Sunday, December 30, 2007
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Blaine Compton, Elvis impersonator

Blaine Compton, Elvis impersonator

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Tessa Leak and Ben Rhame, married on July 7, 2007

Tessa Leak and Ben Rhame, married on July 7, 2007

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Long-distance couple Josh Mundy and Melissa Gist

Long-distance couple Josh Mundy and Melissa Gist

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Long-distance couple Sarah Brown and Robert Roschen

Long-distance couple Sarah Brown and Robert Roschen

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Chubbies at Lamplighter Mall in Roanoke

Chubbies' owners Ed and Shirley Pazdan

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Third Street Coffeehouse

Third Street Coffeehouse

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Opera couple Elizabeth Futral and Steven White

Opera couple Elizabeth Futral and Steven White

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...Blaine Compton, Elvis impersonator

Then: The 30th anniversary of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s August 1977 death marked 10 years since Franklin County native Blaine Compton began impersonating Elvis.

At festivals and parties, he wears jumpsuits and shakes his hips to classics such as “Jailhouse Rock.” During the week, he often works 12-hour shifts at Salem’s Yokohama Tire, coaches youth sports or spends time with his wife, Renee, and their two kids.

Now: “I’m a church-going family guy first,” he says.

Between 60-hour workweeks , Compton and his family are helping establish a new church, Landmark Baptist. A congregation of 53 gathered in a funeral home for the first service.

The founders have rented a spot in Fieldale and — because the small location lacks air conditioning — hope to raise money for a new building by spring. He’s also coaching not one, but two youth basketball teams.

“This is the purest form of sports,” he says. “They play because they want to play.”

But Elvis is still going strong . Compton and his booking agent with SRO Productions are hoping to land a show in Bluefield, W.Va., for Elvis’ Jan. 8 birthday.

It’s a bigger deal, he says. Fifty miles from home, you’re a celebrity.

For some close to home, however, he’s already a star.

Earlier this month, Compton sang at Vinton’s Moose lodge for a Special Olympics bowling league, a show he does every Christmas. In his red jumpsuit, he got hugs and “I love you’s” as he walked on stage. He paused mid song to shake hands with a Santa.

Those he sang for didn’t know his name. They just called him Elvis. As in: “Elvis is so hot,” one woman said, dancing in the crowd.

After his finale, a recorded voice announced, “Elvis has left the building.”

It was far from true. Instead, he mingled with the crowd. Talked to people. And posed for pictures.

— Erinn Hutkin

...Couple who wed on July 7, 2007

Then: Tessa Leak and Ben Rhame were brought together after a series of odd events involving triple sevens — and possibly divine intervention. For several years, she had a series of dreams involving the number seven. For about the same length of time, he had been chatting on the citizens band radio under the handle Triple 7.

Before Rhame met Leak for the first time, he said he “heard the Lord’s voice, telling me that she was going to be my wife.”

The couple married at the Hotel Roanoke on July 7, 2007.

Now: “We’re still honeymooning!” said Leak, a real estate agent based in Roanoke. “We’ve had several preachers and pastors to confirm that this was meant to be because of what happened.”

Leak said the strange coincidences and dreams involving triple sevens stopped after she met Rhame, a local licensed contractor. But as they checked into a Miami Beach hotel for their seven-day honeymoon, it seemed that fate had one final wink for the couple.

“The guy that handed us the keys to our room said, 'OK, you’re on the seventh floor,’ and we just couldn’t believe it,” Leak said. “Ben said, 'If our room number is triple seven, I’m going to have a heart attack.’ ”

— Tamara Gaskin

...Long-distance couple Josh Mundy and Melissa Gist

Then: In February, Josh Mundy and Melissa Gist were featured in a story about long-distance couples.

Mundy was preparing to graduate from James Madison University, and Gist, a Sweet Briar College alum, was working for an energy brokerage firm in Sugar Land, Texas. They met at Hampden-Sydney College and had been dating for more than two years.

Now: Ten months, a 1,300-mile move and an engagement ring later, the couple has bridged the gap between long distance and up close and personal. Before he relocated to Texas in July, Mundy proposed to Gist during a weekend trip to Montpelier, Vt.

“I wouldn’t have made the move if we didn’t both think it was a possibility [to get married],” Mundy explained. He now works as a health care consultant in Sugar Land, and the couple plans a small Las Vegas wedding for June. Other than a change in geography, their relationship has remained as tight as ever.

“You’d hardly even know we spent so long apart,” Mundy said.

“There are lots of new changes, but a lot less than we thought it’d be,” Gist agreed. “We thought there would be a bigger adjustment period than there was, but it’s been natural, like things are falling into place.”

