A VCUarts degree can lead you to many unexpected and exciting destinations. Alumnus Emerson Hughes (BME ’65), included among this year’s Alumni Stars, transitioned from music education to owning a luxury pet boarding company.
Ancillary lessons learned through music education training helped prepare Hughes for starting a business and holding top civic leadership positions. Performing all over Virginia in a group of 12 madrigalists at Richmond Professional Institute (a predecessor to VCU) put Hughes in front of audiences for 20 to 30 concerts a year. The four-year experience schooled him in stage presence, public presentation, relating to people and maintaining poise.
“Musicians are creative and can be wonderful leaders in the community because of their understanding of harmony and balance, whether board members or operating small businesses,” Hughes says. “Music majors listen to their surroundings and work toward solid harmony. As a musician, you had to learn how to make others successful in order for you to be successful, always a part of a chord or social structure.”
After graduation, Hughes taught vocal music at Highland Springs and Henrico high schools in Virginia, served as a church musician and performed in numerous musical productions in Richmond. In 1972, Hughes and his wife, Kathy Hughes (BME ’65), opened Holiday Barn Kennels, now known as Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, a venture based on their love for dogs and cats. RPI, and later VCU, was a major source of employees. “We hired [alumni] until they were able to get their music careers launched,” he says.
Holiday Barn began simply as a boarding operation in Glen Allen and Midlothian, Virginia. Its facilities and offerings grew to meet an increasing demand for luxury pet services with amenities ranging from an in-ground swimming pool for pups to cat condominiums. In 2004, Emerson turned the day-to-day operations over to his son, Michael.
Hughes and his wife have supported the VCU music department as a singer and an accompanist, respectively, and with philanthropic support throughout their lives. Their daughter, Bekah Hughes Davis (BM ’95), is a graduate of the department’s voice program. In addition, Hughes has served on the Essex Bank board of directors, is chairman emeritus of the Richmond SPCA, was president of the James River Opera Association and served as president of the Tappahannock Chamber of Commerce.
“Education and experience in music will lead to paths that you do not expect,” he says. “Musicians never perform alone.” Hughes has learned that you can apply harmony to any walk of life—even a pet resort: “If there is harmony, all employees and customers will be successful.”
Virginia Commonwealth University confers the title of Alumni Star upon graduates who have attained notable achievements.
Photo courtesy of Alumni Relations.
Story featured in VCUarts 2017 Fall Studio.