Richard and Dmetri Nevels are social luminaries in the nightlife of Savannah, Georgia. Music is pertinent to their pleasure—all genres and styles. Dmetri was born to a family of music educators in Macon, Georgia. Richard says, “We really love Puccini.” Richard’s love of opera stems from watching cartoons as child: “There was always classical music in the background.”
The Nevels are also foodies. “We like to go to nice places, eat some good food and drink some good wine.” They love to travel. “Montreal is like Paris in North America.” Their friends span various nationalities, races, ages. Richard says, “It’s simple for me. Treat people like you want to be treated. I want to go out where I choose to go and have a good time.” When they enter a room, so do the elements of style, joy, comradery and love. Thus, they are received by an array of open arms.
Richard met Dmetri at the party of a mutual friend. He didn’t see her as a potential person in his life. First of all, he was a player (therefore busy), and then Richard says, “She had on a long dress that kind of reminded me of a Quaker.” Not exactly in line with his meticulous style. The next time they met was at a wine tasting event. He liked that outfit. They talked a bit, interest sparked. Their next meeting was more significant—it was at the Savannah Jazz Festival, a big event in the music history of the Hostess City and, ultimately, in the history of their relationship.
A man-about-town connected in jazz music circles, Richard invited Dmetri to a private jam session that evening. “We had a great time. But what got me that night, I really noticed her smile.” He asked her out, she complied.
On their date, Richard didn’t let the fact that she was casual in jeans and he was dressed “fresh and clean” divert his attention from his interest. Nor did either of them allow their 30 years of age difference dampen their destiny.
“We had a lot in common, believe or not,” Richard says. Besides music and nightlife, “Dmetri said she was a Saturday Night Live fan! It was definitely on then! We were running through skits together. It was so much fun.” But Dmetri had made plans to move to Charlotte, North Carolina. So she informed him. He was like, “Cool, we’ll hang out until then,” never thinking anything serous would come of it.
When Dmetri invited him to her birthday party, there was a guy there, and Richard could tell something was going on. But he kept his focus. Richard asked Dmetri out for Friday night. She said that was the day she hung out with her teacher friends. “I’m like, ‘yeah, right.’ Been there, done that,’ he recalls. “So we went out Saturday night. I could tell by the conversation that she was seeing someone. And she was never available Friday nights. So I became Mr. Saturday Night. I thought, ‘Man, she’s trying to be a player!’ ”
But that didn’t shake Richard. And after a few weeks, “I became Mr. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Night!”
As the date drew near for her to leave, she told him she didn’t want to, and he realized he didn’t want her to either. So she’d visit him when she could and he’d visit her in Charlotte. “We wore Charlotte out! We hit up all the hot spots and all the nice restaurants. We had great time.”
The following year, at the Savannah Jazz Music Festival at Forsyth Park, Richard pulled out the rings he purchased for this occasion, got down on one knee among a massive crowd of music lovers, and asked, “Will you marry me?”
“Some students were sitting on picnic blankets to our left cheering, and there was an uproar. I didn’t tell anyone there I was going to propose,” Richard remembers.
Dmetri says, “I knew when I came back from Charlotte, the year after we started dating at the previous festival, that we were meant to be together. I knew we were in love, and that we didn’t care about the age difference. I wanted him come hell or high water. I also knew we were a perfect fit.”
And so Richard and Dmetri were married at the Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Savannah.
Richard has one daughter, Wendy, from his previous marriage. She’s one year younger than Dmetri. How does that work? “She really doesn’t care about the age difference,” Dmetri says. “I think it’s because Rich has always been different. Here’s what’s funny though: Wendy has four children, ages 17 (the only boy), 16, 13, and 11. Nathaniel calls me Grandma at work. He goes to Johnson High School, where I teach. The 11- and 13-year-old try to slyly get me to tell them my age. I just say, ‘I’m however old you want me to be.’ ”
Dmetri, a third generation educator (“My grandmother taught high school English, my mother taught elementary school music, and my dad is still teaching as a music professor at Eckard College”) always had an idea that she might marry someone older. She says the coolest thing about being with Richard is that he’s already been through his growing pains.
“He knows who he is, what he wants, what he’s good at, and what he needs help with,” she says. “The most challenging thing is that I’m much more of an optimist than he is. He says that’s because he’s been around the world three times and has seen this five times before.”
Richard, a cyclist, traveler and now a retired conductor of CSX Transportation brings the type of balance to Dmetri that simply reminds her to live. “I can be a workaholic,” she admits. “Rich helps me to stop working for a minute and just enjoy life; not always have ‘no’ as my immediate response to a Tuesday night out. He helps me to watch a movie and not grade papers or create assignments while doing it.” Dmetri attests, “I'm really good at working, and he’s really good at being retired.”
Richard says the key to a successful family starts with a strong relationship between the couple. “Your partner has to be your best friend. Not Moe, not Joe. Forget about Moe! Be committed. I like to go out with my wife and I miss her when she’s not there.” The home, too, should be a source of bonding. “I have a collection of over 3,000 movies and CDs. We have good time there also.
“A family can be a gay/lesbian couple; two siblings living and raising their children together; a single father with two daughters; or three best friends sharing a townhouse,” says Dmetri. “A family has the people you rush home to after work or a vacation to Europe. A family is where you can walk around in jogging pants with bed hair and eat sorbet out of the carton with no shame.” She concludes, “First, it is important to define your own sense of family.” The Nevelses establish that two can play that tune, well.
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at digitalpi[email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.