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Men of Westport

Seven of Our Most Amazing Men.

Article by Robin Moyer Chung

Photography by Various/Quarantine Selfies

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Stafford Thomas

Principal, Staples High School

Best part of his summer job:

“It was a natural fit to join the crew team which practiced at 5:30 a.m. my freshman year. In my boat was none other than Bradley Cooper and Jonah Nolan, he wrote the movie Momento.”

About consulting, as a profession:

“I graduated in 1998 and the big field at that time was consulting. I still don’t know what consultants do and why a 22 year-old could consult on anything.”

How he selected graduate school:

“Stanford lost my application for education policy, so I went to Brown.”

On racism at Staples:

“The four groups that have been historically marginalized are race, religion, gender and sexual identity. It's a societal problem and as a microcosm of society it is something we need to deal with as well. We are trying to get everyone to understand and behave in ways which actively promote inclusivity. Understanding "blindspot bias" will go a long way in achieving this necessary and worthwhile goal. A goal, by the way which will take time and effort but is certainly attainable.  The first step is the understanding of our expectations for how we treat each other, and it can’t be done through an assembly.

“We started Connections, an advisory program. It’s unfortunate we had this break because we were starting to have meaningful conversations.”

His goal for Staples:

“Now you can have 1850 experiences at Staples, but what is the common experience? We want to build a community so students know Staples as more than their circle of friends and assistance with college. We want them to have an affinity and love for being a Wrecker. We want them to say ‘I had a Staples experience.’”

Favorite local businesses:

Coffee An' Donuts, Shearwater Coffee Bar

Wilson Herrera

Staples Custodian, Future Teacher

Wilson dreamed of becoming a teacher. His parents, Colombian natives who never finished 5th grade, instilled in him the importance of education.

He began cleaning YMCAs when he was 15, became a custodian at Bedford Middle School in 2013, then moved to Staples a year later.

While working his usual 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift one day he noticed a poster for Norwalk Community College‘s Summer Bridge program. He tried college once before but juggling work and studying proved too difficult. This poster, however, made him want to give college another shot.

Will took courses in English, Math, Environment, Psychology, Creative Writing, Philosophy, Computer Science and Public Speaking. He became involved in extracurricular activities, like planting trees at Veterans Park. All the while he worked the 2nd custodial shift at Staples.

He considered dropping out just short of graduation because his mother, who had battled breast cancer twice before, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But she urged him to persevere.

In May 2019, Will graduated from NCC with a 3.51 GPA and cum laude honors and now attends Southern Connecticut State University, all the while working the 3 p.m.-11p.m. shift at Staples.

The above is paraphrased from Dan Woog’s 06880 blog because Will declined to be interviewed.

On March 18, Will wrote to me, “While it is an amazing opportunity and I am very appreciative to have been given consideration for it by you, I will have to graciously pass on this opportunity for the time being. I must say I am pretty tied up with school full-time (now online) working and taking care of a pregnant wife who requires most of my free time.”

But, interview or no, we were determined to include him.

He’ll be an amazing father and a wonderful teacher.

Favorite local business:

Angelina’s Trattoria

Daniel Orlovsky

ESPN Football Analyst, Former NFL Quarterback

Of his offer to deliver meals during our COVID-19 quarantine:

“I offered to get meals for families and kids who wouldn’t get them. I tweeted for them to DM me. The son of the owner of Sherwood Diner, he’s a great kid, reached out to me and says, ‘We’re shutting down but we have all of this food on-hand.’ So I asked families what they needed and Sherwood donated it to me. Great example of how social media helps in times of crisis.”

About the delivery of his triplets:

“I was in Indianapolis playing football and she was living in Pennsylvania. Our boys were born at 34 weeks, which is full-term for triplets. They were delivered four days before the season was over, on a Tuesday morning. I played a game on Sunday and in the game I tore ligaments in my ankles. So I fly to Pennsylvania, go to the hospital, and I’m walking with crutches. My wife is walking bent over. We were like the walking dead.”

What he likes best about ESPN:

“ESPN allows me to be creative in a way I want to be creative. My great joy is when I find video on football to prove my point.”

A great quote of Dan’s I found on the internet:

“If I was the most talented quarterback in the draft last year, but I don't believe in myself, and I don't know I'm good, then I'm not going to be good. But if I'm an average talent and I work hard and I have confidence in myself, then I'm going to be better than that guy who is extremely talented and doesn't have confidence.”

