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Longtime Franklin Square chamber executive secretary dies

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The Franklin Square community came out in force on Jan. 13 to pay tribute to Larry Prendergast, who served as executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce for 34 years and was a regular at community events.

He died suddenly of a heart attack on Jan. 7, at age 79. 

“It was awesome to see how many people came out” to the funeral, his son, Kevin, said. “He really loved Franklin Square.”

Prendergast was born on July 13, 1940, and grew up in Queens Village. He joined the Navy in 1962, and served aboard the USS Lake Champlain for two years as an aviation structural mechanic. In October 1962, the Navy sent the ship as part of the fleet to surround Cuba, where the Soviet Union was constructing bases for offensive missiles. The goal was to choke off the flow of military supplies to Cuba, and enforce U.S. demands to remove the Soviet missiles. After almost two weeks, the Soviets relented, and the Cuban missile crisis ended. 

Nearly a year later, the crew’s training was interrupted when the ship was ordered to help with hurricane relief in Haiti. Its helicopters located displaced people, and flew them food and medical supplies. 

Following his service, Prendergast went on a blind date with Joan Bluight. With two mutual friends, they saw “Love With the Proper Stranger” at the Bellerose Terrace movie theater on April 14, 1964, only one day after Prendergast was discharged from the Navy. In a Newsday column that he wrote in 2016, he recalled how Joan thought he was too frugal because “when she asked for popcorn and soda, I hesitated.” He eventually agreed to buy both, he wrote, on the condition that they share the popcorn, and “she gave me a look as if to say, ‘Are you kidding?’”   

They continued to go on dates throughout the summer, including the World’s Fair in Queens, and were married on Sept. 4, 1964. The couple moved to Franklin Square in 1979, where they raised three sons, Kevin, Chris and Brian. “He was very kind and nurturing,” Kevin recalled of his father. “He taught us about life, how to be good people and how to eventually become parents ourselves.” 

After Prendergast retired in 1980 from the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company in Manhattan, where he had worked in the international banking division ever since had left the Navy, he became the executive secretary of the Franklin Square Chamber of Commerce — a position he held until his death. He was instrumental in installing planters in front of businesses on Hempstead Turnpike and Franklin Avenue, and was one of the driving forces behind the planning and funding of Franklin Square’s Christmas lights. “The next time you drive on Franklin Avenue or Hempstead Turnpike and you see a planter in front of a store or the light poles decorated for Christmas,” Kevin said, “please think of him.” 

Prendergast also worked with chamber presidents writing emails, printing labels, greeting guests at events, ensuring a high turnout at every event and serving on the Getting to Know You Committee, which organizes an annual event for residents to meet their local business leaders. 

“He was just so well-respected,” Chamber President Lisa DelliPizzi said, adding that Prendergast was known for carrying a camera and taking photos. “When he came to an event or entered a room,” she said “he just did it with humor and professionalism.”

Besides his chamber work, Prendergast also served as a cubmaster for Pack 372 in the 1980s, volunteered at times with the civic association and historical society, and dressed up as Santa Claus for Franklin Square’s many Christmas events. “His warm and friendly personality made for a magical connection with the children,” DelliPizzi recalled.

In 2012, Prendergast was named the grand marshal of the Franklin Square Memorial Day Parade. He was so excited about the honor, DelliPizzi said, that he told Joan that he wouldn’t take off the sash for two weeks. 

“He never wanted to leave Franklin Square,” DelliPizzi said. “He truly loved it.”

In his spare time, he enjoyed listening to music, especially doo-wop and other oldies. Kevin said his father also enjoyed gardening, watching Yankees games, doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers, and watching “Jeopardy!” with Joan, to whom he was married for 55 years.

“The secret to our happy marriage can be described in one word: share,” he wrote in the Newsday column. “Share your feelings, your happiness, your sadness, your plans and your love. Share everything, including the popcorn.” 

Prendergast was remembered for all that he did for the Franklin Square community at the Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner on Jan. 9, when DelliPizzi recalled how comfortable he made everyone feel. “If wealth was measured by the amount of friends that love you, and by the amount of family that loves you,” she said, “then Larry was one of the richest people I know.”

He is survived by his wife; his sons and daughters-in-law, Kevin and Maria, Chris and Rosa, and Brian and Julie; seven grandchildren, and four sisters.