Arts students are a dedicated bunch. They eat, sleep, and breathe Art, Arts Administration, Dance, Music, and Theater, so it is no wonder so many form their most important and lasting relationships with people pursuing the same.
We asked some CVPA couples to share their Valentine’s Stories. We know there are many more out there, so feel free to share yours here. We’ll be posting these to social media during the month of February.
Barbara Campbell Thomas (Professor of Painting, Printmaking, and Drawing)
Chris Thomas (Academic Professional in Printmaking and Drawing)
Chris and I went to the same high school in northeastern Pennsylvania. I had a huge crush on him, but I was very shy so I didn’t tell him. We both went on to get art degrees, then on to grad school, but at separate universities. We reconnected after graduation when we both wound up in the magazine New American Paintings in an article about students earning MFA degrees in Art in the year 2000.
When Chris saw my name and picture he emailed me, and it turned out we had both returned to Pennsylvania. I was teaching at Penn State and he was teaching at Arcadia in Philadelphia. He came to visit. We were engaged within four months and married within nine. Together we came to UNCG in 2003 to teach in the School of Art, and we’ve been here for 20 years!
Barbara and Chris both teach in the School of Art. Barbara is Professor of Painting, Printmaking, and Drawing; and Chis teaches Printmaking and Drawing.
Jon Anderson (’00 MM Music)
Doug Risner (2017 CVPA Distinguished Alumnus,’01 PhD Education,
’90 MFA, and ’88 BFA Dance)
Doug and Jon immediately bonded as musical theatre geeks frequently singing through the entire scores of Sunday in the Park with George and Dreamgirls. And we both had connections to Luther College—Jon is a graduate of Luther, and Doug taught at the college previously.
Reflecting back on our professional lives and personal experiences in CVPA, our combined UNCG stories run deep and are lasting. We can’t imagine our career paths without UNCG, especially the dedicated faculty and our peer colleagues. Doug completed his BFA and MFA degrees in Dance at UNCG in the early 1990s. Jon had completed his Bachelor’s degree in music and was applying to graduate programs in music composition. At the same time, Doug—recently divorced and looking to start a new chapter in his life—was searching for doctoral programs in dance and education. We found ourselves looking toward the future together and began interviewing at multiple universities that offered excellent graduate programs in music and dance.
Long story short, it was clear to us that UNCG graduate programs were the most outstanding, and especially responsive to our professional goals and aspirations. At UNCG (circa 2001), Jon completed his Master’s in Music Composition, and Doug received his PhD in Education (Curriculum and Teaching) while teaching in the School of Dance. Fast forward 20 years, we’re both at Wayne State University in Detroit where Jon is Associate Professor of Music and Doug is Professor of Dance and a Distinguished Faculty Fellow.
In June 2015, we were legally married, one day after the state of Michigan recognized same-sex marriage. Although we’ve only been officially married for seven years, we will celebrate 25 years together this coming June. Most recently, we became doting grandfathers for the first time. Hopefully, granddaughter Iliana (age 2) will consider UNCG for her academic journey. Each summer we return to North Carolina for three weeks on Emerald Isle, a tradition that began during our graduate work at UNCG. Our annual trek to the beach always includes an overnight stay in Greensboro with beers and chicken tenders at Old Town Draught House.
Dr. Doug Risner is currently finishing his ninth book, Dancing Mind, Minding Dance: Socially Relevant and Personally Resonant Dance Education (Routledge, 2023), a collected volume of his pivotal journal publications from 1992 to 2022. His forthcoming Journal of Dance Education article, “Negotiating Cancer and Masculinities in Dance Education: Narratives of Discovery from Recovery,” with Chris Marlow, is one of the outcomes from the research working group Dance Educators Living With/Through Cancer, which Risner founded in 2021.
Dr. Jon Anderson serves as Head of the Composition Division of the Wayne State University Department of Music and composes for a variety of acoustic and electroacoustic mediums. His research focuses primarily on dance and movement as generative forces in music composition.
Karina Davison Grigor “Grish” Zakyan
Grish and I met in a very unexpected way for two dancers… just in the street. I was visiting Armenia for the summer to train with the Armenian Opera House in ballet. Grish had recently graduated and was a member of that company. About halfway through my summer, July 7th, there was a holiday in Armenia called “Vardavar” when the whole country comes together with buckets and basically has a big water fight.
