We Love This Place: Let us count the ways

We Love This Place

Whether you arrived in Charlottesville by plane, train, or birth canal, or if you've been here just a few days, you know there are few places as rich in resources both natural and manmade. From the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Rivanna and James rivers to quaint coffeeshops and top-notch restaurants, from the ever-expanding shopping options to one of the country's premier public universities, and to a music scene rich in local and internationally known acts, we live in a place brimming with energy, activity and opportunity. How'd you end up in Charlottesville, and what keeps you here? We asked our fellow residents, and their answers make it clear: We all love this place.

J. Tayloe Emery
C-VILLE Weekly's first ad rep

When I moved to Charlottesville for the first time in 1994, I'd been out of college for two years and had been living in Seattle. When I decided to move back east, Charlottesville seemed like the only place cool enough to go that had anything going on. I remember walking down the Mall and seeing Andrew Vaughn's coffee cart in front of Chaps and thinking, "Well, that didn't take long," because in Seattle at that time there were coffee carts all over the place.

My first day in town I walked into Bill Chapman's office at C-VILLE, the free bi-weekly newspaper that was being produced in the basement of the Jefferson Theater. Bill told me that they were going weekly and asked did I want a job. I fancied myself a writer at the time but Bill told me there wouldn't be any writing jobs as they'd hired Avery Chenoweth as their first staff writer. But there was an ad sales position open.

The ad guy, Bill said, would be the only one making money right away, and I'd be the wealthiest guy in town in no time. I took the job, and in the first month my paycheck was twice everybody else's. The paper's move to a weekly format was very popular, and soon I was pulling in these huge commissions. One night while patting Bill on the back down at Miller's thanking him for being so right and hooking me up so well, he told me, "You're making too much money. We're hiring another ad rep and splitting up the town between the both of you."

But by that time I really didn't care. I was making a decent wage and having so much fun staying out all night with friends and clients and sometimes sneaking into the office at 3am and sleeping on the sofa there in my suit and tie so I'd be the first one there in the morning. I met Peter Griesar who became a lifelong friend on one of those Miller's all-night benders and found what I had been looking for in a city.

Good people.

One of those nights I broke into the C-VILLE office at about 4am to pass out on the sofa and editor Hawes Spencer was already there, fast asleep. It was an incredible time to be living in C'ville, and I miss it. I've since left and moved back several times– my wife was born here– but, like they say, once you're hooked on Charlottesville, it never leaves you. I've always felt like this is my town. It's funny because everyone feels that way, I think. When a city is cool and livable like C'ville, people feel very possessive about it. It's the same thing in Portland, Oregon.

Janis Jaquith

Even now, I wonder: How did someone like me end up in a hot-air balloon?

When I sit down on a park bench, I find myself unconsciously feeling around for the seatbelt. I would have been happy to make my kids wear helmets while playing on the monkeybars.

But there I was, hanging in the air, with nothing but a cloth bag and hot air to save me from a splattering death.

My husband and I had driven from our home in suburban Maryland and dropped our kids off at camp in Virginia.  We were – for the first time – on vacation without children.  Feeling giddy and footloose, we headed for a hotel in Charlottesville.

When we checked in, the clerk mentioned that balloon rides were available, right there, on the hotel lawn. All we had to do was get up way early, and pay them a whole lot of money. I tried to picture myself doing this – hanging in the air. No seat belt, no helmet, no airbag.

No way.

Although, without kids, there was no need to be a model of restraint. No need to behave like anyone's mother. I could rediscover my authentic self, the brave one who takes chances.

Well, not big chances.  I've never jumped out of an airplane or anything.  I suppose the only risky thing I've done is to date Harry for a mere six months before I married him.  Not exactly hair-raising behavior.

Okay, so I've never been one to take chances. But I was ready.

I hardly slept the night before.  I lay there worrying that, one, the balloon would crash-land and I would die, and two, that I would oversleep and miss the balloon ride.

The next morning, before the sun was up, we found ourselves climbing into what looked like an enormous wicker picnic hamper.  A fat flame blasted up inside the balloon and the ground fell away.  We rose up and met the sun.

There was this odd sense of stillness – and no wind.  It felt like we were stationary and the scenery was being rolled along beneath us, like a special effect in a movie.

