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Gold Coast Business Association leader Art Ventura dies at 76

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Art Ventura was a conversationalist. Whenever he spoke to anyone, whether an old friend or a new acquaintance, Ventura took a genuine interest in what he or she had to say, his family and friends noted.

Art’s wife, Ruth, described him as a renaissance man, saying he could talk about anything with anyone. That ability particularly benefitted him in his service to the North Shore community as a co-founder of the Glen Head-Glenwood Business Association.

“He cared,” said Ventura’s younger son, Matthew. “It wasn’t just like he made you feel like he cared — he truly cared about what you cared about.”

Ventura died recently of a heart attack at 76. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by his elder son, Michael, and three grandchildren, Nicole, Thomas and Michael Shaye.

Born on June 1, 1943, in Brooklyn, Ventura constantly gathered information about the world around him while remaining a modest, kind person who saw the best in people, those who knew him best said. This was among the key reasons why Ruth Schelp wanted to spend time with him after the two met at the University of Rhode Island in 1962. He was highly intelligent, she said, but quietly so, with a great sense of humor and a keen ability to listen.

“He never met somebody who wasn’t his friend,” Ruth said, and he was able to make friends because of his willingness to develop a passion for others’ passions.

Ventura studied business administration with a concentration in insurance, and he and Ruth graduated from URI in 1965. They married soon after and bought a house in Kings Park, but moved to Smithtown when Michael was born in 1967. The next year, Ventura founded Badge Agency Inc., an insurance agency, in Glen Head. Over the following four decades, he helped many community members start business, homeowners’, life, health and car insurance accounts.

“My dad had a tremendous work ethic and enjoyed everything he did,” Michael said. “He not only enjoyed a job well done, but enjoyed the process as well.”

In 1980, Ventura, Rick Arnold and Tom Cappadonna founded the Glen Head-Glenwood Business Association. Arnold, owner of Richard B. Arnold Real Estate in Sea Cliff, said the three thought Glen Head was being neglected by the larger Town of Oyster Bay business community. They decided the best way to represent local business interests was to form an alliance of as many area businesses as possible, creating an organization big enough to show the town that the area was as important as any other.

Together they united businesses from throughout Glen Head and Glenwood Landing under a common cause. Ruth said the group was founded “to get businessmen involved in an association where everybody knew each other and could help each other out and hence help the community.”

The group eventually became known as the Gold Coast Business Association, expanding into Sea Cliff, Old Brookville, Glen Cove, Greenvale, Locust Valley and Roslyn. Steve Warshaw, the association’s current president, said its creation was vital to the continued economic success of the community.

“Just by creating a business association, because we didn’t even have a chamber here, elevated the level of community togetherness that probably wasn’t here beforehand,” Warshaw said. “The association is more about bringing the community of businesses not only together with the public, but also with each other.”

The group has thrived ever since its inception, and Ventura had much to do with that. “He was just wonderful,” Arnold said. “He was a very well-liked and respected guy. Just somebody that when you first meet, you know he’s just a good guy.”

“The people that I would meet,” Ruth said, “they all loved him, and they were all very thankful for this association.”

Ruth said there were roughly 500 people at his funeral, and everyone she spoke to had nice things to say about her husband. Matthew said he heard many mourners say his father was like a brother to them.

“Whenever someone kind and generous passes away, they’re always missed,” Warshaw said. “A little piece of us is lost, but his legacy lives on.”

Ventura was first and foremost a family man. Michael said that his father made breakfast every morning, played with his children every night, led their Cub Scout troop and took them to many Islanders games, even though he worked long hours. Matthew said his father was Superman to him, which he still feels today at 50.

Ventura was all about making memories, Matthew said, but not by taking his family on breathtaking vacations or adventures. Instead, he concentrated on making the most out of the little things, like coming together at the dinner table, enjoying family gatherings and opening presents on Christmas morning.

“His life was about making those around him happy and creating those good memories and something you could look back on,” Matthew said.