16 Philly Celebs on the Best Gift They Ever Received

From Merrill Reese and Brent Celek to Jim Kenney and Cecily Tynan, some of our city's biggest names on the gifts they still love.

Philly Gifts

Philly’s who’s who on the best gift ever. | Photo collage by Emily Goulet.

You can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their holiday wish list. You can tell even more about a person by what stands out as their favorite gift of all time. We got a peek into the psyche of some of Philly’s most recognizable personalities by asking them about the best,  most-loved presents they’ve ever received. Take a trip down memory lane with local celebrities, from newscasters and Eagles players to real estate moguls and our Mayor elect, and find out exactly what tugs at their heartstrings.

John Bolaris, meteorologist/real state agent: “Besides my daughter, my best gift I ever received is called ‘Next Level.’ I can’t really tell you what it is. It’s classes on commitment to breaking through things that hold you back on different levels in your life and being committed to yourself. You control everything you do; there’s no hiding.”

Merrill Reese, longtime radio voice of the Eagles: “The best gift I ever got was when we lived in a house with a backyard and my parents got me and my sister an ice skating rink. It was a large piece of roll-out plastic with a wire fence around it. It was 20 feet by 20 feet. You would put water in it, but the water never froze! It got a few little icicles, and when we went in, we tore the whole bottom with our ice skates. What can be better than having your own ice skating rink in the backyard?”

Gregory Corbin, poet and executive director at Philly Youth Poetry Movement: “One year, I got a Walkman and a Heavy D & the Boyz cassette, along with a Public Enemy album, and Billy Ocean’s greatest hits. I was the only 10-year-old singing ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’ and ‘Mr. Big Stuff.’ It was the first Walkman I got that did auto-reverse, where you didn’t have to take the tape out.”

Allan Domb, real estate mogul: “Nine years ago the staff at Barclay Prime, about 35 of them, took a special photograph of all of them at the restaurant and gave it to me for the holidays. It’s special because from this picture we track everyone and their success within the Starr Restaurant Organization.”

Varsovia Fernandez, president & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: “I remember getting a bike for christmas when I was like seven or either years old. I loved that bike. I tried it out and ran straight into the gate, boom!”

Cecily Tynan, 6ABC reporter: “A Schwinn bike when I was five.  I remember it like it was yesterday: royal blue (my favorite color), banana seat (really cool at the time) and silver streamers on the handlebars (for that extra sparkle). Best thing about the bike: it came with removable training wheels. I was in kindergarten at the time and my competitive spirit had been building for months after a boy in our neighborhood announced in preschool that he could bike without training wheels. So, for several months I had been begging my parents to upgrade me from my old Big Wheels to a “big kid” bike. They said I was too young. Finally, when I took my cause to a higher power, Santa (who I found out years later was actually Mr. Proterra from up the street), he suggested I get a bike with removable training wheels, and get my parents to take them off once I prove my bike-handling skills to them.  Sure enough, that bike was under the tree for my fifth Christmas. And by the time the snow in my front yard had melted, those training wheels were off!”

Beka Rendell, founder and creative director of Styled Creative: “One of my favorite gifts I ever received was from my husband, Jesse. Since I was a young girl I have been intrigued and inspired by Martha Stewart and the empire she was building. I subscribed to her magazines, enjoyed the creativity of entertaining and eventually turned my love into a career. Jesse surprised me with her book and two tickets to her show which would be a fun day in New York with a friend, but then he said, ‘After the show I arranged for you to have a sit-down with Martha.’ I was in complete shock that he had gone to such great lengths to let me have a few minutes with someone who I admired to talk to her about business and introduce her to my business. Giving the gift of an experience for me is far better than any tangible item.”

Matt Cord, Sixers arena announcer and WMMR DJ: “This was like two years ago, my mother, out of nowhere, got me this really good road bike – a specialized 21-speed Allez bicycle. This is the mother who usually gives you, like, fifty bucks.”

