Spruce from New Jersey) stands as a daily reminder of the holiday spirit and of the tradition each succeeding President has participated in since 1923.

< Did you Know? In 1963, the National Christmas

Tree was not lit until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.

photo: London News

Victoria Christmas Tree 1846

1st National Christmas Tree 1923

2014 White House Christmas Tree

National Menorah

The Ellipse Becomes a Multicultural Tableaux In 1979, President Jimmy Carter commemorated the first National Menorah in Lafayette Square to commemorate Hanukkah. The 30-foot-high gold-painted, steel menorah was moved to The Ellipse in 1987 and replaced with an aluminum menorah in 1998.


Did You Know? In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran. In 1997, President Bill Clinton oversaw the installation of the National Crescent and Star on The Ellipse. This 10foot-tall Muslim symbol consists of a lime-green crescent moon with an orange star hanging within its curve. The Ellipse’s multicultural tableaux—the crescent and star, menorah and Christmas tree—has come to represent the major religions within America and the diversity of our population.


Did you Know? The Christmas tree industry employs over 100,000 people. From Pagan Traditions to a Multicultural Celebration of the Holiday Spirit The pagan ritual of bringing evergreen boughs into the home has evolved into a beloved holiday tradition shared by millions of Americans, including the First Family. As President Barack Obama said during the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on December 4, 2014, “[Christmas] is a story dear to my family as Christians, but its meaning is one embraced by all peoples across our country and around the world, regardless of how they pray, or whether they pray at all. And that’s to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony will be held at 5:00 P.M. on December 3. UNITE Virginia | | 37

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< Stephen Ony

1. I usually celebrate the holidays at home. We have a big family reunion with lots of food. 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holiday season was when my parents bought a very big Christmas tree one year. Me and my cousins ran around the tree and played hide and seek. 3. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think religion plays a role during the holiday season. The holidays are more commercialized now.

Caroline Savage, 21

1. I celebrate the holidays by going back to my home town to spend time with my family. We buy each other gifts, cook and eat.

< 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holidays was being the first one in my family to wake up and then waking everybody else up to open presents.

1. I always celebrate the holidays with my family. Before the holidays, I enjoy shopping for presents and trying to find things that people really enjoy. 2. When I was little we always went to my grandparentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; house for Christmas Eve dinner. After we would come home, one of my parents would always take me on an errand. When we got home, we discovered that Santa had stopped by! My parents told me that Santa came to our house first because I had been such a good girl.

< 3. There are a lot of different religions in the country. A large

part of the population supports the idea of hope, a new birth and being kind to others. I think having religious traditions adds a lot to the season.

< Ryan Bussiene, 24

1. As a catholic, I am required to be home on Christmas. We go to midnight mass and have cinnamon rolls during the holidays. 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holidays was when my mother made delicious apple cider, which we drank while decorating the tree. 3. Religion is what makes Christmas special. Religion is what created the holiday in the first place. People come together to enjoy the holiday spirit.


Eileen Wilck, 51


3. Every year, my family and I go to church either on Christmas morning or Christmas eve.



Hortance Houngbeke, 21

1. I spend the holiday season with my family. It is a big change now after moving from Togo, West Africa. Back there, our neighbors would come over and we would sing, dance and party together. Now, with everyone working, we just get home, unwrap presents and that’s it. 2. My favorite childhood memory from the holidays in Togo was syrup drink. It’s a peppermint syrup that you add water to. I’ve been in the U.S. for 10 years and I still can’t find it! 3. During the holidays people are more accepting of different faiths because they have more exposure to other religions. I can’t wait to get more exposure to the Muslim faith this holiday season!


Joe Wilck, 59

1. I celebrate the holidays with family and with too many presents. 2. Until I was 15 years old we would go to my dad’s parents’ house every year on Christmas Eve. My father was an only child, so his parents would give us way too much stuff. One year, a week after Christmas, I received another present that they’d forgotten about because it was hidden behind the sofa! 3. Although my mother used to go to church on Christmas Eve, religion is not really important in our family. But for a lot of people religion is still a huge thing.

