For students who need to talk to him, Culver City High School counselor Daniel Fagas can be often found sitting in his office — a small, cramped room filled with the smiling photographs of past students and, most noticeably, the presence of a man widely regarded as legendary by his peers.
There may be a smile involved, or a few words of encouragement to get the conversation going. But always, as his fellow staff members frequently describe, he’d meet you with a positive attitude that’s almost certainly contagious.
“I’ve never heard him once be negative,” said Tom Salter, athletics director and a good friend of Fagas. “He always sees good things. He always sees the good in people. He’s such a positive role model.”
By his own admission, Dan Fagas loves to interact with students. It’s a quality that has both endeared him to the students he’s responsible for counseling — those with the last names Cuadra through Ibarronda — and transformed him into one of the most beloved staff members on campus.
“I always love helping students with their academics and extracurriculars. The best part of my job is helping students, especially seniors when they need to graduate,” Fagas said.
And the hardest part?
“Seeing all of the students,” Fagas said. “I always try to see each student at least once. I try to quickly establish a relationship with them to make them feel comfortable.”
Fagas’ efforts to connect with his students have certainly paid off, sophomore Lucas Fite said.
“He was always helpful whenever I needed him,” said Fite. “He always made time for his students, even when he was not supposed to be working. He was also never demanding about what classes I wanted to take — he wanted kids to enjoy their high school years.”
Even for students who don’t have him as a counselor, Fagas’ name is ubiquitous — most will probably know him as the voice that interrupts the daily bulletin with an offer to buy chili dogs for anyone who attends the sports game that day. Of course, this offer is never serious, he says.
“The school doesn’t actually serve chili dogs,” laughs Fagas when reminded of his offer. “That’s why I do it.”
Still, it’s a fun demonstration of his love for students — and staff members, too, have their favorite stories about the man. Salter’s favorite is about the Athlete of the Year banquet, held annually for the best student-athletes of the sports season.
The banquet features an award known formerly as the Staff Member of the Year award, given to the staff member who went to the most games and did the most to support the school’s athletes — in other words, the staff member who does exactly what Dan Fagas has done throughout his tenure as counselor. By the time Fagas won his fifth straight award, Salter said, the choice was final: they’d rename the award after him.
Fagas has a particular appreciation for student-athletes, which explains his penchant for winning the eponymous award.
“Dan always travels to all the games,” said Coach Salter. “Once he went to Glendale for a boys water polo game, and then immediately drove all the way to Temecula for the girls volleyball playoffs.”
The drive from Culver City to Glendale is 45 minutes. From Glendale to Temecula? Two hours.
All in a day’s work for Fagas, it seems.
“It’s not easy being a student athlete,” he said. “I admire them.”
Part of this respect for athletes may stem from Fagas’ former occupation as a coach for the girls’ tennis, boys’ basketball, and football programs at the La Cañada, Esperanza, and Mater Dei high schools, respectively. This dedication towards students spans more than just athletics, however — it’s evident in every aspect of his work.
Said Salter: “He never took, he always gave — every day, he was at work. He was always about his students. He always showed support.”
Fagas only shrugs. “My main job is to help everybody.”
Incidentally, Fagas also used to work as a St. Louis rat inspector, bartender, and adult beverage salesman at different points during his life – though as evident from his later career choice, he never seemed to be happy working such jobs.
Instead, Fagas is happiest right where he’s been for almost the past decade — working with students in Culver City High School. And with his retirement upcoming at the end of this school year, it’s the process of working with these students that he says he’ll miss most.
“I’ll planning on coming back often and attending athletic events,” Fagas said. “The hardest part about leaving: I am always positive that I will miss students.”
His departure likely won’t come as a shock to many — by his own admission, at age 71, Fagas is ready to retire and is looking forward to simply enjoying life with his family. That doesn’t mean he’ll stop thinking about his students, however. Nor will it mean that his presence won’t be missed.
In fact, there’s one last piece of advice that Fagas would like to give, both to his students and everyone attending Culver City High School.
“The first college class I took was September 1966. I graduated January 1996,” admitted Fagas. “It took me 30 years to get my college degree — so pursue your dreams relentlessly. Be true to yourself. Work hard. Never give up.”
Culver City High School will certainly take these words to heart.