The Blue Ridge Mountains were no longer a two-dimensional prop against the horizon – they were this bulky mass, changing shape as we rose higher.  Slowly, silently we glided above trees and fields and houses, blurring the line between real and dreaming.
What would my kids think?  Mum, the safety chief, sailing through the air in a basket, without so much as a shin guard – and loving it.

Afterward, over cups of strong coffee, Harry said, "What do you want to do today?"
The balloon ride had opened up a new boldness in me, and my response changed our lives.  That afternoon, we didn't tour Monticello, and we didn't stroll along the Lawn at UVa.  

Instead, we saw a real estate agent who showed us a piece of land.  And we bought it.

We moved our family from suburban Maryland to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia – a happy, irrational decision made while gliding over the treetops in a basket.

That was 23 years ago. This morning, I looked up and saw a hot-air balloon suspended in the air over my head. I like to think that there was someone in that basket having a thrill for the first time in a long while, and wondering what else she might be missing.

Patricia Taylor
Central Region Director, Virginia Autism Project

I grew up in Richmond and had family scattered throughout Orange and Albemarle counties. However, I hadn't lived in Virginia for at least 12 years prior to moving to Charlottesville. After law school, I'd moved to Atlanta, where I met my husband. We moved to Tampa, Florida with his company, and both of our kids were born there. In 2009, our older child, Charlie, was diagnosed with autism at three years old. He has regressive autism and lost all of his language and many of his motor skills. I researched schools and services in Tampa and was not impressed with what I found, so, in the fall of 2009 we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where I'd found a school for Charlie. The first year, things seemed to be going well, but then the director of the autism program left, and things went downhill.

During that tumultuous time, my mother took a flight from San Francisco to Richmond and was wearing an autism awareness bracelet. A man on the flight asked about her connection to autism, they started talking, and he told her that he was flying to Virginia to interview for a position at an autism school in Charlottesville. My mom gave me his email address, and we were briefly in touch. At about that same time, a new child started at Charlie's school in Charlotte and his mother had a Virginia Institute for Autism magnet on her car. She told me that she thought VIA would be a great school for Charlie, and after taking him out of the school in Charlotte, I looked at the VIA website and saw the picture of the executive director. It was the man my mom had met on the plane.

My husband and I drove up to Charlottesville to tour VIA, and we realized right away we wanted Charlie to go there. My husband's company gave us the green light to move to Virginia, we rented a place, and began the process of trying to get Charlie placed at VIA. He's now been there for about a year and a half, and not a single day goes by where I ever question our decision to move here. My extended family lives in Richmond, so we're much closer now, plus, Charlottesville and Crozet are beautiful, and we've met some amazing people here.  

Jane Foster
Longtime activist

St. Louis-born Jane Foster moved to Charlottesville twice. The first time was in 1959, with husband Gene Foster, the pathologist who later made the connection between Jefferson and Hemings DNA.

"We were raising children," says Foster. "When the kids grew up, my husband wanted more of a city." They moved to Oxford, England, for a year and then downtown Boston, and her only condition for decamping Charlottesville was that they keep their house on Gildersleeve Wood.

The Charlottesville they left in 1976 wasn't boring, says Foster, but it wasn't the vibrant city we know today, either. "We always had the Tuesday Night Concert Series and the League of Women Voters, she recalls. "We were busy with integration in the '60s."

In Boston, they started hearing reports that things had changed in Charlottesville. "After 14 years, Gene said we have to come back because he couldn't find a place to park," recounts Foster. "Everything was so much better here. It was astounding."

When they left in 1976, there was one Mexican restaurant, she says. When they returned in 1990, she counted 35 foreign restaurants. Live Arts was just beginning– and in Boston, she and Gene had decided they preferred community theater to the professional theater at their doorstep.

Her beloved Gene died in 2008. Today, Jane Foster lives in a house the same age as she: 88 years old. She keeps a busy schedule of teaching English. "I've got five Tibetan students," she says. And she has frequent houseguests.

