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A Legacy of Fortitude and Resilience

Kathy Werner - Columnist
Posted 9/10/20

Here's a fun fact: the woman who wrote the new bestseller “Melania & Me” was born and bred in Sullivan County. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (née Batinkoff) lived in Ferndale.

Hers is an …

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A Legacy of Fortitude and Resilience


Here's a fun fact: the woman who wrote the new bestseller “Melania & Me” was born and bred in Sullivan County. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (née Batinkoff) lived in Ferndale.

Hers is an interesting story. Born to Barbara (née Carnel) and Barry Batinkoff, Stephanie and her brothers, Gordon and Randall, grew up in Sullivan County where the Batinkoff family had very successful chicken farms. Her father, Barry, decided not to follow in the family business and became a photographer. When Stephanie was in high school, her parents divorced.

Stephanie then went to Fordham University in order to be closer to her mother. Her mother's second marriage was to Bruce Winston, the son of jeweler Harry Winston, and he adopted Stephanie at age 26. Her brother Gordon is now known as Gordon Winston.

Her brother Randall Batinkoff is a successful actor and director who began his career in commercials while still in elementary school. He has acted in over 60 films and television shows as well as working as a writer, producer, and director.

Stephanie finished her Communications degree at Loyola University in New Orleans and then took the Big Apple by storm. She worked at Vogue and organized the Met Gala for years. Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley were at her March 2000 wedding to real estate developer David Wolkoff, which was also attended by her maternal grandparents, Ethel and Joel Carnel of Youngsville, both Holocaust survivors who emigrated to America in 1949, according to their obituaries in the Democrat.

Stephanie met Melania Trump through her work at Vogue, and they became friends who would regularly meet for lunch at The Mark or other upscale restaurants. Stephanie's son attended the same school as Barron Trump, so they stayed in touch through the years.

Her friendship with Melania drew her into the Trump vortex when he was unexpectedly elected President, and they needed someone to organize the Inauguration. In her book, Stephanie details the chaos of that process and her subsequent efforts to help the First Lady in her new role.

However, after millions went unaccounted for in Inauguration spending, the Trump White House threw Stephanie under the bus and to her dismay, her friend Melania did nothing to help her.

Stephanie wrote this book to tell her side of the story, and it is detailed and very compelling. She writes, “?I've thought a lot about my grandparents since my departure from the White House, the ruination of my reputation, and Melania's betrayal. I've been secluded and debilitated. While I could never compare what I've been through to what my grandparents went through—they witnessed the very worst of humankind—I do know what it's like to feel destroyed, rendered powerless. It's a feeling like no other because you are denied the human right to defend yourself. I have tried to match my grandparents' fortitude and resilience by putting challenges in front of myself, testing myself to see what I can endure.”

Winston Wolkoff, Stephanie. Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady, Gallery Books.


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