“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” These famous words flowed from the lips of a man many—most, for that matter—would consider a Man of the Year in his time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was onto something. After all, no one who has changed the world did so by staying comfortable or playing it safe. In this vein, each of the men featured in the following pages has carved his own path, often at the risk of great peril, in pursuit of the proverbial brass ring. In speaking with each of them, none was willing to proclaim himself “different” or “special” or worthy of being included in a story titled “Men of the Year” … which is why we’re doing it for them.
From record-breaking adventurers to revolutionary businessmen to compassionate philanthropists doing their best to save the world (or at least a small part of it), the Philadelphia suburbs have no shortage of inspiring yet humble men who look at life as a looming and ever-changing mountain just begging to be conquered.
Suburban Life presents … the 2011 Men of the Year.
Iron-willed Todd Carmichael proves that preparation and perseverance enable ordinary people to reach superhuman heights
If Todd Carmichael has a secret weapon, it is his freakish endurance. This gift has enabled him to build one of the nation’s premier coffee roasters out of nothing and, more famously, accrue world records and national headlines for expeditions that would kill or maim 99.9 percent of the human species.
“I have a tendency to look at things over long periods of time,” he says. “Victory for me is the last man standing. Erosion—the idea that this mountain will be a desert soon, I wait for it. It’s what I do.”
The once-tiny Philadelphia-based coffee roaster of which he is co-founder and CEO, La Colombe Torrefaction, has since grown into a nationally recognized, socially responsible business that’s on pace to grow 50 percent this year. Although impressive in itself, it’s his activities away from “the office” that have earned Carmichael his notoriety.
In 2008 he spent more than a month trudging nearly 700 miles across Antarctica for 15 hours a day, alone in subzero cold and battling some of the strongest winds in the world, hauling behind him more than 250 pounds of food and provisions. He reached his destination—the South Pole—in 39 days, 7 hours and 49 minutes, breaking a world speed record in the process.
“I would say 95 percent to 99 percent of every step I took, no one had ever stepped there before,” says Carmichael, who lives with wife Lauren Hart—local treasure and modern-day Kate Smith at Flyers home games—and their growing family in Gladwyne. “More guys have walked across the moon than have soloed Antarctica.”
Again, he relied on his seemingly superhuman ability to endure, pushing any nagging thoughts that could unravel his expedition far from his mind.
“All you hear in your head is go, go, go,” he says. “If your mind strays, it strays to one thing: food. You’re burning 12,000 calories a day and consuming only 8,000; by the time I got to the Pole, I was 164 pounds and I started at 215. Just getting from sea level up to the continent, you’re extraordinarily cold and it’s so unforgiving that by the time you get to the rim, you feel like you’ve gone two rounds with [Mike] Tyson. If you think too much about what’s ahead of you, it could break you.”
Carmichael insists he’s no different than most people: “I am not a superhero. I’m an average guy who has a job and a family, and I want to do something spectacular. Some people call me Todd Carmichael, the explorer; but I’m Todd Carmichael, the coffee roaster who went exploring. It loses importance if I’m a superhero.”
His interest in so-called endurance trekking grew out of his early years rooted in Spokane, Wash. A long-distance runner in high school and college, he would run 100 miles a week and supplement his appetite with climbing trips to the nearby Cascade Mountains. A natural question began to bubble up within: “How far can you go … and where can you go?” For Carmichael, it turns out, farther than just about anyone.
Although some people might shake their heads at the sheer magnitude—the ridiculousness, the inherent peril—of his expeditions, his obsession is no different than, say, committing to a marathon or training for any other goal of personal importance. The key to making it happen is to be, in a way, selfish.
“There are a lot of people before and after who really don’t want you to do it, whatever it is,” he says. “You’re not going to make it to the Pole if it’s for someone else. When you’re out there, no one else matters. The only thing that exists is that 100-naut wind and the fact that it’s 70 below. The reason you’re doing it better be inside your chest.