"No one ever came to see us," she notes, "when we lived in North Dakota."
– Lisa Provence

Maurice Jones
Charlottesville City Manager
I arrived in Charlottesville 20 years ago this March after taking a job with NBC 29.  It was my first on-air position, and I was excited about moving to a small city that possessed a great deal of charm and plenty of amenities. It's fun to see how those amenities have been transformed over the years– the Downtown Mall, our parks and trails system and our cultural arts scene are a few of my favorites. However, despite its many advantages, I didn't expect to stay here for more than a year or two. That's how it works in the television business: you look for opportunities to move up through the ranks. In 1994, I turned down a job offer in a larger market mainly because I was growing to love this town. I wanted to be here for many of the same reasons others decide to make Charlottesville their home – the high quality of life and the people. Despite our challenges, this is a community of folks who care about their neighbors and care about having excellent services like parks and recreation, schools, arts and public safety. I've been truly blessed to have been able to wear many different hats in Charlottesville and to be a part of this wonderful community. Two decades ago I didn't anticipate staying here for very long; now I can't imagine a better place to live and raise my family.

Ruhi and Nesta Ramazani
UVA Professor and author, respectively

Freedom of speech was a key reason Ruhi and Nesta Ramazani  ended up in Jefferson's hometown. They had to get out of Iran quickly in 1952. "Ruhi was active politically, and knew he could rise in Iran, but he could also be assassinated," explains Nesta.

Ruhi joined the UVA faculty in 1953, and today the Edward R. Stettinus professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs is known as the "dean of Iranian foreign policy studies" in the United States.

"I was working as a secretary," says Nesta, while Ruhi got his doctorate in law. "We wives were all working as secretaries to put our husbands through graduate school. We didn't dream we could do it ourselves." And they couldn't– women weren't allowed to attend the University of Virginia until 1970.

The Charlottesville the Ramazanis arrived in was quite different from today. "We were shocked at the segregation in all facets of life," remembers Nesta.

Yet the Ramazanis were warmly welcomed. "At the time there was an openness to us being Iranian," she says. "We were kind of exotic."

They found the "charming and hospitable people," says Nesta. "It was very intellectually stimulating, with many cultural interests– although much smaller than today."

Compared to the desert climate of Tehran, Virginia was lush, says Nesta, who has a spectacular garden in Ivy with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Another thing that was appealing: "We came from a county with a deep and long history," says Nesta. "This is a city with deep roots– not 2,000 year– but with a deep sense of history and deep sophistication."

Nesta Ramazani raised four children, and went on to get her master's degree in English. She pursued her love of dance and is working on her third book. Ruhi has published 12 books, with the final one coming out this fall, and hundreds of articles.

The Thomas Jefferson Award is the university's highest honor, and in 1994 Ruhi received it. In 2011, their son, English professor Jahan Ramazani, was also honored, and they became the only father-son honorees– and another part of the university's history.
– Lisa Provence

Cherry Stewart
ESL counselor and instructor
I came to visit my best friend from middle school in Ft. Knox, Kentucky here in the late '80s when she was at UVA. I came for a few spring breaks and was so excited about the Corner and all of the interesting people I met that I decided to take a semester off and stick around Charlottesville. I went back to university, then returned to Charlottesville for four and a half years before joining the Peace Corps.

I ended up traveling and working in several countries for a total of about 10 years, but the allure of Charlottesville remained. When I wanted to return to America with my Burmese husband and our two daughters who were born in Thailand, I immediately wanted to come back to Charlottesville–at least temporarily. The same friend–who happens to still live in the area and owns Trager Brothers Coffee with her husband–helped set us up to acclimate back to life in the U.S.

We arrived in November 2005 with the intention of staying here at least a few months and then moving to NOVA where my husband could be around other people from Burma to lessen the culture shock. I wasn't looking forward to the crime, the high cost of living or the lengthy commute times, so imagine our delight when we went to the International Rescue Committee to start his green card process the day after arrival, and we met a host of Burmese refugees in the waiting room .

We were thrilled and have called Charlottesville our home ever since. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers who assisted us finding a temporary place to stay, clothing and food.

I decided to pay those gifts forward and meet many refugees through my work and our connection to the Burmese community. In my spare time, I welcome some new immigrants to Charlottesville with friends' donations of clothing and household goods when I can.

We had our third child a year ago, so I'm not helping as much, but I love Charlottesville and want everyone to feel welcome here!