Austin Higgs


1. Because I’m biracial, I basically celebrate the holidays in two parts. First, I celebrate Christmas with the white half of my family in Buckingham, VA where we break out the shotguns, have some fun and eat dinner. After that, we come back to the city and spend it with the black half of my family, which is usually a very loud, drunk, gay occasion that’s really fun. 2. Christmas and Halloween are my two favorite holidays. For both holidays, my sister and I watch Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. We always have a creepy Christmas. 3. I think the holidays are less focused on religion than they once were. In my family religion is sort of a formality. The white half of my family still goes to church on Christmas, more out of tradition. We are more centered around family than religion during the holidays. UNITE Virginia | | 41

BOWMAN’ Bowman’s Garden Center & Green Bean Café: Partners in Thyme in Olde Towne Portsmouth by Justin Ayars, JD


estled in the heart of charming Olde Towne Portsmouth, Bowman’s Garden Center & Green Bean Café is a business unlike any other. Bowman’s is a garden shop that features a wide range of decorative greenery, unique hand-made gifts and exquisite seasonal displays that rival any department store. Bowman’s also operates the Green Bean Café, an oldworld European lunch spot that serves up a mélange of delectable entrées, fresh salads and scrumptious desserts. This eclectic shop owned by Paul Bowman and Rich Phillips, has grown from a local favorite into a destination for travelers from across the region. Planting the Seeds of Bowman’s Garden Center Paul, a Hampton Roads native, has a strong background in landscaping and horticulture. Previously, Paul had worked as a private landscape architect and nursery consultant. Rich,


originally from New England, was a cook in the Navy and then a private chef. Upon leaving the Navy, Rich opened a gift shop in Norfolk. In 2002, the duo decided to join forces and open a unique garden and gift shop in a 1970s era 7-11 building atop a ½ acre plot of land in Olde Towne Portsmouth. Why Olde Towne Portsmouth? “There was nothing really like us here,” Paul explains. “The nearest competition was a feed and seed store. We wanted to be more of a boutique shop.” Paul and Rich started selling plants, garden accessories and cut flowers. They quickly increased their inventory to include garden accessories (bags of soil, rakes, shovels, sprinklers, patio furniture, etc.) and home accessories (lamps and other interior decorations). When they opened in 2002, they purchased almost all of the plants that they sold. Now, they grow about 10% of their plants and have expanded their selection to include bedding plants, herbs and vegetables. The Green Bean Café is Born When the recession hit, demand for cut flowers as well as home and garden accessories dropped significantly. Although customers continued to purchase plants in droves, the

’S <

Bowman’s Garden Center and Green Bean Café 315 Green Street Portsmouth, VA 23704 757.393.2070

UNITE Virginia | | 43

ever-creative pair began looking to retool their business model. In 2010, Rich decided he’d return to his culinary roots and began making fresh, carry-out lunches for customers. With pride in their voices, Paul and Rich explain, “We grow many of the vegetables and herbs we use for the restaurant ourselves. We grow lots of tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, basil, chives, sage, tarragon and thyme.” Rich only decided to transform his take-out food business into a dine-in restaurant when a happy accident occurred in 2012. When the pair received their business license renewal to sell food, they saw that the license was for an eat-in establishment, not a carry-out establishment. When they discovered the mistake, Paul exclaims, “We didn’t question it. We just went with it. We used the old patio furniture and home accessories that hadn’t been selling and set up part of the shop to look like a house.” Thus, the Green Bean Café was born from a technical mistake and some entrepreneurial ingenuity. Paul and Rich conceded that the first year they operated the café was shaky. Then, thanks to peer review apps like Yelp, Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor, things began to pick up quickly. Now the café is one of the hottest lunch spots in the region. “It’s odd and quirky because we still use the seating area in the café for retail. Customers are literally dining inside of a showroom display,” Paul says. Bowman’s customers flock from across the area. “You’d be shocked at how many ladies load up in their cars and drive to us from Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Suffolk. We are their destination,” Paul says with a smile. “We also get lots of young navy folks who get lunch and a candle, young couples who are just getting into gardening and single folks who want to liven up their balcony with window boxes.”