“I love the change you go through when you attempt something like this,” he continues. “It’s the distance between where you were and where you went, and you always take a part of it with you. The voyage is more than just mileage; you’re evolving to somewhere, and you are a changed person. The person who took the first step is a completely different person than the one who took the last step.”
For his next feat of derring-do, he will traverse another expanse famous for its harshness: the appropriately named Death Valley on the California-Nevada border, where daytime temperatures in its hottest months—just when Carmichael plans to make his trek—spike in the neighborhood of 130 degrees. (“It’s 125 in the shade,” he says.) He had planned to make the trip this September, but an unexpected delay in the adoption of a son from Ethiopia put his plans on hold. His new target to conquer Death Valley: September 2012.
He’s attempted to cross the infamous desert before, but sometimes “it takes a couple chops at a piece of wood to split it,” he says. It is familiar territory to a degree, as Death Valley bears some likeness to Antarctica in terms of its vastness, lifelessness, severe temperatures and, as a result, lethality. He intends to make the 170-mile trek in less than 12 days, pulling hundreds of pounds of life-giving water and food in a self-made rickshaw.
Carmichael’s expeditions, he believes, actually make him a better parent. He and Hart have four children—“Five would be one tattoo too many,” he says—all of whom are adopted, including the son who was still in Ethiopia as of press time.
“The kids get to see how Dad does it: He gets the cooperation of those around him, sets a goal of how to achieve it, and then nails it,” he says. “It’s important that they see victory doesn’t come in an epiphany or a moment of brilliance; it’s part of your DNA.” —BD
Arts icon Herman Silverman, now 91, shows that it’s never too late to reinvent oneself
Silverman may be a bit of a misnomer, because nearly everything this 91-year-old businessman has been involved with has turned to gold. Herman Silverman is the founder or progenitor of many things: Sylvan Pools, once the country’s largest pool builder; the Silverman Family Partnership; the Art Mobile; the Doylestown Hospital Heart Club (now the Heart Institute); and, famously, The James A. Michener Art Museum. He’s also past president of his alma mater, Delaware Valley College, and board member of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
Hard work and creative thinking have helped his overcome obstacles he faced in both life and business. “Einstein,” he notes, “said that imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Perhaps this creativity was sparked by childhood visits he and his friends enjoyed to the nearby Philadelphia Art Museum. “I got to see all of this wonderful art,” he says, “and realize there was so much more to it.” In the early 1980s Silverman was working with officials to promote the arts in Bucks County through the creation of an Arts Council, the appointment of a poet laureate and the institution of a traveling Art Mobile that taught children about painting, sculpture and other mediums. But his ultimate goal was to create an art museum to showcase the style popularized in Bucks County during the first half of the century.
An opportunity to accomplish this presented itself in the form of a new jail; the relocation had left the county in charge of the former jail building, which stood in the heart of Doylestown. With the same drive and creative thinking that he employed to build his business, Silverman set out to turn the old jail into a museum. Among the first decisions made was the one to use the name of his well-known friend and Bucks County native, author James Michener. He and Michener had grown up in similar circumstances and agreed on the importance of public art. This selection enabled the organization to raise more funds than it could have otherwise. A prominent name alone was not enough, however, so Silverman and his fellow board members sold signed limited-edition prints and Key Club memberships to raise the funds needed for their goal. The James A. Michener Art Museum opened its doors to the public in 1988.
In 2011 Silverman brought his support of the arts directly to the artists. “The Michener celebrates old artists, but young, talented ones were having a hard time selling their work,” he says. “I asked, ‘What do you need?’ And they told me, ‘Wall space and publicity.’” Being the owner of several commercial spaces, with a keen eye for business and many connections in the community, Silverman knew he could change the public’s perception of the new artists’ value and opened The Silverman Gallery in Buckingham. The gallery offers “investment affordable art” showcased in an upscale gallery with a museum-like setting—professionally decorated and properly lit. “Good art is an investment, something you can pass on to your children,” he says. “It becomes more precious each year.”
