The list of influential people in Phil Villapiano’s life is an impressive one.
It all started with his father, Gus, but then came along Asbury Park High School football coach Butch Bruno and Bowling Green State University football coach Don Nehlen. After Villapiano was drafted by the Oakland Raiders, he was mentored by John Madden and the late franchise owner Al Davis, before playing for Chuck Knox and the Buffalo Bills.
Nowadays, the 64-year-old Rumson resident’s influences include his wife, Susan, as well as the many friends, business associates and fundraising partners who help him on various projects throughout a year.
“Surrounding yourself with good people is the answer,” said Villapiano, the vice president of sales for Odyssey Logistics & Technology based in Danbury, Conn., and the national vice president for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), with which he’s been associated since 1971.
“I’ve been lucky. I had many great people who helped mold me into who I became, and now I’m realizing more and more every day how many good people are in Rumson and all over the Jersey Shore. All these people have helped me as an individual.”
But it’s how many Villapiano has helped that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
He’s been with MDA since 1971, organizing dozens of special fundraising events of which the proceeds have benefited those with muscular dystrophy and ALS. He also has helped with getting additional funds for several local athletic associations.
And since last year, after superstorm Sandy smashed the Jersey coast, Villapiano has been tirelessly working to organize fundraising events and getting materials delivered to hundreds of people affected by the storm through the organization Saving the Jersey Shore, of which he is vice president.
“Phil’s got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in a human being,” said Rumson resident and Saving the Jersey Shore president Warren Diamond, the CEO of American Real Estate Management. “I believe he’s done more to give back to the state and its people than any other professional athlete from New Jersey. He always finds time to help people. When something happens, he’s the first one there to help.”
Traveling a lot for business, bouncing between organization and clientele meetings, and maintaining a solid family life, Villapiano seems to constantly be in motion. Still, the former NFL linebacker never gets deterred.
“I like that pace,” he said. “I’m 64 and I run around like I’m still 24. My mother always used to tell me, ‘Phil, you’ve got to learn to say no.’ But that’s just not very easy for me. I like people. I like the situations where I can help out. I don’t mind rolling up my sleeves and getting things done. That stuff keeps me going and I never stop thinking about any of it.”
Kevin Leahy, Villapiano’s next-door neighbor and the former director of Pershing LLC, knows very well what makes his friend tick.
“He absolutely loves getting behind people and helping them,” Leahy said. “When he speaks, it’s all about winning. With him, the motto is ‘Just win, baby!’
“And he does it by sticking with his strengths. He’s versatile. He has a personality that makes people enjoy being around him, and he’s the glue that holds a lot of things together. He takes care of people. He visits people. He maintains relationships. And what you see is what you get.”
Rumson mayor John Ekdahl said Villapiano is an asset to not only his community but the entire Jersey Shore.
“The thing that strikes you most about Phil is that, whatever the project is or entails, he brings an incredible amount of enthusiasm to it and it becomes infectious so that everybody else involved wants to make something big happen,” he said. “And he definitely knows how to make things happen, and he’s a delight to be around. Phil’s the real deal.”
Susan Villapiano said her husband’s love of the Shore runs deep.
“When we were vacationing in California once, I asked him why we wouldn’t just settle out there,” she said. “But Phil has such a pride and love for this area. There’s no way he’d be anywhere else.”
And whether it’s presenting at a business meeting, getting various celebrities to play in a golf tournament, or playing in that tournament, enjoyment is the key to success for Villapiano.
“I was telling my son this just the other day,” he said. “You set goals and you go out and get them. You separate business and pleasure, but you enjoy both. And that’s what I do. No matter what I’m doing, I enjoy it.”