Irwin Garsten’s legacy in Riverhead extends well beyond cars. His business, which he started in 1957 and grew into what is now Apple Honda, afforded him many opportunities to spread goodwill across the North Fork.
The news of Mr. Garsten’s death last week at age 86 was a tough blow for a community that has benefited so greatly from his generosity and commitment to public service. Mr. Garsten wasn’t just a well-to-do businessman who wrote checks to charities. He became actively involved in the organizations he supported, lending his expertise firsthand, whether it involved the Riverhead Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts of America or any of the other dozen or so groups he helped.
He set an example of leadership that we would all do well to follow today.
When Mr. Garsten was honored in 2006 with the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award, given annually to 66 of the nation’s most successful car dealers, he explained that the award wasn’t about just selling cars; it was about community service. And it was those efforts that made Mr. Garsten so proud to be a recipient. He felt particularly honored for recognition of his philanthropic work with the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation.
“There isn’t any other institution that serves the community more than a local hospital,” he said in a 2006 interview.
Mr. Garsten remained committed to many of those efforts, even in his later years. In fact, he and his wife, Flora, were scheduled to — and still will — receive the Pink Pearl Spirit Award from the North Fork Breast Health Coalition in April. The award recognizes Apple Honda’s “pinkafied” event, held in October, during which a portion of every new car sale and service rendered during the month is donated to the coalition.
“Irwin was a leader in generosity and community engagement and will be missed dearly by our PBMC family,” hospital president and CEO Andrew Mitchell said.
Mr. Garsten admitted that he knew little about cars when he started out all those years ago. What he may have lacked then he made up for with a deep commitment to learning and adapting to an ever-changing business. He never lost that passion for learning.
As he said in 2006, “All you have to do is say to yourself, ‘Today I will learn something I didn’t know yesterday.’”
File photo: Irwin Garsten at Apple Honda in Riverhead in 2006 after winning Time Magazine’s Quality Dealer Award. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)