I was going out with my best friend and one of Grish’s classmates who I had met. We ended up running into Grish and a couple of his friends, and we drenched each other with water. I found out Grish was a dancer, and the rest is history.
Now we are at UNCG together and dance together professionally, and we love sharing the stage together. It is truly so special to have the opportunity to dance with my husband.
Karina is pursuing a double major in English and Dance, and Grish is obtaining a degree in Entrepreneurship with a minor in Dance. They are also both principal dancers with “Triad International Ballet.”
At UNCG, Gizem and Antonio’s paths crossed in the halls of the School of Music.
Antonio, a persistent suitor, wrote countless songs in an attempt to win over Gizem’s affections. Eventually, his persistence paid off and the two began dating.
Fast forward 11 years, the couple now resides in New York City where they continue to make music together under the moniker TruyolsMusic. You can hear their music on streaming platforms and social media. Their love story extends beyond just music, as they adopted a daughter at birth and at the tender age of 21 months, is already showing signs of being an artistic force with which to be reckoned.
Gizem is an orchestral director, and Antonio is a composer and pianist.
Cheryl Koski Mendolia (’12 BFA Acting)
Thomas Mendolia (’12 BFA Acting)
Cheryl and I met how most people meet: dancing oddly with each other during a callback for Jim Wren’s The Revenger’s Tragedy. We both were eventually cast in the show as our first show at UNCG, which itself brought significant memories, but it was my time with Cheryl that I remember the most. We instantly connected as very close friends who just loved to make each other laugh. We were each in separate relationships at the time, so our relationship stopped at being “giggle-buddies.” We were both accepted into the same BFA class and were both in the same circle of friends. We would go to each other’s houses to read the plays the night before for our Theatre History class, assigning each other characters we would have to act out.
Through the years we each had our separate relationships, but our friendship remained strong. In the summer before our senior year, we both decided to take Biology to fulfill an elective. Our friendship grew stronger, and we grew closer as we spent every day with each other. I would make breakfast as she helped me with my homework due that same day. We would pass “story” notes to each other, where one of us would begin a story, pass the note, and the other would have to continue the story. We would also write notes to each other using the Periodic Table, which proved more difficult than you’d imagine. Towards the end of the summer, our individual relationships began to fall apart, and as they did, we were there for each other. Almost overnight, our friendship turned into a relationship, as it just made sense for lack of a better word. It felt right.
We began dating at M’Coul’s in the second booth after you walk in the door on the left when I asked her to be my girlfriend. Up to that point I hadn’t met anyone who made me feel the way Cheryl did. To this day, the best word I can describe that feeling is “home.” We could be in a closet in NYC with no toilet, but if Cheryl is there with me, I’m home.
Cheryl and Thomas live in Los Angeles where they work in the film industry.
Brenda Lunsford Lilly (’74 BFA Acting)
Michael Lilly (’75 BFA Acting)
Most screenplays, specifically rom-coms, almost always begin with a “meet-cute”—that unexpected moment when the featured couple meet for the first time. In Billy Wilder’s film Sabrina, it’s when the glamorous Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) runs into wealthy David Larabee (William Holden), her childhood crush, at the train-station in exclusive Glen Cove, Long Island. She immediately recognizes him, but he hasn’t a clue that she’s the chauffeur’s daughter who grew up on their estate before moving to Paris to become a chef. It’s essentially the Cinderella story.
Our UNCG love story is not so dramatic but just as romantic, I think. Michael and I first met after being cast in a one-act play titled Stud. That’s the “meet-cute” in this story. But the romance came a year later when Professor Tom Behm cast us in a North Carolina Theatre for Young People tour of Punch and Judy. Michael played the Devil, and I was Toby, the Dog. It was a winter tour of elementary and middle schools, which took us all across the state—a great experience, BTW.
The cast was five actors—three men and two women. On Valentine’s Day, we had an early call to load the set into a U-Haul truck at UNCG Auditorium. Being a big fan of Valentine’s Day I had bought cards for everyone at a little shop on Tate Street. I arrived at the Auditorium, and as I saw each member of the cast and crew, I handed them a card and kissed them on the cheek. Michael was the last to arrive. As I handed him his card and leaned in to kiss his cheek, he leaned in and kissed me—NOT on the cheek but on the lips. It was wonderful, and I remember thinking “That was nice!” This August we will celebrate our 48th Anniversary. Go