Favorite local business:

Little Barn, Freshii, Coffee An’, Grapevine, Bar Taco, Orange Theory


Rob Simmelkjaer 

CEO & Co-Founder, Persona 

Why started he started Persona, an app that records and shares videos of people answering questions:

“Before starting Persona I was in media and I loved interviewing people… One day a cousin sent me a photograph of my Grandfather as a young man and I realized I wished I’d interviewed him when he was alive. In fact, I’d never interviewed anyone in my family! I wanted to record my daughters answering questions so I could have a video-history of their thoughts, not just how they looked. So I decided to create a place for interviews.”

On the power of interviews:

“Interviews can be momentous. They can change lives. Take Prince Andrew’s interview about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. It completely changed the royal family.”

The only on-air interview that left him speechless:

“I was doing a football game for ESPN, Army versus Air Force at West Point. We’d already determined I would interview the Army coach, Bobby Ross, because they were the home team. Well, when I had to interview him they were losing 3 to 31. I asked him what he was going to tell his team at halftime. On live television he said ‘I’m going to tell them go get their headS out of their a@@es.’” 

His favorite question:

“To me, the best question is ‘why?' It can be a devastating question in and of itself. There’s no good answer if you’ve done something questionable. If you’ve done something good the answer can be inspiring. It makes humans interesting because it gets to the motivation of the act.”

His least favorite question:

“Any question with a yes or no answer.”

Regarding the frequency of dog walks during quarantine:

“Yeah, dogs are the big winners now.”

Favorite local business:

Westport Hardware

Jonathan Greenfield

Manager, Breathe 4 ALS

Diagnosed with ALS in December 2018

About Jonathan:

Written by his wife, Iris: “Even with his slur and hobble Jonathan maintains [his] zeal and sense of humor. He’s a true people person, a vérité filmmaker, jujitsu-er, triathalon-er, musician, surfer, BMX-er, tea purveyor and teacher. What's chilling and ironic is Jonathan was THAT guy at the forefront of the super-catchy ice bucket challenges.”

Written by Jonathan

About his two daughters:

“My role as their father has always been to encourage them to step forward into their fears, seek adventure and know that failure is an essential part of growth.”

An upside to illness:

“The best part are the people in my life. They are amazing. Iris and I are very lucky! The ALS community brings you some of the best people you’ll ever know.”

About his expensive jeans:

“Iris she gave me a gift certificate to Mitchells, her way of upping my wardrobe. It put me face-to-face with AG jeans. They cost $180 and to me that is ridiculous. I tried them on and got hooked. So I decided to buy a pair a year. 

“I was wearing those jeans when I had my neurology appointment to discuss my EMG and series of MRIs. I believed I had a C4/5, S1 issue after years of pounding my body training and racing triathlons. 

“Dr. Leo McClusky came in and said flatly, ‘You have ALS. It’s your genes.’ I happened to be looking down at my AG jeans. I slapped my hands on my thighs and said, ‘My jeans? These cost me $180 dollars!’ My humor was lost on Dr. McClusky, a serious man. He said, ‘Do you want to hear this?’ I did, but I wanted to punch him in the face first!! I thought, ‘Let’s laugh [expletive]! This is ridiculous!!’"

Favorite local business:


Steven Choi

Chief Quality Officer, Vice President at Yale New Haven Health System,

Associate Dean of Yale Medical School

His role in the corona pandemic:

“My top priority is managing the corona virus surge at Yale. We’re the largest medical provider in Connecticut so we feel responsible for the entire state. Early in March I was on the phone with state reps pushing to close bars, restaurants, and other large gatherings to mitigate the transmission. This battle will be won or lost in the community, not inside the hospital.”

About being on the frontlines:

“Well, I’m not on the frontlines yet, just managing and helping. I’m on the backup team, as many ICU colleagues are falling ill. I spent almost 20 years working as a critical care physician so I can jump in when the time comes. ”

About the infamous party:

“There was no social irresponsibility with that party. It could have been any party.”

His “typical” day:

“[It] starts with the largest mug of mud-thick coffee I can find. I try to sleep until about 6 a.m. and take some conference calls at home in the morning. I get to the hospital by 8 a.m. and head straight to our COVID call center in New Haven. We have over 30 associates who field over 2,500 phone calls a day from all over the US. In the afternoon, I round on all the ICU doctors and nurses across our seven campuses to hear what they’re seeing and how we can help them. 

“I've got an incredible group of friends. They check in on me throughout the day, drop off meals at my home, run errands for me…  In the evening I squeeze in some TV and news interviews before heading home. Once I walk through the door, I jump in the shower, heat up some dinner and hit the sack. Then repeat.”

Favorite local business: 

The Whelk