— Tamara Gaskin

...Long-distance couple Sarah Brown and Robert Roschen

Then: Sarah Brown and Robert Roschen were another couple featured in the February story about long-distance relationships.

Brown was living in Bedford and working at Lake Forest Animal Hospital, and Roschen, an engineer, lived in New Jersey. They had been dating for several months.

Now: A fall 2008 wedding is in the works for the couple, who got engaged in September when Roschen popped the question along the Blue Ridge Parkway during a visit to celebrate their one-year anniversary.

Since their engagement, Brown and Roschen have been fortunate enough to see each other on a weekly basis as Roschen makes frequent trips from New Jersey to prepare for his upcoming move to Virginia.

“Hopefully he’ll be here sooner rather than later,” Brown said. In the meantime, the couple has kept the wedding planning low key but couldn’t resist playing a prank on a few excited relatives.

“We’re joking about running off to Las Vegas. We went on a trip out there earlier this year and took goofy pictures at wedding chapels and sent them to our family as a joke,” Brown said. “They were kind of scared.”

— Tamara Gaskin

...Chubbies restaurant at Lamplighter Mall

Then: Philadelphia natives Ed and Shirley Pazdan searched every restaurant in Roanoke for the perfect cheese steak , but none came close to the sandwiches they remembered from their native city.

So Ed, who had recently won a battle with kidney cancer, decided to follow a lifelong dream and open his own cheese steak shop.

The smell of grilling rib-eye lured the first customers to Chubbies at Lamplighter Mall in Roanoke. But the deliciously messy cheese steaks — and the playfully brusque interactions between Ed and Shirley — kept them coming back.

Now: The Pazdans sold out of sandwiches for three days after the Chubbies story ran in March. On one day alone, Ed grilled 190 sandwiches. But sales took a dive this summer, and the Pazdans had to struggle through their first lean season. In part, Ed blames a “lousy location” with little visibility from Williamson Road.

To make matters worse, Shirley suffered some health problems during the spring and lost her job as a medical assistant, her husband said. She is currently looking for a new part-time job.

But cold weather has stimulated appetites for Chubbies’ juicy sandwiches and hot chili. Ed says his new Southwest cheese steak with pepper jack cheese and salsa is also selling well.

In November, friends and family organized a huge, joint 60th birthday party at Hollins University to surprise Ed and Shirley.

Their daughter, Heather (Ed called her “that little sneak”), had copied her parents’ address book and invited friends from all over the country to attend. “It was a real big surprise,” Ed said. “It brought tears to our eyes.”

— Lindsey Nair

...Third Street Coffeehouse

Then: Somebody could have written a blues song about the Third Street Coffeehouse’s weird year. They could have called it “The Devil Couldn’t Burn My Coffeehouse Down.”

Third Street’s rustic log walls boiled over with music, irony, pain, loss and, ultimately, triumph. On April 13 (Friday the 13th, coincidentally), the venerable acoustic-music spot, which is attached to Trinity United Methodist Church, celebrated 20 years of bringing rootsy music to Southwest Roanoke. Three days later on April 16, a day synonymous with immeasurable tragedy in these parts, the church caught fire and the coffeehouse was damaged. The Friday night concerts were cancelled for seven weeks before they resumed June 1.

Now: “Everything is great at the Third Street Coffeehouse,” said Marian McConnell, who books the performers. “We have excellent musicians coming from all over the East Coast.”

The fire blunted some of the coffeehouse’s anniversary momentum, but crowds picked up during summer and fall.

“We’ve had everything from packed house to just a couple dozen,” McConnell said. “Overall it has been very good and we expect a great year in 2008.”

— Ralph Berrier Jr.

...Opera couple Elizabeth Futral and Steven White

Then: Last spring, Southwest Virginia’s first couple of opera, Elizabeth Futral and Steven White, were balancing a whirlwind schedule of performances around the country with quiet days at their mountaintop home just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Now: Not much has changed. White, artistic director of Opera Roanoke, and Futral, an internationally known soprano, spent six weeks working together in “The Elixir of Love” at Pittsburgh Opera, and are now enjoying some precious days at home before Futral leaves to performs in the New Year’s Eve Gala in New Orleans, and give a recital at the Juilliard School in New York. In February, she’s singing and recording with the Minnesota Orchestra, and she will also perform in Southern California.

White will conduct the Naples (Florida) Philharmonic in “La Boheme” and “Tosca” in January and February, and then head to Baltimore for “Romeo and Juliette.”

The couple will work together again in May on a production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Fort Worth (Texas) Opera Festival, with White conducting and Futral in the starring role.

“I’m most excited about what we have coming up at Opera Roanoke: our third annual Gala Fantasy Concert on February 16, and the concert performance of Beethoven’s 'Fidelio’ in April,” White said.

— Kevin Kittredge

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