When Haakon Jepsen switched careers a decade ago he likely wouldn't have been able to guess that the skills he'd develop at his new job — and some that he brought there with him — would be pivotal tools as he set out to earn a spot on the Wyckoff Township Committee.
But as the hours wind down until Election Day, Wyckoff residents will have to decide if the actor-turned-analyst who now finds himself locked in a race for one of a pair of seats on the township's governing body has what it takes.
His father a former Washington D.C. cop and his mother a now-retired Maryland public school teacher, Jepsen was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Crofton in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
He called the planned community of Crofton a "great place to grow up" and said values there shared similarities with those of Wyckoff — but with an entirely different sort of history.
"You have a real sense of tradition here that's well earned," he explained.
Jepsen, now 40, moved to New York City hoping to make it as an actor.
"I had some success, enough to earn a place in the performance unions, which is a huge undertaking," Jepsen said. "But making a living is extremely difficult — making a living and raising a family is nearly impossible."
Jepsen appeared in features such as For Richer or Poorer, America's Most Wanted, The Pelican Brief and True Lies, but "ultimately, it was not the right career path for me, so I poured my creative energies into other areas," he added.
Twelve years ago he snagged a job as a senior systems analyst at Deutsche Bank in Parsippany.
"Fortunately, I have a lot of interests and curiosities and I'm multi-faceted," he said.
The job with the company's global technology engineering division allowed the creative-minded Jepsen to use an entirely different side of my brain, he said.
The job essentially pairs Jepsen, who called himself a natural communicator, with more technically minded people. As a team they provide application solutions for the global financial company.
His job is to be a collaborative problem solver, he said.
"You're on a global team and you're on a conference call with people from Singapore and Germany and the accents are thick and the technology is very complicated, but you need to have someone in there who can grease the wheels and facilitate the solutions," Jepsen said. "You have to have that layer in between the super-technical and the client. It's grown into a really rewarding and fun career."
Jepsen moved to Wyckoff in 2005 with his wife Nayla (nee Bahri) — a Wyckoff native — and their infant daughter. Since Nayla's parents were still in the township it seemed like the natural choice for a young family.
Haakon and Nayla have two children now: Noor, 8, and Lana 4.
Jepsen said that since moving to Wyckoff, getting involved here and "doing his part" with the town have always been critical.
He's currently co-director of 20th Annual Men's Cornerstone program at St. Elizabeth's Church and an active first alternate on the Wyckoff Zoning Board.
"When you're part of a community and you benefit from all that comes from that community, you should step up and do your part and try to make an impact," he said. "I just love this town and I want people to keep falling in love with the town for generations to come.
When Mayor Chris DePhillips announced in April he wouldn't be running for re-election to his seat on the Wyckoff Township Committee, it was a logical next step for Jepsen to throw his hat in the ring.
Jepsen believes the skill set linking his career at Deutsche Bank with the township committee seat for which he's running is relevant — both positions require a degree of creative thinking, adaptability and the ability to bring people together to solve common problems.
"I could be talking about technology, I could be talking about making hot dogs ... it doesn't matter," he said. "My energy, dedication and imagination can bring real value to the township committee."
Jepsen, who labels himself a conservative with values "in line with those of the township," said that three areas in particular are of vital importance for him: cost control, culture and communication.
The town's financial challenges are only going to get tougher as the economy continues to drag, Jepsen said, and conservative budgets are key to meeting the call to keep taxes low for township residents.
"I would stand firm in that fiscal responsibility," he said. "Conservative finances are a legacy of the town."
He directly attributed today's residential desirability in Wyckoff with the township committee's past fiscal stewardship.
"It's such a great town to live in — sons and daughters can afford to move back to be near their parents. That's part of the reason my wife and I were able to move back here to be near my in-laws, who are 40-year residents of the town."
While low cost may convince you to buy a house in town, Jepsen said, it's the culture that makes you fall in love with Wyckoff.
"I would want people who live in Wyckoff to always be able to have in mind walking down a tree-lined street, free of congestion, stopping by the library on their way to perfectly manicured ball fields, looking forward to theater at night and dinner with friends at a local restaurant — it's that idyllic," he said. "That's my goal to keep it that idyllic."
His background in the arts makes him hyper-aware of the importance of a community's culture, so he'd "eagerly support any endeavor that would enhance the culture of Wyckoff and bring people together to support the local economy."
The culture of the town is the experience of living in the township, he said: "It's the Rec program, the fields, the library board, as well. It's all of that."
Asked what sort of specific initiatives he would investigate, he mentioned First Night Annapolis a Maryland New Year extravaganza blending civic pride, small business and a fireworks display.
It's a cultural event but it's there to boost the economy, he said, and it dovetails with initiatives such as Wyckoff Day.
"Wyckoff has everything you need, I think you just need to generate ideas to maximize what you've got," he said. "It would be really fun to have a Wyckoff First Night, too... there should always be something going on to try to promote the town."
According to Jepsen, when it comes to the cultural DNA of Wyckoff there's nothing that needs to be fixed, just a "tremendous creative energy" that should be tapped into.
Jepsen said he was "very impressed" with measures made by the Wyckoff Township Committee over the last 2 or 3 years to encourage the exchange of ideas with the public, such as the continuing Meet the Mayor event.
"It's a human endeavor... dealing with people," Jepsen said. "My niche is being able to communicate, to articulate, the needs of the 'client.'"
The more open the lines of communication the quicker problems shared by the township can get solved, he said.
"[The committee's efforts] spoke to me. I found those types of outreach very welcoming and it encouraged me to get more involved than I already was," he said. "I would just like to build on that success."
Jepsen is running for one of two three-year terms on Wyckoff Township Committee. Also running are incumbent Committeeman and former-Mayor Kevin Rooney, and challenger Eileen Avia.
Election Day is Nov. 6.
Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.