Roger Voisinet
Real estate agent
In the late 1970s I lived in Montreal and was a partner in a small company called Environmental Sciences Corporation which created air ionization and related indoor environmental technologies. Bob Monroe of the Monroe Institute in Nelson County liked what we were doing and invested in our company. One by one we moved from Canada to the U.S., and I was the last to leave Quebec to make the journey down to Virginia.

Our offices at the time were on U.S. 29 where the Nature Conservancy is today. It was March, and I was so relieved to experience some warmer weather after a long, cold Canadian winter. The last few months before I departed Montreal saw a lot of upheaval in our young and fast growing company. In fact, we were growing too fast for our capitalization and unbeknownst to me, we were going out of business rather than expanding. So when I arrived in my new town, knowing few if any people, I was surprised to discover no one at our offices except two police officers.

They asked me if I was Roger Voisinet, and I said I was. Then they showed me a box of our company's brochures with my name on the back and hit me with some bad news. Apparently, our secretary, in the course of cleaning out the office, put dozens of boxes of these brochures in the back of her pick-up truck and drove out to Sugar Hollow, where she lived. She was unaware that thousands of brochures had flown out of the back of her pick up and now littered what I was told was Garth Road. I'd never been there, but I spent the first day of my life in Charlottesville picking up litter with my name on it along the scenic road for miles and miles. I learned how beautiful the area was up close and personal but can't think of a much more embarrassing start to a new life in Virginia. Fortunately, that was the last time I ever threw anything out of the window of my or anyone's car. I often wonder if I missed one or two and what friend of mine may have found one of those pamphlets somewhere along Garth.

Read more on: We Love This Place


Maurice Jones- " you look for opportunities to move up through the ranks." Nice to have buddies who will help you do that even when you aren't qualified isn't it Mo?

Maurice Jones loves this town so much because he skirted the system after being hired into the City Manager Role while remaining as a county resident beyond the required length of time he must maintain a city home. It's easy to love the place when you can take advantage of the system and have friends who will help.

Brevity is the soul of wit...if that is the case, then many of these stories are long in breath and short on wit. As for Jones, classic mooch-from-the-public-trough guy. Seattle to Charlottesville for the ad rep...classic. Jaquith "Let me tell you what to do with your property...," more classic prose--even though she did not answer the question.

R.I.P.: Walter Weir

Are there any kind hearted people who post comments on the Hook website? It appears to be the same cantankerous folks who weigh in time and again.

I found the stories interesting and a needed distraction from work.

To the posters above: Troll the content not the people you bunch of drunk hicks. Ain't y'all learned nothin from the internets? :)

"Whether you arrived in Charlottesville by plane, train, or birth canal, or if you've been here just a few days . . ."

You didn't ask a single native.

"Today" - birth canal = native

It just warms my heart so much to see pictures of smiling Americans with hungry African children, it reminds me of all the good work the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is doing trying to prep their trust by sending naive friendly Americans over there to feed them just before they send the U.N. workers with the sterilizing tetanus shots and vaccines with live AIDS virus. A picture tells a thousand words, even if those words are lies.

Ummmm...Janis just smile with herself. She must be a gisant PIA at parties. Me....Me...me...MEEEEEE...Me...Meeee...Meee

DRK III: I'm talking about the people interviewed for this article. No natives. They interviewed people who moved here, not one native of the area. Gee, I thought that was obvious.

Janis Jaquith clearly likes thinking, talking, and writing about herself.

Roger Voisinet's story is short and very funny. Me likey...

snark snark snark

Wonderful feature, and nice to see the "exotic" Ramazani duo still going strong. Too bad the comments here mostly illustrate the regnant "nativist" streak around these parts too.... the sorts of folks who walk into grocery stores with loaded assault weapons to make a point. Ah, makes for a richly diverse neighborhood.

havai: you know what makes this a less diverse neighborhood? People who make the stereotypical assumption that natives all possess assault rifles and have less to offer than those who moved here. No natives were interviewed for this article. That seems to lend to the same stereotype. I graduated from UVA, my husband is VP of a very successful business here. We don’t judge people based on their race, religion, place of birth, etc. I went to school with one of the Ramazani sons and was good friends with him. Yet you judge us based on the fact we are natives. Hmm. Perhaps we would just like to be represented also. For the record, you’ll find a lot less natives in this city/county than you think. It is becoming a rarity, possibly because of the prevalent stereotype that natives are hillbilly, gun loving, illiterate bumpkins. We’ve been fighting the stereotype for years. You can’t imagine what I had to do to be accepted at UVA, since I was a “townie.” It might be nice to live elsewhere where I will be the educated newcomer with diverse new ideas – despite the fact that my ancestors came here in the 1760’s and I do love Albemarle.

