2011: The Year in Review
Suburban Life remembers 12 remarkable months
by Bill Donahue and Sharon A. Shaw


It’s official: 2011 is dead; long live 2012.


The 365 days collectively known as 2011 had their share of ups and downs as well as plenty of in-betweens. Month by month, we got alternately encouraging and ominous signs on the economic front, while luminaries both near and far filled our minds with things to weigh other than the problems of the world.


Of course, our beloved sports teams gave us a lot to be proud of, but not nearly enough by most fans’ standards, mainly because many pundits picked at least three of our local pro teams (Phillies, Eagles and Flyers) to contend for championships—if not win it all—while another (Sixers) showed much promise for the near future. The year also held its share of tragedy and heartache, both at home and abroad, such as the 10-year “anniversary” of the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


Here’s our look back at the year we knew as 2011.





To kick off 2011, Suburban Life interviewed Pat Croce, Philadelphia’s favorite inspirational icon. The Main Line resident, New York Times bestselling author and former owner of the Sixers shared insights about his trademark intensity, his freakishly high fitness level and his unusual ability to multitask effectively … oh, and his keen interest in pirates; in late 2010, Croce moved his Florida-based pirate museum, Pirate Soul, from Key West to St. Augustine, resulting in a significant improvement in museum attendance. “I’m not one to have regrets,” Croce said. “Like I say in my speeches, don’t smell like ‘should.’ Wipe the ‘should’ off yourself. Forget ‘should.’ If you should do it, then do it.”


The Year in Quotes

“If I’m doing a political interview, I know I have to ask tough questions. … I won’t hold back from pushing further even if I feel like I’m making the person uncomfortable.”

—Terry Gross, host of NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” which is based in Philadelphia, spoke to us about the pluses and minuses of having a famous voice, her famous on-air bouts with rock star Gene Simmons and Bill O’Reilly, and, above all else, the art of the interview. [“Getting Fresh,” January]





In this issue, we spoke with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the hugely successful book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” an autobiographical account of a globetrotting adventure in the wake of a broken marriage in search of freedom, happiness and whatever comes next. Now living in Frenchtown, N.J., just across the river from Uhlerstown in Bucks County, Gilbert and her husband, Felipe—the man she wrote about toward the conclusion of her bestselling book—run a small business and live life in a place that “doesn’t move at the pace of the outside world.” Gilbert had been working on a new novel and—no surprise—planning another trip, and it’s likely the two will be intertwined, she said: “My weakness as a writer is invention, and my strength is as a reflection of the world, so I need to go out and roll around in it before I can really get my head around what I want to say.”  


The Year in Quotes

“It’s amazing to me that this eating disorder has taken me this far.”

—Bill Simmons, better known by his alter ego El Wingador and five-time champion of the “blue-collar pageant” known as Wing Bowl, spoke about his role in the curiously gluttonous mishmash of sport and spectacle held every year in South Philly the Friday before the Super Bowl. Simmons failed to win a sixth title at the 2011 Wing Bowl—just one wing shy of the winning 255—in the event’s final clash against three-time champ Jonathan “Super” Squibb. [“No Gluttony, No Glory,” February]





Last March veteran NHL defenseman Sean O’Donnell (then a Flyer, now a Chicago Blackhawk) talked about the importance of playing on a team—the Orange and Black—that every year strives to compete for professional sports’ most treasured prize: the Stanley Cup. Despite some late-season inconsistency, the Flyers easily made the playoffs but succumbed in an early round to the eventual champs, the Boston Bruins. In the offseason, O’Donnell parted ways with the team, but he wasn’t the only casualty of what turned out to be a disappointing season. General manager Paul Holmgren effectively dismantled the 2010-11 squad, trading away cornerstone forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and bringing in No. 1 goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, among other moves. Fast-forward to the 2011-12 season and the moves appear to be paying dividends, with the team positioned well in the standings despite a rash of injuries suffered by the likes of star defenseman (and team captain) Chris Pronger and center Claude Giroux.


The Year in Quotes

“Those are long days. … If you didn’t know how to center yourself and meditate, you kind of wanted to go out of your skin a little bit.”

—Scranton-born Melanie Smith, former star of “Seinfeld,” “As the World Turns,” etc., who retired from acting to right her “emotional alignment” by opening a yoga studio in New Hope, spoke about the rigors of acting, her love of yoga and her career transition from the small screen to holistic health. [“A Different Pose,” March]





Ruben Amaro Jr. made the Phillies the team to beat last December when he brought pitching ace Cliff Lee back to the fold, thereby giving the Fightin’ Phils—already stocked with studs Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels—the best one-two-three punch in the majors. “We’ve gone through a lot of nights where we thanked our lucky stars for the position we are in,” Amaro said. “There are times at night when I think to myself, Wow, I can’t believe where we’ve come from where we started.” Expectations were painfully high heading into the postseason, but the Phils lost—much too quietly, other than the season-ending play that left first baseman Ryan Howard yowling in pain along the first-base line—in the National League Division Series (much like the Flyers) to the eventual champs, the St. Louis Cardinals.