Silverman has built quite a legacy to share with his four children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “I have been able to do all these things because of the encouragement and support of my first wife Ann (to whom he was married for 65 years before her death), my current wife Elizabeth Serkin and my family.” As for how he continues to accomplish so much: The secret, he says, is that he enjoys his life. For starters, each day he drives to the office in his BMW convertible.
“There is always time to do something else,” he says. —SAS
Military veterans who serve abroad find a friend in Bucks County attorney Kevin Zlock
Attorney Kevin Zlock has earned a sterling reputation in a line of work not always known for its warmth and fuzziness—namely, divorce law—yet a deep-running philanthropic streak proves that he has anything but a hardened heart.
Earlier this year, Zlock and his wife, Sima, donated $100,000 to establish a fund—the Kevin Zlock Veterans Family Endowment at Bucks County Community College in Newtown—to provide tuition assistance and other benefits for educating and otherwise improving the lives of veterans who have served the country abroad.
“With soldiers who are overseas and coming back, there are some things that are not available to them, or there are costs that may prohibit them from going back to school,” says Zlock, a former karate champion who received his undergraduate degree—a bachelor’s in history—from Lehigh University, where he played defensive tackle for the school’s football team. “Whatever soldiers and their families need, they could use this money to supplement what they receive in benefits from the government.”
The endowment is by no means the only charitable cause the Zlocks support. They recently gave sizeable donations to the Travis Manion Foundation in support of the 9/11 Heroes Run, for example, and A Women’s Place in Doylestown, among others.
In addition to his philanthropic work, Zlock fills his days and nights fighting for clients’ rights through his firm, which has offices in Langhorne and Doylestown. History suggests that perseverance and a fighting spirit flow through Zlock’s veins. When he was fresh out of law school, for example, he applied to the FBI, and he would have gone into the program at Quantico, Va., if a hiring freeze hadn’t urged him to practice law instead.
“We care for our clients; we care for their well-being; we protect them, and they know it,” he says. “Most of our referrals are from word of mouth, and that tells us that we’re doing well.” —BD
Multitalented John McColgan—painter, inventor, venture capitalist, etc.—proves the term “job title” has no meaning
Based on his curiously diverse résumé, one might suspect John McColgan is saddled with a nagging case of attention deficit disorder. With “job titles” such as inventor, painter, musician/composer, producer, venture capitalist, philanthropist, etc., and the countless stories culled from his experiences at home and abroad, it seems he could give Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” character a run for his money.
“I’ve been fortunate to connect with so many good people—that’s the main thing for me—but they have to have desire, inspiration and passion in whatever they are doing,” says McColgan, born in Geneva, Switzerland, and now living near Princeton, N.J., after years spent in Bucks County. “Money goes away. Looks go away. But good relationships and connecting with people can create experiences that are never forgotten and can be passed on.
“I don’t really have a specific job title,” he continues. “I always felt that if the tides weren’t running in my direction, why try to force a square peg into a round hole? … My focus is more or less to be as effective as I possibly can be, no matter what it is, whether it’s in art or creative thinking, inventing new products or in the development of a business.”
Regardless, all the projects he undertakes share a common denominator: Each one must somehow increase the quality of someone else’s life. Such thinking guided him in the invention of a next-generation air purification using nanotechnology catalysts, specifically heterogeneous catalyzed photolysis hydration, which he has since sold to another company.
McColgan spent part of his life traveling in the remotest reaches of the Caribbean, South America and Australia, among other places, where he met shamans and “medicine men” who introduced him to plants with healing properties that could, say, relieve pain or help stroke victims regain their vitality. (He’s also the inventor of the Jugular PainFighter, which is designed to soothe aching joints and muscles, as well as overseeing all of the formulations for the Jugular and Go For The Jugular brand of products: drinks, shots and gels directed to the Mixed Martial Arts and sports arena.) He is currently working on a new product in conjunction with Laurel Roberts, daughter of “Horse Whisperer” Monty Roberts.
As for any regrets about returning to civilization after such memorable adventures abroad, he has none. “For me to melt down and be living in the rainforest or on an island somewhere, I’m not making use of what I’ve learned,” he says. “I’ve had a great time throughout my life, but you’ve got to use your knowledge to help people. It’s got to be shared in a sense. It goes against the very core principles of life not to.”
