A couple’s celebration paves way for another

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 08:21 AM

Sometimes big events coincide in single years, as they did for us in 2011 when Peter’s 60th birthday and our 30th anniversary passed within a month of each other.  Peter retired to the farm and we convinced our daughters to throw us a party at the Murphey School.  We had a lot of fun there with family and friends.

Steve and Betsy Levitas are celebrating his 60th birthday and their 35th anniversary with grander goals – to raise $50,000 and build a Habitat for Humanity house.  Their plans involve the Murphey School, too, along with quite a few miles of hard pavement.  With music on the Murphey School stage and bike wheels on local asphalt, they hope to raise the money necessary to raise a roof.

“We are among the lucky couples who found each other early on, worked on our marriage and managed to stay together, and happily.” Betsy Levitas said today.  “We always had a solid roof over our heads and vibrant communities to live in.  Giving to community groups was a value we learned from childhood, and that has been a foundation of our life together.”

Steve Levitas picked up on the theme of community, noting that he and Betsy are “citizens of the Triangle,” with their educational, employment and social lives spread throughout Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.  They’re excited to be working with Habitat for Humanity because, “They’re not just building houses, they’re building communities,” Steve said.  The Levitases are turning to their own communities to help build this house -- by raising money and then hammers and other tools for the physical construction of the home.

Avid cyclists, Steve and Betsy hope to gather 50 to 100 friends for a later fund-raising bike ride for the Habitat House.  But cycling is only one of the passions this active couple shares.  Music is another.  For over 14 years Betsy has been part of Stella, a seven-woman a cappella group performing around the Triangle and serving as the anchor group for the semi-annual Murphey School Radio Show, a benefit musical/comedy/theater event in the manner of old-time radio shows.

Stella is composed of members Julie Woodmansee, Alison Jones, Julie Mooney, Liz Wing, Marya McNeish, Stacey Anderegg and Betsy Levitas.  Their musical tastes take in almost every genre, and they create unique arrangements delivered with strong harmonies.  Peter and I have hosted Stella concerts at our farm, each time to a packed house.  And when the lights go up on Stella at the Murphey School, you know that the heart of the show has begun to beat.

The hoped-for Habitat home has a name already.  The women of Stella are playing a prominent role in a concert March 29 to raise those needed dollars for “Stella,” the house.  Featuring the additional talents of Callie Warner and Rick Keena of Southern Routes, powerhouse gospel singer Jennifer Evans and the incredibly versatile fiddler Chris Mankoff, every dime from this event will purchase materials for the construction of “Stella.”  Many other “prizes and surprises” are promised for the evening.  Doors of the Murphey School will open at 7 p.m. at 3717 Murphy School Road in the Orange County part of Durham.  For more information about Stella and this event, go to http://events.durhamhabitat.org/durham/events/stella-friends-concert-to-build-habitat-home/e31270.

“If you don’t count raising children,” Betsy Levitas said, “Steve and I have never really worked on such an ambitious and long-term project as this.  We have been able to appreciate one another’s strengths and ideas…and are doing something that we as a couple are uniquely equipped to do:  bring the people and resources together to create a lasting benefit.  It stands for our personal commitment to each other and to our community.  And we are out to have some big fun, another reason we’ve enjoyed being together for so long!”

This eventful birthday-anniversary year is still young, but unfolding towards a goal of home-ownership, which, as Betsy said, “strengthen[s] the fabric that holds us all together -- invested families and friendships among neighbors.”  One couple’s celebration within their community is paving the way for a new one to emerge. 

A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and has served as executive director of The Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill and previously of Orange Congregations in Mission in Hillsborough.  Currently she manages a horse barn and a home business on the Orange County farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at sgladin@gmail.com, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.