The Year in Quotes

“We can’t build enough moats in this country to keep each other separate from those who appear to be different.”

—Angela King, Pennsylvania resident and reformed hate-group member who spent time in prison for her role in a violent crime, spoke about the prominence of hate groups in the Keystone State and elsewhere, and how she transformed herself from a hateful white supremacist to a champion of peace and tolerance. [“On the Rise,” April]





With the Philadelphia Union drawing a dedicated—if not downright crazed—crowd each and every game to PPL Park in Chester, Suburban Life spoke with Zach Pfeffer, the teenaged wunderkind who made the team as a midfielder despite still being a student at Upper Dublin High School. “The most important thing is to make sure I do well here,” he said. “The Union is doing well here in Philadelphia, and hopefully I’ll be able to be a top player here in the next few years.” He played three games for the Union in 2011 and, assuming he continues to develop his already formidable skills, figures to become an even bigger part of the Union’s lineup as the 2012 season gets underway.


The Year in Quotes

“These are good dogs in bad situations. And despite all they’ve been through, these animals are still very loving.”

—Donna Marie Buscaglia, owner of The Bark Avenue Boutique in Ardmore, spoke about her positive experiences in adopting rescued dogs from area shelters. She describes one of them, a 150-pound Rottweiler named Caesar, as “a gentle giant.” [“Rescue Me,” May]





M. Night Shyamalan, Philadelphia’s best-known director of creepy psychological thrillers, has built a career out of making people squirm in their seats. In the June issue, he and his wife, Bhavna, spoke to Suburban Life about efforts they’re making locally—and globally—to improve the quality of life for people with limited means by supporting nonprofits and NGOs focused on education, farming and other benevolent causes. “It’s hard to control people if they are educated,” Night said. “It’s hard to keep them suppressed.” The Shyamalans have a selfish reason—sort of—for making such investments: to serve as positive role models for their three young daughters. “We want them to see that it’s possible to do something positive in the world as an agent of change,” Night said.


The Year in Quotes

“Writing can be a lonely business: It’s you, in a room, with a blank screen, listening to the voices in your head.”

—Author Jennifer Weiner, Princeton alum and Philadelphia resident, spoke about her bestselling novels (including “Then Came You,” which dropped in July), the vividness of her characters and her role as executive producer of the ABC Family sitcom “State of Georgia,” which has since been canceled. [“Word Girl,” June]





Like a fine wine, Dick Vermeil gets better with age. Vermeil, a Chester County resident who coached the Philadelphia Eagles into the 1980 Super Bowl only to bow to the world-champion Oakland Raiders, finally got his due in 1999 when his St. Louis Rams prevailed in the big game. Retired from football (for now) since 2005, Vermeil spends most of his free time growing the presence of his premium wine label, Vermeil Wines, which is based in his native Napa Valley, Calif., as well as multiple speaking engagements. In July, he spoke about his storybook coaching career, his love of wine and the passion and emotion that made him forever beloved in Philadelphia: “You’ve got to be what you are. I had embarrassed myself emotionally a number of times [in press conferences], but I’ve learned to live with it. I used to consider it a weakness, but now I just accept it as me being who I am.”


The Year in Quotes

“I don’t remember any pain, but I do remember how quickly it happened. It took me and two other people to unwind the coils and get the snake back in his cage.”

—An anonymous PR professional based in Montgomery County, spoke about how his fascination with large reptiles resulted in him getting attacked by a 10-foot Burmese python. He’s in the midst of an ongoing skirmish over whether local residents should have the right to own exotic pets such as large constrictors, venomous reptiles and big cats. [“Where the Wild Things Are,” July]





Greater Philadelphia has become a central gathering point for superior health-care professionals in nearly every discipline. In this month’s issue, Suburban Life highlighted approximately 175 locally based physicians noted for being the best in their field—as well as being thoughtful characters with varied interests and hobbies, ranging from novel writing and world travel to “being a force for good in the world,” said Dr. Glenn DeBias, an aesthetic physician with offices in Doylestown and King of Prussia. Several physicians shared lessons learned in the office and the operating room, such as this gem from Dr. John H. Marks, whose Wynnewood-based practice is rooted in colon and rectal surgery: “There is no substitute for hard work. Luck certainly favors the prepared.”


The Year in Quotes

“When I think back I have a much harder time remembering the bad stuff [in Somalia and Haiti]; mainly I’m just remembering the funny stuff, which is kind of a blessing.”

