Founder of Boca’s ‘Beach Bash for Disabled’ Jay Van Vechten Passes Away at 75
By Dale King
A man who dazzled Boca Raton with his sumptuous Christmas parties, his gentlemanly manners, his world traveler savvy and his ability to transform a community beach party for the disabled into a major event that attracted thousands to Boca Raton’s shore each year has passed away at age 75.
Jay Van Vechten died July 11, according to the Babione-Kraeer Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements. Mr. Van Vechten, who would have turned 76 in September, leaves a wife, Lowell; son, Nicholas and grandson, Alex.
Mr. Van Vechten, an avid writer on Facebook, commented shortly before he died that Alex had arrived at the Van Vechten home for a month-long July visit with his father, Nicholas. “This is a very happy month at our house,” said the proud grandpa.
As of Sunday night, Babione-Kraeer said no final or memorial services have been announced.
A native of Manhasset, N.Y., Jay Van Vechten was a retired New York City PR man, operating his own award-winning public relations agency for 25 years. A fall caused him to revamp his lifestyle and he soon moved to Boca Raton.
In Boca, he chaired the American Disabilities Foundation, Inc., and served as the executive director of the annual Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. He was also past chair of the Boca Raton Advisory Board for People with Disabilities and served on the city’s Community Advisory Panel.
He recalled in a newspaper interview how he became involved in the “Beach Bash:”
“The ‘Bash’ had existed as an annual picnic for people living in group homes. I was serving on the Disability Advisory Board. Our chairman was Shawn Friedkin of Stand Among Friends. I told Shawn I had an idea for how the event could be broadened and expanded by adding boats and opening it to all people with disabilities living in Boca versus the previous attendees, who were only people living in group homes. Shawn and I met with Mayor Susan Whelchel. She loved the idea, and we were off and running.”
Friends have been recalling the Christmas parties the Van Vechtens held at their home in Royal Palm Yacht Club. “They used to serve dinner in Old World-style,” recalled one long-time buddy.
“He was a gentleman who always made you feel good,” the admirer added, remembering Mr. Van Vechten’s penchant for talking about the places around the world he and his wife visited.
One friend, Jon Kaye, also a PR executive with his wife, Bonnie, both got to know Jay when they were members of the former Boca Raton Educational Television (BRET) organization.
“He loved entertainment and the arts,” said Jon. “His passion was to help people with disabilities. He did a great job. He really knocked it out of the park.”
Condolences filled Facebook over the weekend. “Jay was a remarkable person whose positivity radiated far and wide to touch thousands and thousands of lives,” said Mayor Scott Singer. “Boca Raton remains proud of the incredible work in creating the nation’s largest free event for people with disabilities and having the Boating and Beach Bash take place in our community.”
Commercial real estate expert Ingrid Fulmer wrote that “our community has lost one of its most amazing men – Jay Van Vechten. Jay had the most incredible heart and worked tirelessly to help others with disabilities. I will miss his kindness, compassion, sense of humor, twinkling eyes and support.”
Lynn Laurenti, a Florida Atlantic University alum who later worked in public relations at FAU and was also a speechwriter for the school president, commented: “I think Jay would say that the crowning achievement of his life in the public arena was founding and hosting Boca Raton’s annual Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. I’m sure that wonderful initiative will continue, since he was able to inspire great commitment to it in others.”