McColgan’s approach is echoed in his philanthropic efforts. In 2007, he helped fund the opening of the Peace Valley Holistic Center in Chalfont with Dr. Christina Davis. The center is devoted to advanced techniques in light therapy as a way to help children with special needs improve their abilities to communicate with others and become integrated into the mainstream population. “In one or two visits to the center, autistic kids are able to complete tasks they couldn’t before,” he says. “When parents see what their kids have been able to do here, they cry.”
For his part, McColgan has found healing and catharsis through painting. He began creating his own art at the age of 3, while living in Barcelona, Spain, and his skill and style have evolved with time; in recent years he has completed more than 100 works in the so-called mandala style, for example. He refers to his current style as “abstract expressionism.” Ever the nonconformist, he makes his own paints using high-density pigments with his own polymeric formulation, and also employs distinctive “tools”—twine wrapped around twigs with nails, for example—to create vibrant, strikingly original pieces, some of which measure 6 feet by 10 feet. He has never wanted to exhibit his art publicly until recently, so his work is likely to become much more visible in the near future.
“For me, painting is a communication tool,” says McColgan, who paints under the name Jon Mora in tribute to his Catalan Spanish roots. “I will end up sculpting and painting full time once I retire, though I would never look at it solely as a career. When I’m creating art, it intertwines into all aspects of my life and helps me to gain a better, cleaner perspective on everything. The beauty is I never sit down and say I am going to paint anything specifically, but it always seems to turn out positive.” —BD
Marketing expert and author Jeffrey Dobkin turns his attention to building a nonprofit he hopes can help save lives
His name is Jeffrey Dobkin, and even though his background is more closely linked to marketing rather than medicine, you almost want to call him “Doctor.” He’s uncovered a surprisingly uncomplicated and somewhat controversial procedure—the Dobkin Technique, he calls it—he believes can stave off brain damage after the body has technically died.
“This has been a purely intellectual pursuit,” says Dobkin, a Bala Cynwyd resident and marketing expert who has authored five published books about marketing. “Every doctor I’ve ever mentioned it to asks, ‘Are you a doctor?’ They think anyone who’s not a physician, how could they know anything about the human body?”
He understands that such dubiousness is understandable, to a degree. He started researching the topic in 1977, after reading an article in Newsweek about a boy who fell into ice-cold water and, even after being plucked from the depths 45 minutes later, suffered no significant brain injury. Dobkin then became “obsessed” with the idea and, at a time before e-mail and Skype, gathered background materials and medical papers from around the world by way of Teletype. His conclusion: Damage to the human brain as a result of lack of oxygen—also known as anoxia—can be delayed by up to an hour by triggering a response known as the mammalian diving reflex.
He advocates a simple technique to trigger this “delay of brain damage” in victims of cardiac arrest and other forms of anoxia by immediately applying cold, wet compresses to the face—particularly the eyes—of the victim until emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene. Of course, he also advocates learning proven lifesaving techniques such as CPR.
“Suppose you live 20 minutes out in the country and someone you love has a heart attack and you don’t know how to do CPR,” he says. “You’re faced with one horrible scene, and that is you call 911 and just stand there and watch. … That’s where this technique comes in handy, at least until the first responders arrive.”
Dobkin has made his Merion Station-based organization, The Brain Injury Foundation (BrainInjuryFoundation.org), into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, thereby enabling him to garner support monies to fund his research. In addition, he’s in the process of applying for grants he believes will enable him to partner with respected medical professionals to further bear out his theory.
“My technique is done to people who are technically already dead, so I don’t have a great deal of exposure,” he says. “I’ve held back my theory for years, but now I’m thinking I have this theory that has the potential to save lives, and if it can save lives, it’s worth it.” —BD
The code of “work hard, play hard” finds new meaning with Dr. Edward Woehling
The modern-day adventurer no longer carries a spyglass and map; these days, explorers have day jobs. In this vein, Dr. Edward Woehling wields a dental pick in his practice, Bryn Mawr Periodontal Associates, but still finds time to travel the world.
