Longtime Great Neck Board of Education Trustee Donald Ashkenase dies at 77

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Donald Ashkenase, a longtime member of the Great Neck School District's Board of Education, died on Monday. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Donald Ashkenase, a financial executive and longtime trustee on the Great Neck Board of Education, died Monday at 77.

Ashkenase, who moved to Great Neck in 1979, was first elected to the board in 1982 and was re-elected 12 times. His 39-year tenure as trustee was the longest in the school district’s history. He also chaired the board’s Financial Advisory Committee.

Ashkenase also served in a number of financial positions, including as chief operating officer and vice president of the Nassau University Medical Center, chief financial officer at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, executive vice president of Montefiore Medical Center and chairman of Healthfirst, which was founded in 1993 to provide low-cost health insurance to people in the New York City area.

Efforts to reach a family member for comment were unavailing.

“Mr. Ashkenase was a champion for children and his contributions to the District cannot be overestimated,” a statement from the Great Neck school district said. “His support for academic programs and his continuity of service has benefited generations of Great Neck students, including his own three children and two grandchildren.”

Ashkenase was involved in the selection of three Great Neck school superintendents during his tenure: Ronald Friedman, Thomas Dolan and Teresa Prendergast, who has been serving since 2015.

Since 1894 there have been 86 trustees, with two serving nonconsecutive terms. Including the current Board of Education, the average time served has been just more than seven years.

Of those 86 trustees, only 20 have served 10 years or more and only four have served 20 or more years: John A. Laressy from 1916 to 1940, Barbara Berkowitz from 1992 to present, Lawrence Gross from 1981 to 2017, and Ashkenase from 1982 to 2021.

Board President Barbara Berkowitz, who announced she will be seeking re-election this year, said Ashkenase’s legacy will live on and touted his dedication to making the children in the school district a constant priority throughout his tenure on the board.

“The sudden passing of Don Ashkenase has left everyone terribly saddened,” Berkowitz said. “Don had an incredibly analytical mind and could speak about the budget in a way that was way over most people’s heads, but above all, he had the biggest heart of anyone I know, and his number one priority was always the children. His kindness and generosity were legendary and he will be missed more than words can express, but his legacy will continue as we strive to live ‘meaningful’ lives.”

“Great Neck represents the best of America by virtue of the diversity that exists in this community and we couldn’t be more fortunate,” Ashkenase said after being elected to his 13th term in 2018.

“Don’s commitment to non-profit volunteerism and philanthropy was unmatched,” officials from the Greater New York Hospital Association said in a statement. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife Karen, his children Jeffrey, Andrew, Debbie and their spouses, and his many friends and colleagues.”

According to a news release from Temple Israel, a private graveside funeral was held for Ashkenase on Wednesday.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, his children Jeffrey, Andrew and Debbie, and their spouses Robin, Jana and Pedram, respectively. He was also an uncle to Elena and Fritz Tavarez as well as Emilio and Jessie Cintron, and was a grandfather of 12.

Ahskenase’s term was set to expire on June 30, but school officials did not provide any immediate information regarding what will happen in the interim.

“We are forever grateful for Mr. Ashkenase’s unparalleled service and leadership,” the statement from the school district said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Karen, and the … families during this difficult time.”

 

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