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April 2014: Emerson and Kathy Hughes

While students at VCU Music, Emerson and Kathy Hughes’ musical friendship evolved into something more and the college sweethearts wed their senior year of college. Kathy served as accompanist for Emerson, a vocalist, and in spring 1965, the two Music Education majors graduated from VCU Music. In the past 50 years, the two have nurtured a family, a business, and their respective careers in and out of the music field. Post-graduation, the two began music education careers in Henrico County, but a new venture soon presented itself.

In 1972, after a talk with a friend and local veterinarian, the two set off like many enterprising entrepreneurs. Recognizing a need where other Richmond-area businesses were lacking, the two began Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. What began simply as a space for clients to leave their pets during vacations has now turned into a premier resort for pets. Holiday Barn has even received national notoriety from the Travel Channel as one of the “Top 10 Places to Pamper a Pooch.” Now, the couple’s quest for a family business has expanded to two locations with 125 employees and their son Michael (VCU c/o 1997, M.B.A.) at the helm.

Though business was not always easy, the two found positions to help balance their growing venture. Various gigs and positions at churches, theaters, even a stint as marketing director at the Richmond Symphony allowed Emerson to pursue both music and business at the same time. Kathy continued her music education career at St. Margaret’s School, an independent Episcopal, all-girls school in Tappahannock where she taught for 12 years.

“Music really helped us,” Emerson said, referring to both of their career paths. As a musician, cultivating important skills dear to the business world in presentation and communication were natural. “Standing in front of 500 people doesn’t bother me,” Emerson said. When you have to constantly get in front of large groups of people to perform, public speaking is bound to come naturally.

Since their VCU Music days as students, the Hughes have been supporting the Department tirelessly. Kathy has been working as accompanist and many VCU students can credit her help, especially during “recital season” when Kathy’s usual twice-a-week drive from the couples’ home in Tappahannock is increased. The Hughes’ philanthropic support and presence has helped the Department and VCU Opera for years. “We really believe in this opera program here,” Emerson said. They believed in it so much that their daughter Bekah also joined the VCU Music family (c/o 1995, B.M.) and now manages her own voice and piano studio in Richmond.

“We need sensitive musicians,” Emerson said. “[The music program at VCU] stretches students. They think they can’t do what they can do,” Emerson said. Kathy nodded in agreement. In working with VCU Music students, Kathy spoke of the students’ “tremendous growth” in their short time at VCU Music. “Leaps and bounds,” she stated.

 -Raina Fields