“I have always lived by the philosophy of working hard and playing hard,” he says. “I love adventure and seeing new places. Over the years I have worked hard to combine the success in my profession with the ability to travel to wonderful destinations all over the world.”
Interested in science and research-oriented academics, Dr. Woehling always knew he wanted to be in the field of health care. As his career objectives and skill levels developed, he focused his talents on a “people-oriented, problem-focused profession” by pursuing a career in dental medicine. Bryn Mawr Periodontal Associates now has offices on the Main Line and in Allentown. “I feel that my successes have come largely through hard work, dedication, and insistence upon excellence and attention to detail,” he says. “I have been extremely fortunate to work with and be associated with a great group of [people].”
Dr. Woehling’s travels have taken him fly fishing beside Kodiak brown bears in the Aleutian Islands, hiking in the Alps, jumping out of a helicopter to ski the Rockies, and scuba diving barrier reefs with sharks. Most recently Dr. Woehling traveled to Portillo, Chile, in the Andes to snow ski at 13,000 feet. An avid photographer, his favorite souvenirs are the photographs that fill his attic, not to mention multiple disc drives. He also enjoys golf, tennis and spending time with his family. “I have been very lucky,” he says, “to have a supportive family that allows me to ‘break out’ from time to time.”
His wife, JoAnne Woehling, was recently named one of the top pediatricians in the country by U.S. News & World Report and is medical director of Kids First at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Together they are raising three daughters who they encourage to follow their dreams, just as his parents had done for him. “My mother and father encouraged me at a young age to pursue excellence,” he says. “They encouraged me to break away from the norm and afforded me those wings of opportunity as a teenager,” he says. “My family presently gives me the tacit ‘head nod’ to move forward with life and live it to the fullest.”
Dr. Woehling’s family has embarked on adventures both with and without him, including living in the Costa Rican rain forest, where they assisted native families with chores and everyday work to “pay it forward.” Philanthropy is an important aspect of the family’s lifestyle. Each year his practice is part of the Annual Main Line Dental Golf Invitational, now in its 13th year, at the Moselem Springs Golf Club. This year the two-day spring outing will donate proceeds to an as-yet-undetermined charitable cause.
“I really do not feel that everyone has to be an ‘adventurer,’ but would advise to try to do as many things as you are able in your lifetime, whether it be by yourself [or] with family or friends,” he says. “Life is short. Explore, learn, share, give to others—all old adages but they hold so much truth.” —SAS
For compassionate entrepreneur Jeff Brandt, “doing good” leads to “doing well”
If you ask Jeff Brandt, making a difference in other people’s lives is just good business.
Like many students, Brandt realized after his first year of college that his chosen major no longer interested him. But, unlike most, he spent that year’s summer break volunteering at a facility that fit patients with prosthetics and orthotics.
“I had looked through some trade magazines and felt it fit my skill set,” he says. Physical aspects such as fabrication and design, combined with the caring nature of health care, appealed to him. “My mom kept asking how I was going to pay for college if I kept volunteering, but I told her the money didn’t matter; it was important to get the experience—and it was rewarding.”
After becoming highly trained, getting every certification he could and doing a residency in each specialty, Brandt practiced for several years before starting his own company in 2004: Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, which is based in Exton. The company specializes in evaluating, designing and fitting patients with artificial limbs, braces and other prostheses engineered to help them live better, fuller lives.
Ability has since spawned two complementary businesses: Symmetry Post Mastectomy Solutions, which provides mastectomy prosthetics; and Kinetic Revolution, a product development company.
“Patient-care practitioners were coming to us with ideas,” Brandt says. “This [company] gives them a pipeline to bring products to the market and bear out test results.” The company already has three products on the market, which it has been able to provide in Ability’s many offices. Together the companies have 40 employees, which Brandt describes as being “as close to family as 40 people can be,” and says the good relationship shows in the high quality of patient care they collectively provide.