Preston Elliot, WMMR Preston & Steve Show host: “My favorite gift came about ten years ago when my wife gave me a toy firetruck.  It came complete with flashing lights, siren and controllable ladder.  The reason this was so special to me was that it came from a story that I told her about my heartache in kindergarten: Every day at playtime you could grab whatever toy you wanted to play with as long as you got to it first. I guess I just wasn’t fast enough because not one single time during that whole year of school did I ever get my hands on that coveted truck. I probably told her that story much earlier in the year but she held onto that information and made sure that I got it for Christmas. I still have it. And it’s still my favorite.”

Jim Kenney, Mayor Elect: “My kids are obviously the best gift I ever got, but in terms of material objects I got a piece of the net after the Neumann Goretti girls basketball team won their championship.”


Mary Dougherty, owner of Nicole Miller Philadelphia: “The best holiday gift I ever got was when I thought my husband forgot Christmas. We went out to lunch and he handed me an envelope that looked like a work envelope, and I was so mad at him; I wasn’t even talking to him at lunch. He got a beautiful bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne and handed me the envelope. Inside, it had a picture pulled out of a magazine with a girl in a fur coat. He had taken my photo and pasted it on the picture and had written “Let’s go shopping”on the picture. We spent the year shopping for my brand-new fur coat, and at the end of the year, we ended up purchasing it and it was amazing.”

Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles tight end: “The best holiday gift I received was a motorcycle when I was young. I love riding dirt bikes. My favorite thing to do besides playing football.”

Rakia Reynolds, president of Skai Blue Media: “I’ll never forget Christmas at 10 years old. I’d been very specific on my Christmas list asking for an all-black miniature toy poodle. I was on the precipice of believing in Santa or giving in to what all of my classmates were saying about Santa being the biggest poseur known to man. I’d only seen apricot and white miniature toy poodles and I thought, if Santa is real, he will bring me a teeny-tiny dose of black that barks and will be sure to be my best friend. I remember waking up at 5:30am that morning to all-black moving piece of coal that barked and licked me! Coincidentally, this Christmas, my oldest daughter has asked for an all-black pug, which is the rarest of the breed. I’m calling on Aladdin, Glinda (the Good Witch of the north), and Merlin the wizard to see me through this one.”

Nick Stuccio, president and producing director of FringeArts: “A really cute girl I liked in seventh grade wrapped up a big bag of mini Snickers (my fave) and each and every mini bar was also perfectly wrapped with a bow. I was psyched because, ya know, I was 13 and I had a whole bag of candy bars, but also super-thrilled and super-freaked that she went to that much trouble for me! Did I eat them? No way, I was in love.”

Nicholas Elmi, Top Chef winner and Laurel chef-owner: “The Ewok Village, CrossFire, or the first Ghostbuster game for Nintendo. This is really going to hurt me to say this, as I grew up in Massachusetts and am a lifelong Red Sox fan, but my parents bought me Phillies Sunday Season tickets about six years ago. Every other Sunday, my wife and I went down to the stadium and got to watch the Phils play. I think what made it special was that my wife and I had just gotten married but I was still at Le Bec-Fin, a hectic, busy (read: maddening) time in my life, so I essentially never got to see her. It forced us to take time every other Sunday and just be with each other, and relax and enjoy each other’s company. You forget how easy it is to get wrapped up in a job and let life start speeding away from you and the people you love. This was our time to remind each other why we said ‘I do.’ Plus the Phillies could actually field a professional team at the time so that helped.”

Adam Joseph, 6ABC meteorologist: “The one present I still remember to this day and get that excited feeling [about] all over again was my Dukes Of Hazzard Big Wheel. It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, and I always jumped in my dad’s car through the window, (and, mind you, got yelled at each time). It is clear as day, when I walked down the steps Christmas morning and saw it sitting on the couch. I loved stickers as a kid and, if anyone remembers Big Wheels, you had to put them on yourself. I felt like I could pedal away from Boss Hogg with that present.”