MANCHESTER, NH — When the 1867 Hubbard-Varney Mansion went up for sale late in the summer of 2018, the Manchester community was abuzz with people eager to tour the inside of the stunning five-bedroom Victorian on Myrtle Street. Shortly after its posting on the MLS, hundreds of people flocked to snap photographs and express interest in the historic mansion, which is listed at just under $1 million.
What most people don’t know is the extraordinary back story of the family’s decision to put their home up for sale. Homeowner Tony Slevira recently gave me a private tour of the mansion, along with the scoop on his family’s story.
The decision to put the home on the market was spurred by the Slevira’s support of their son, Kenan, and his dream to compete as an ice dancer in the Winter Olympics for Team USA. Kenan, now 15, is living and studying in Michigan where he is actively training with other competitors in his age group.
Tony and Sonia Slevira, originally from New York, made the decision to move from the Big Apple while they were expecting their first child shortly after 9/11. They first chose to settle in Woodstock, VT, before relocating to New Hampshire. Several factors led to Tony and Sonia’s decision to leave Vermont, including a close encounter with a bear in their driveway. In 2002, the Slevira family decided to begin the search for their next home. They a had an affinity for Victorian homes and stumbled upon their dream property when they found The Hubbard-Varney Mansion through Thelma Katz and Associates Inc. Real Estate. At the time, the current owner, an elderly Sophie Gerassi, had planned to be selective about who she would allow to purchase her home. As a former music teacher, she connected with the Slevira family, as Tony introduced her to his brother who was a violinist in the Boston Pops. After a solid relationship was formed, Sophie told them they could purchase her home.
Since that time, Tony and Sonia raised Kenan and Kyle in the Manchester area. Kenan’s passion for ice dancing first developed when he began learning to skate at the age of 7 with a girl his age named Sophie Kawejsza. The two of them were primarily learning to play hockey. Sophie unfortunately developed a brain tumor and passed away shortly after. Tony reflected on the fact that Sophie was Kenan’s first ice partner. Kenan gave up his idea of playing hockey as a young child and learned to figure skate at Granite State Figure Skating Club under the direction of Jen Hurley. After a few competitions, Kenan found figure skating to be too lonely on the ice, which ultimately led him to consider ice dancing.
Kenan was taken under the wing of Dmitri Boundoukin, former USA ice dancer, who paired him with a girl named Alice Urban from Marlborough, Mass. After a year of practice, Kenan and Alice went to sectionals and ultimately nationals to compete. After some time, Kenan changed dance partners and placed first in sectionals.
There are five skill levels and age groups in competitive ice dancing: Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior and Senior. When Kenan made the jump from Juvenile to Novice, Tony and Sonia began considering a move to Michigan where Kenan could train with Olympic-level coaches. Kenan and Caroline made team USA and competed internationally in Germany. After that competition, Caroline suffered a bad injury which unfortunately split up the skating duo.
Last year, Kenan was accepted to train under Marina Zoueva, head coach at the International Skating Academy in Canton, MI. As head coach, Marina has trained Olympic ice dancing duos such as Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Alex and Maia Shibutani. With preparation from Doug Webster of Ice Dance International, Kenan’s dream of competing in the Olympics was pushed one step closer. With Tony and Sonia’s oldest son a soon-to-be graduate from Brandeis University, the family was confronted with the need to relocate to support their youngest. For now, Sonia is living in Michigan with Kenan while Tony remains in Manchester to orchestrate the sale of their home. Kenan is currently aiming to be able to compete in either the 2022 Beijing or 2026 winter Olympics.
Training at the International Skating Academy is rigid. An Olympic-level trainer is present to work one-on-one four days out of the week with each pupil. A ballet instructor is present three days a week, an urban dance instructor two days per week, a jazz dancer two or three days per week and Marina Zoueva who is present on the ice. Training usually begins around 6:30 a.m. in which each pupil will work in segments of a half-hour for different routines. Breaks are given throughout the day for meals, schoolwork, and other forms of exercise until 4:30 p.m. The shift from Bishop Guertin High School to online schooling was necessary so that Kenan could keep up with his training and the relocation. The weekends still have some required activities, but are mostly a time for relaxation and a chance to socialize.
“As a parent when your children are finally with their peeps – for lack of a better word – you just know that they’re happy. And they find their crowd,” Tony says.
Tony revealed that Kenan has also had challenges along the way. When he was younger, Kenan was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia. He went through several programs to help his dyslexia to no avail until the family discovered he was diagnosed with the wrong form. Tony credits the public schools for doing a great job in helping correct the diagnosis.
“At the end of the day, what makes him a phenomenal ice dancer is that he’s not willing to learn anything incorrectly. He has to learn it from start to finish,” Tony says.
Tony wanted to give a special thanks to Ice Dance International for all the years of support and guidance. Perhaps in the not so far off future, Manchester Ink Link will have the opportunity to report on Kenan taking home Olympic gold.