Quality care is not limited to the business. “You are a product of your experiences,” he says, referring to the companies’ charitable efforts. It struck him as odd that his previous employers would accept insurance money from patients who suffered from a disability but not donate to the charities created to help those patients. “You cannot operate in a community and expect to succeed if you won’t get involved,” he says. “It is easy to write a check; it is not as easy to spend a Saturday [volunteering].
“If you don’t sacrifice, are you really giving?”
Brandt’s 11 offices, spread across five states, are involved with programs in each of the communities in which they do business. Among them: sponsoring charitable 5K runs, health fairs and the Adaptive Sports Program of the West Chester YMCA, which organizes a monthly activity for disabled participants who want to learn a new sport. Ability is also active with Physicians for Peace, which accepts used artificial limbs Brandt pays to have shipped to his office and organizes Scout troops to disassemble. The components are then distributed globally to where they are needed.
“When you are doing a good job,” Brandt believes, “it comes back to you.” But, he says, “you have to put yourself out there to be vulnerable.” Recently, Ability learned of a 16-year-old amputee who was raising funds to purchase his own prosthetic arm. It was not known if the patient’s insurance would assist, so Ability offered to provide the prosthetic at cost. When the insurance company came back and agreed to pay, he chose to put the money into a fund to help someone else. The story was then submitted to the reality show, “Extreme Home Makeover,” and the show’s producers decided to feature the young man—including Ability’s involvement—in an episode that is expected to air sometime in November.
“When you can help a patient become mobile … well,” he says, “there are few career paths where you can be so effective.” —SAS
Radio executive Dave Scopinich thrives with his commitment to continual reinvention
In September 2005, Dave Scopinich stood atop California’s signature peak—Half Dome (elevation: 8,836 feet) in Yosemite National Park—halfway through what a fellow climber described to him as North America’s most grueling day hike.
There on the bald granite, thousands of feet above the valley floor, Scopinich “cried like a baby,” not bothering to shield his eyes from the friends with whom he’d scaled the mammoth peak. Such naked emotion is understandable, considering his accomplishment. Although the hike posed a formidable physical challenge in a landscape serene enough to steal one’s breath, his tears were more the result of an achievement whose beginnings could be traced to a day several months—and tens of excess pounds—earlier, when he was a completely different person.
His weight-loss success story took a brief detour in the months and years after he got off the mountain. Although other parts of his life were flowering—a happy marriage; the joys of fatherhood (one girl, two boys); and a career that had him growing steadily into management positions for powerhouses in Philadelphia radio—he steadily regained much of the weight he’d lost.
Scopinich, 36, studied journalism at Penn State University, and worked as a reporter before realizing he wasn’t going to be “the next Mitch Albom” as a sportswriter or novelist. He also had a significant obstacle to overcome—lingering debt from sports bets he’d been making since the age of 15—and thought a sales job would be the best way to climb out of the red. Although he declined to specify the amount he owed—“a big number,” he says—it was enough for some friends to advise him to declare bankruptcy, though he never did.
“I regret that I did something stupid, but I don’t regret whatever path it created that led me to being a happily married father of three in a career that I love,” he says. “This might be me trying to cram my current career into what my dream was as a kid. … For a journalist, your job is to make people feel something, to give them new ideas, to give them new ways of thinking about things. My job [in sales] is to tell compelling stories that make people feel something and maybe open their eyes up to a new opportunity.”
As for Half Dome, Scopinich returned in August of this year, once again reaching the top as a renewed man; he shed more than 60 pounds in the course of training for the climb. He intends to make the pilgrimage to the Yosemite Valley every few years, next time with his family. “Not only is it beautiful there,” he says, “but for me personally, for what it’s been able to help me do, it’s special to me.”
In the meantime, Scopinich—a self-described “anti-vegans vegan” who consumes no animal products but flips burgers and hot dogs for his family during barbecues; a news-and-politics junkie and social libertarian/fiscal conservative who aspires to run for office; and the funniest man in any room—has a new challenge in mind to help him shed more weight: training for his first sprint triathlon, set for next June in Philadelphia. —BD