Partners in Thyme As openly gay men, Paul’s and Rich’s sexual orientations have never been an issue for them when it comes to their business. “I’m sure [our customers] know that we’re gay,” Paul explains. “I wouldn’t deny it if asked, but I don’t advertise it either.” While Paul and Rich were a romantic couple from 2000 through 2013, a few years ago they decided to keep their relationship strictly business. When asked if this was a difficult change, Paul explains, “We keep our business and personal lives separate. It can be done as long as you can keep your focus on the end result. We’re both determined to make our business highly successful.”

‘Tis the Season

The busiest time of year for Bowman’s is between Halloween and New Year’s Day. “I leave the shop covered in glit-

ter from the day our Christmas decorations go up till when we take them down,” Paul exclaims. “I look like I’m covered in fairy dust 24/7!” During the holidays, café patrons are transported into the middle of a winter wonderland complete with thousands of brightly colored lights, dozens of Christmas trees, a life-size Santa and the faint sound of caroling as they enjoy locally-sourced entrées, fresh-baked goods and warm apple cider or virgin eggnog (the café does not serve alcohol). Many diners extend their lunch hour and wander the maze of aisles adorned with decorations and gifts including three-feet tall carolers, unusual holiday music boxes, reindeer, snowflakes, illuminated lanterns, holiday candles, ornaments, whimsical pendulum wall clocks, scone mixes, jams and pumpkin butter. Few are able to leave without purchasing something special. Bowman’s carries an incredible selection of holiday gifts ranging from traditional items to over-the-top kitschy items. With a devilish smirk across his face, Paul says, “We carry a line of holiday gifts owned by two gay guys we’re crazy about called December Diamonds. They make big busty mermaids with drinks in their hands and muscled mermen dressed as UPS drivers, cops or firemen with open shirts.” With ornaments named “Dick the Diver” and “Muffy the Diver,” Paul confesses, “When I first started buying them, I felt like I should keep them in a brown paper bag behind the register! But when I found out our competitors were selling them, I got over it pretty quickly.” The December Diamonds ornaments are always one of Bowman’s biggest sellers. Another Bowman’s tradition is their annual Open House, which takes place the Friday before Thanksgiving at 5:30 P.M. Since their first holiday season in 2002, Paul and Rich have closed off their parking lot, set up tables, chairs and candles and served a crowd of over 300 people free mashed potatoes in martini glasses with over 50 different toppings. “People stand in line to make their own mashed potatoes medley, enjoy cookies, cider and spend time with their friends and neighbors,” Paul explains.

Escape Reality at Bowman’s

After almost 14 years, Bowman’s has survived the Great Recession and redefined what it means to be a local garden center. “The majority of our customers want a good lunch, pretty plants and a nice gift. We are so happy that we can provide our customers with what they want. We love it that people have identified Bowman’s as a place where they can have a good meal, buy something nice and escape reality.” So, what’s the best part about owning Bowman’s? “People always leave here with big smiles on their faces,” Paul says as he makes no effort to conceal his own contagious, glitter-covered smile.

