Irwin Garsten, longtime Riverhead car dealer, dies at 86

Irwin Garsten

Irwin Garsten, an esteemed businessman who opened a Riverhead car dealership in 1959 that became Apple Honda and whose philanthropy and community service helped bolster organizations across the North Fork, died Feb. 7 in Florida. He was 86.

Linda Hulse, assistant to Apple Honda’s general manager, described Mr. Garsten’s death as sudden.

“We were getting emails from him last night and were waiting for him to come back for the opening of the new showroom,” she said in an interview last Wednesday. “He’s missed very much.”

Mr. Garsten, a longtime Shoreham resident, was a 40-year member of the Riverhead Rotary and was a repeat recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow, an award given to members who raise $1,000 or more for Rotary causes. Riverhead Rotary president Beth Hanlon said he’d received the honor at least nine times. Rotary records only show how many times he accepted the award, she said, but there were other times when he gave the awards to other recipients.

“He also was a major donor to the Rotary Foundation,” said Ms. Hanlon, noting that Mr. Garsten would also challenge and encourage others to do the same. “He embodied the Rotary spirit. He was generous, caring and worked so hard to help so many organizations.”

The Rotary Foundation supports the efforts of Rotary International. It is best known for its work toward the eradication of polio, Ms. Hanlon said.

In 1957, Mr. Garsten bought a 50 percent stake in Brauser Motors in Riverhead. Two years later, he bought out his partner to open Garsten Motors.

“I knew nothing about cars,” Mr. Garsten said in a 2006 interview. “I was a city boy. Cars were not my thing.”

Mr. Garsten, whose dealership became Apple Honda in 1996, won Time Magazine’s Quality Dealer Award in 2006, an honor given annually to successful car dealers nationwide who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to effective community service. At the time, he estimated that he and his associates had sold more than 50,000 cars.

He contributions to local organizations extended from the Rotary to the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts of America, Eastern Long Island United Way and the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation.

Even while in Florida, Mr. Garsten remained in touch with his businesses in Riverhead. He and his wife, Flora, were scheduled to receive the Pink Pearl Spirit Award from the North Fork Breast Health Coalition at its Pink Pearl Gala on April 7. That award will proceed, according to coalition vice president Melanie McEvoy Zuhoski.

“We are really saddened by his death, and we are honored to honor him,” she said.

Every October, Apple Honda becomes “pinkafied,” she said, and employees wear pink for the month. The dealership would also donate a portion of every new car sale or every service rendered during the month to the coalition, she said.

“So at the end of the month, they present us with a check of anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000. He’s been doing it for about four years now, and they’ve given us about $30,000 during that time. We’re a nonprofit, volunteer organization, so every little bit we get goes a long way.”

The coalition provides breast cancer patients and survivors with free yoga, reflexology and massage therapy, and also provides grants of up to $1,000 for breast cancer patients or survivors from the North Fork.

Pete Danowski, a 45-year Rotary member and Mr. Garsten’s attorney for about 15 years, said they’d been in touch the day before he died.

“He was a man who contributed to the community, between his work for the hospital, the Rotary and others,” Mr. Danowski said “He thought it was very important to support the hospital.”

Mr. Garsten served on the Central Suffolk Hospital board of directors from 1987 to 2006, when the hospital changed its name to Peconic Bay Medical Center, according to PBMC spokeswoman Samantha Vigliotta.

Mr. Garsten also was a board member of the hospital foundation, a fundraising unit, from 2004 until 2016, when he became an emeritus member of that board, she said.

“Irwin was a longtime hospital and foundation board member who served our Peconic Bay Medical Center for nearly two decades,” said PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell in a written statement. “He is a former hospital chair and vice chair of our foundation. He was a relentless advocate for quality health care in our community and always inspired others by the joy that he exuded when giving back. Irwin was a leader in generosity and community engagement and will be missed dearly by our PBMC family.”

The family received visitors Feb. 11 at Tuthill-Mangano Funeral Home in Riverhead.

Funeral services were held Feb. 12 at Temple Israel in Riverhead. Interment followed at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with the print edition published in the Feb. 16 edition.

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File photo: Irwin Garsten at Apple Honda in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)