—Christian Bauman, former soldier and troubadour turned novelist, spoke about his time serving the U.S. military in trouble spots abroad, and how the things he saw and experienced there helped him reinvent himself once he returned stateside. [“Safe at Home,” August]





Michael Vick has been a polarizing figure locally ever since it was announced he would suit up as quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. His conviction and jail sentence stemming from his involvement in a dog-fighting ring made some locals scratch their heads when the team inked him to serve as a backup to then-starting QB Donovan McNabb. Many fans quickly proved that solid on-field performance makes up for a lot of past sins. “There’s always pressure in this game, every year,” Vick said, “whether you have a great team or your team is just average.” Although Vick has showed moments of brilliance, he hasn’t taken the Eagles the distance … yet. Things didn’t go quite as planned for him—or the rest of the team—in 2011, as injuries and too many late-game mistakes combined to knock the team out of playoff contention in a season that many fans had expected to end with a championship parade.


The Year in Quotes

“We were happy when September 12th came, and it’s been the same way every year since.”

—Peter Shihadeh of Ardmore’s Shihadeh Carpets, spoke about his memories of the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which claimed the life of his sister, Bonnie, and how his family’s wounds have “mostly healed” in the time since. The 10-year anniversary was a somber event in the Philadelphia suburbs; of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in the attacks, more than 30 had close ties to Bucks, Chester, Delaware and/or Montgomery counties. [“9/11: Ten Years Later,” September]





Former Willow Grove resident Jill Biden, now wife of Vice President Biden, has enjoyed plenty of firsts in her role as “second wife”: first to hold a paying job, as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College; first to earn her doctorate in her 50s; and the first (and, possibly, the last) to wear a Phillies jacket while rooting for the Fightin’ Phils during a World Series. Biden is hoping her husband earns a second term in the White House, as President Obama’s right-hand man, but whether or not that happens she’s likely to stay busier than most as she continues her teaching career and pursues other interests tied to promoting education. “There are so many opportunities and I just can’t miss out on them,” she said. “We’re either here for four years or eight years, and I want to be a part of every moment of it.”


The Year in Quotes

“It probably was a turning point … where you respect what you have and how you look at life. At this point I look at it like it was almost an exhilarating experience.”

—Ring announcer Michael Buffer, a Roslyn native whose silky baritone has kick-started countless sports contents and pop-culture events since the 1980s, spoke about his unlikely career … and how it almost came screeching to a halt several years ago when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He has since recovered and returned to the ring and, in December, was named a 2012 inductee to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum. ["In This Corner ..." October]





The long-lingering recession has hurt everyone, but perhaps no one more so than recent college graduates—or those who will soon graduate, such as Penn State senior Allie Cislak—who can’t find professional jobs in their chosen field of study. “With this economy, many schools are experiencing budget cuts and pay freezes,” Cislak said. “I am hoping that if schools that are being forced to let go of teachers due to budget cuts, being a first-year teacher with only a bachelor’s degree will make [me] a more affordable candidate for a job position.” Although the economy has shown steady signs of improving, public- and private-sector efforts to jolt the economy out its years-long funk have been slow going indeed. Economic malaise hasn’t been limited to the United States, however, with intensifying worry coming out of Europe as 2011 drew to a close.


The Year in Quotes

“[Pregnancy] certainly changes the dreams a parent has for their child when they say ‘I’m pregnant’ or ‘My girlfriend is pregnant.’ Nobody wishes for pregnant teens, but we let them know the situation is OK and tell them, ‘You don’t have to give up your dreams, just adjust them.’”

—Kathy Dwyer of Child Home Community, a United Way nonprofit based in Doylestown, spoke about pregnancy among area teens and its effects on their future. Although teen pregnancy nationwide dropped 37 percent from 1991 to 2009, those who do endure the challenges that come with parenthood have more resources than ever to help them get back on their feet once the baby arrives. ["Pregnant Pause," November]





Apart from Chicago or New Orleans, it’s tough to think of a city with a worse political record than Philadelphia. So it’s easy to see why Chris Matthews, who grew up in the city’s Nicetown section, developed such a strong fascination with politics. In this issue, he spoke about how he spends his time when he’s not on screen and the arrival of his new book about JFK and his search for truth among the politicos and other luminaries who appear on the television programs he hosts. “The joy of the job is to get the truth out of people,” he said. “Or catching some B.S. artist and exposing them. I like that.”


The Year in Quotes

“I didn’t know how much work it would be, and that it would be work that I love.”

—Jennifer Utley, wife of a certain Phillies second baseman and certainly a champion in her own right, spoke of her lifelong love of animals and how that passion blossomed in the form of several efforts designed to raise awareness of animal abuse locally. She and her husband, Chase, also work closely with area children to eliminate animal abuse at a time when kids still have a strong appreciation for animals. ["Animal Attraction," December]