89 Years & Still Ticking.

by Kenny Schmidt

The Little Theatre of Norfolk’s (LTN) name is somewhat deceptive. Now in its 89th season, the LTN is one of the oldest continually active theatres in the country and delivers high quality productions. Christopher Bernhardt is the Vice President of the LTN and has served as an artistic director and volunteer board member for several years. Unite Virginia got to chat with Mr. Bernhardt about his role in theatre and some of the LTN’s upcoming productions. What got you interested in theatre? I have been interested in theater since my freshman year of high school. I have been working with shows around the local community for about six or seven years now. Theatre is a wonderful creative outlet and is a huge part of my life. What are the most important decisions you have to make as a director? The most important decision is the casting. If you cast a show correctly with actors who can work well together, the show becomes its own, vibrant entity. Why did you want to direct the The History Boys (Oct 30 – Nov 22)? The reason I wanted to direct the show is because it is such a beautifully written script about a group of students who are coming of age and learning how to find their way. What is interesting is that the play is also about teachers who are still coming of age, still finding their way. The play’s message is that no matter where you are in your life or what you are doing, it is always possible to find yourself and find what makes you happy. What can you tell us about the upcoming production of The Women? (Jan 8 – 31) It was originally set in the 1930’s. The story is about a group of high society women and what they do when

they discover that one of their husbands is cheating. This comedy centers around the relationships between these women and how they work through a difficult time. It is going to be a really great show! What is the greatest challenge for the LTN as a company? We produce five shows every season: two musicals and three plays. We try to keep a good balance of shows that will keep our older patrons coming in, but that also attracts a new, younger audience. What’s your favorite part about working at the LTN? That’s a really tough question. I like being able to present these shows to the community. We produce quality shows and make our ticket prices very affordable. Giving people a way to have this kind of artistic expression in their lives, either through auditioning for a role or watching a performance, makes it all worth while.


The Little Theatre of Norfolk 801 Claremont Ave. Norfolk, VA 23507 757.627.8551

Best New Restaurant 2015


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Let us make live jazz entertainment your post-shopping ritual.

AbadiMTStd-Italic_abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz`1234567890-= [] \;’,./≠ ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ~!@#$%^&*()_+{}|:”<>? å∫ç∂´ƒ©˙ˆ∆˚¬µ˜øπœ®ß†¨√∑≈¥Ω`¡™£¢ §¶•ªº–≠“‘«…æ≤ ÷≠ÅıÇÎ´Ï˝ÓˆÔÒ˜Ø∏Œ‰Íˇ¨◊„˛Á¸`⁄‹›fifl‡°·‚—±”’»ÚƯ˘¿ Á¸`⁄‹›fifl‡°·‚—±”’»ÚƯ˘¿|áéíóúâêîôûàèìòùäëïöüÿãñõÁÉÍÓÚÀÈÌÒÙÄËÏÖÜŸÑÃÕÂÊÎÔÛ ”“’‘ '" € $‚Ǩ¬£¬•‚Ç©‡∏ø—Ä—É–±

Let us surprise you with our sommelier’s favorite glass of wine. Let us relax your mind and body with a soothing spa experience. Let us show you more ways to make a weekend last forever.

Retail Therapy – Indulge in a shopping experience at the adjoined Tysons Galleria, featuring luxury boutiques and retailers. Package includes a $50 Tysons Galleria gift card per night. For reservations, please contact The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner at (703) 506-4300 or visit

Offer valid through December 31, 2015, subject to availability. Rate is per room/per night based on single or double occupancy, exclusive of taxes, gratuities, fees and other charges; does not apply to groups; cannot be combined with any other offer and is not applicable for Rewards redemption. Advanced reservations are required. Credit is applied per stay, has no cash value, and is not valid on room rate, alcohol, or third-party services. Gift card is per night to be used in any retail shop in the Galleria. No refund or credit for unused portion. Void where prohibited. ©2015 The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C.

For more information visit: or call 757-221-2700 603 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185 Monday: Closed • Tuesday-Friday: 10AM – 5PM • Saturday & Sunday: Noon – 4PM Current Admission: $10.00 | FREE to Members, W&M Students, Faculty & Staff, & Children under 12

Unite Virginia | Holiday Issue 2015  

Unite Virginia's Holiday Issue 2015

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