BRISTOL, Tenn. — When Valentina Rose immigrated to the U.S. from the Ukraine in 1999, she had nothing but her 18-year-old son, Sergei, and two suitcases.

A professional tailor and seamstress, Rose, 57, originally came to the U. S. with her son in 1993 on a visitor visa to see a friend who lived in Bristol. Rose immediately fell in love with the area.

“People would talk to me and smile at me even though I didn’t know anyone here,” recalled Rose. “Cars would stop in the road to let me cross the street, even where there was no crosswalk. I wrote to my family back home and told them I thought I was in heaven.”

Used to the big city life of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Rose found her niche as a tailor early on. She graduated from the Professional Technology College in Kiev with a master’s in sewing, and showed exceptional skill with men’s clothing as well as designing women’s clothing. Although she was offered a teaching position at the school upon graduation, her son was only 1 year old at the time and the college was over an hour’s drive. Instead, she took a job working at a fashion shop, where she designed and sewed clothes.

With her wealth of experience and talent, Rose was a shoe-in for a tailor job in the states.

“Every day I thank God for this talent,” Rose said. “The ideas and designs, they just come out of me.”

When she returned to the country in 1999 with a work visa, she went to work with Blakley-Mitchell, an upscale men’s clothier in Bristol and Kingsport.

In 2001, Rose decided to open her own store in downtown Bristol, just off State Street.

“I was scared to death,” Rose admitted. “I worried how will people get to know about me?”

But her fears were unfounded. In no time, she earned a reputation for her skill and talent, and “Valentina’s Design and Alterations” took off. Before long, she bought her own house and a car, all while running her business and raising her son on her own.

“She’s so impressive,” said Jim Daniel, landlord of the shop building. “She’s a hard worker and she’s got determination. She’s got a work ethic that I admire and great strength of character.”

In 2002, Rose’s daughter, Angelica, was born. Rose remembers raising her little girl at the store — in the back of the shop, behind the curtains, Rose had a bassinet and crib for her daughter. Angelica took her first walking steps right there in the cozy, living room atmosphere at the front of the shop.

In 2009, Rose became a U.S. citizen. She legally changed her name from Netchiporouk to Rose, as she felt her Ukrainian name would be too difficult for Americans to pronounce or spell.

In addition to running her own business, Rose does alterations and repairs for Wm. King Clothiers in downtown Bristol. Although Wm. King has its own tailors, whenever they have a really important repair or alteration to make, an employee will make a beeline across the street to bring it to Valentina’s.

“Hands down, Valentina is the best tailor in this area,” said William King, owner of the store. “She pays attention to detail and we know her work is going to be perfect. We’re lucky to have her.”

Now, after 16 years, Valentina’s is a busy business. Pictures of dresses she has designed and sewn from scratch are tacked up in her work area — whether they’re wedding dresses, prom dresses or just something pretty a customer wanted. She can make anything to order; clients bring in picture clippings from magazines and Rose will make them real.

But she doesn’t just do fancy clothes. At any given time, her shop is filled with everything from blouses to winter jackets to trousers to Santa Claus suits. She never lacks for business, but she will never fail to fit in an emergency repair or alteration for a client.

Nor has she failed to retain her unique wit and determination. When she was 40, she won two national championships in karate after only a year of training. Sports have always been important to Rose — in Ukraine, she competed heavily in swimming, track, long jump and high jump, and even Ukraine folk dancing. To this day, she and several friends from St. Tikhon Russian Orthodox Church in Bristol, Virginia, get together for holidays and cook dishes from their native land, and even get a little rowdy while performing the energetic folk dances in the living room.

“It is the American dream to get here,” Rose explained. “It’s a free country and you can do what you want. Put your goal on what you want to be. You can do everything in this country, if you put your mind to it and be strong and work hard.”

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Laura J. Mondul is a freelance writer.

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