@ Today: "You can’t imagine what I had to do to be accepted at UVA, since I was a 'townie.'"

Do tell. You raised the issue. We're listening.

Hm. Because I have a nagging suspicion my daughter might be reading this, I respectfully decline. I definitely said enough above for her to figure out it’s me. Sorry. I don’t want to go there. I will never hear the end of it - not to mention she likes to post amusing mom stories on facebook. Maybe another time.

Thank you for interviewing Ruhi and Nesta. In a town of exceptional people they have long taken the cake. And on that note:
@ I knew it. One ought to remember that the story of this town is one that values those who value the pursuit of knowledge not the pursuit of division for personal gain.
Heres to you, and to being forgotten.

Today, completely understand, since I, too, am one of those rarities. Though your history is longer than mine, my parents just birthed me here.

However, seeing so many changes here, which most ideas come from those who have no idea of the past nor respect for the history here. All about the progress and how much they can get out of it.

Why didn't they interview anyone who lives in Tonsler Park?

Charlottesville is a jerkwater provincial town, better than some of its genre, but unable to escape its reality. Like many other jerkwater towns, its denizens think it's the navel of the universe, but it's not. Its physical surroundings are drab and its climate is atrocious. It's culture is a melange of wannabe derivative stuff. Many people who live here lack perspective and often cite its superiority based on negative comparisons such as "it's not as bad as Oxford Mississippi" or "it's not frozen over half the year like Syracuse". Travel 500 miles away and you have trouble explaining where it is and why it matters.

CVL is such an awesome place. I've lived in 8 states and no place comes close. I've been surprised how people who are born and raised where I now live (midwest) will ask me when they find out where I'm from "why did you ever leave?" I always respond, "poor decision making". Those of you live there now, appreciate it.

@havai...the jerk who carried his gun into Kroger was not a Cville native; he moved here from another area. Not sure why Ze Hook did not ask him for his input. Too bad Chris Dumler did not ask "her for her input."

@Toni H...you're spot on. The surroundings are okay to the west and northwest, but plain elsewhere. I suppose military people who live at Ft. Dix think central Jersey is utopia. We do have a lot of supermarkets, though.

Between Jaquith and Bolden (the train-fatality non-caller), we are cultivating a nice little cadre of unsuspecting villains in this here newspaper!

R.I.P.: Art Skov

Basically all white middle class people except one African American who get paid a lot of money to sell charlottesville And protect the interests of the ruling class. Unbelievable. This article shows exactly what is wrong with charlottesville and how the media perpetuates the racism and classism in this community. Ask some minority and low income people And they will tell you charlottesville is not such a great place to be. The way homeless people are treated, the racial and class discrimination in employment, the minority unemployment rate, the way minorities are treated more harshly by the police and the criminal justice system , the overt and covert racism, the fact that there are two schools at Buford and Chs, based on race. It's a great place to live unless you can't afford the pricey restaurants, movies , and other cultural amenities. Just ask the people who clean the uva hospital. Maybe you asked minority or low income people and they couldn't come up with the ray ray statements that look good selling ad space.

Let 's get real and stop fetishizing charlottesville. There Are some nice things about living here but it also has elements of a backwater southern town despite its thin veneer of gentility and civility. Just ask some of the have nots in town

Toni H., don't forget about the almost completely inept and corrupt Board of Supervisors, the contingent of old people who pine for the days before electricity and whine about any and all development, keeping our roadway systems gridlocked, the joke of a city school, the faux intellectualism that evaporates as soon as dissenting opinions are expressed, and the huge contingent of white trash shipped in from the outlying counties to do the manual labor that the inbred "intelligentsia" are far too important to do.