Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts
Spring 2009


Robert Kulp (building construction '85) didn't set out to start a green business. Instead, he was looking for a profitable venture to complement his home-renovation company, Blue Ridge Residential, and his own interest in older houses.

He ended up with something "green" in more than one meaning of the word.

In 2000, Kulp and friend Mike Whiteside bought the salvage rights to the last historic 1890s house on Orchard Hill in Roanoke, Va. The two hauled out stained-glass windows, columns, leaded-glass transoms, fixtures, doors, and much more.

A short time later, Black Dog Salvage, named after Whiteside's Labrador retriever, was born. "Suddenly we found ourselves in business," Kulp says. "It was really a hobby in my mind, but it quickly, quickly went out of control. It's an interesting way to make a living."

Christa (Hall) Stephens '95 and Robert Kulp '85
Christa (Hall) Stephens '95 and Robert Kulp '85

So out of control that Kulp and Whiteside later decided to transform a Roanoke warehouse into the Memorial Bridge Marketplace to house their 10,000 pieces of architectural salvage--wrought iron, mantels, windows, doorknobs, claw-foot bathtubs--and several other businesses centered around home decorating.

For Kulp, a native Roanoker, the whole adventure started with inspiration from his uncle, Ralph Baker (building construction '61), who had gone to Tech and then joined the Army. "I knew I wanted to join the Navy, and it worked well for him," says Kulp.

After graduating from Tech and completing six years of active duty, Kulp joined fellow Hokie and fraternity brother Scott Crumley (finance '84) in the Crumley Group Inc. in Virginia Beach before returning to Roanoke with his family and founding his own business.

Black Dog boasts its own share of Hokie connections. Kulp's uncle helps out in the office; Christa (Hall) Stephens (marketing management '95) came on as sales and e-Bay manager; and Whiteside's wife, Susie (Farriss) Whiteside (interior design '86) owns Whiteside Designs, one of the businesses in the Marketplace.

Other than salvage, the store offers antiques, furniture made from salvage, and the occasional oddity. Current shoppers could buy an 11-foot-tall toy soldier or a postal box decorated like a green monster.

Business success aside, the true heart of Black Dog is keeping reusable wood, glass, metal, and ceramic out of the landfill. Kulp would have preferred to have saved that first house by moving it, but at least part of it lives on through his efforts. "Black Dog Salvage is really a green company," he says.

For more information, go to

Scott Pafumi '95
Scott Pafumi '95

When an ABC "20-20" camera crew came to Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., to spend 300 hours filming the school's preparation for and production of "The Wiz," director and drama teacher Scott Pafumi (theatre arts '95) felt right at home.

"Being a theatre person, a teacher, a father of three, and married to an actress, I kind of feel like my life already is a TV show," Pafumi says. "I just went about my teaching and directing, like I always do, and excitedly awaited the day when we could watch it all."

That day came for Pafumi and the 100 or so students involved in the production on Dec. 15, 2008, when ABC-TV aired a two-hour special called "Drama High."

"It was incredible to realize that people all over the country were watching this," Pafumi says.

Theatre wasn't on Pafumi's radar when he graduated from high school. Instead, he felt obligated to follow his father and grandfather into the United States Naval Academy. "It didn't take," he says.

So he switched to Virginia Tech and almost immediately went into theatre arts. "I had a wonderful experience in the theatre department," Pafumi says. "Tech got me here. And I knew as an undergraduate that I wanted to be a theatre arts educator."

Pafumi also met his wife, Helen Murray (theatre arts '95), at Tech. They married at the home of now-retired Alumni Distinguished Professor Tony Distler. "It's a fun Blacksburg love story," Pafumi says.

While in Blacksburg, Pafumi worked with numerous arts organizations, and after graduation Distler helped him get on with the Reston, Va., summer young actors program. When Westfield opened in 2000, Pafumi was hand-picked to start the theatre program. "That's how I got on the radar with ABC," he says. Pafumi's program has won more Cappies--the Critics and Awards Program for high school theater and journalism--than all but one other area school.

In part, ABC was attracted to the angle of a predominantly white high school doing a musical that originally had an all-black cast, although Pafumi thinks the special made too much of a few instances of racial tension. "I guess they wanted to show more drama," he says. Overall, Pafumi says the experience was positive and the special was well done.

"It helped bring attention to an area that needs attention," he says.

You can see the special by going to and clicking on "Watch Full Episodes" and then on "Drama High."

The Westfield High School production of "The Wiz" in Chantilly, Va.

Not everyone can say that they've mingled with an orphaned two-toed sloth or witnessed firsthand the mating habits of the blue-footed booby. Ellen Holtman (M.A. curriculum and instruction '76), however, doesn't have to turn on the Discovery Channel to see four kinds of wild monkeys in Costa Rica or to glimpse baby albatrosses in the Galapagos Islands. As a Virginia Western Community College biology professor for more than 20 years, Holtman has led groups of students on journeys to places ranging from the Florida Keys and the Everglades to the Galapagos Islands.

"I hope my students will learn to appreciate the diversity and the really intense biology in the tropics, the complexity and the beauty of these endangered ecosystems," says Holtman, recalling a moment in Costa Rica when, while visiting a wildlife rehabilitation center, her students were able to pet and hold orphaned monkeys. "They were transported," says Holtman of the students' reactions.

Holtman worked on her master's while teaching at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County. A decade later, she studied vertebrae ecology for two years in Tech's biology department, in addition to her role as a teaching assistant. She credits these experiences with allowing her to land a position as a professor at Virginia Western.

She feels that the study-abroad courses she teaches are especially important to community college students, many of whom have not had the opportunity to travel extensively. "I want them to appreciate the culture of the people in these countries as well, so they feel as if they have friends in other parts of the world."

Yet those students who take the journey aren't the only ones who benefit from such treks; Holtman admits that her travels have added zest to her teaching in the classroom. "It's made it more fun. I have more stories to tell, more pictures to show. It encourages my students to do more traveling, to get out and see the world."

And Holtman hopes to continue helping her students to discover the world through biology: in 2010, she's planning to take a group of students to Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa, where she's looking forward to glimpses of the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro and of elephants roaming in their natural environment.

"I will try to time the trip so we can witness part of the Great Migration. More than a million wildebeest plus thousands of zebras and gazelles move from Kenya to Tanzania and back each year, following the new grasses, so we'll see the massed herbivores and some of the carnivores that follow them, either on the Serengeti or the Masai Mara," says Holtman.

Ellen Holtman '76
Ellen Holtman '76
The upcoming course will focus on the wildlife of the region, mixed with a healthy dose of agriculture, geology, and, of course, local culture.

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