Who was Ary Velasco Sr.?
By the decade...
Born in Havana, Cuba in May 19, 1940 and named Ary after an interesting Israeli character in a novel that his mother was reading while pregnant with him.
He was raised by his divorced mother, Ofelia Aguilar, her two siblings and grandparents.
Every night after dinner, his grandfather took him to the baseball stadium to watch the ballgame and have ice cream for dessert
He was a superb student, and once finished a difficult exam first in his class and, when questioned by the notoriously strict teacher, he assured him that not only did he finish the exam but he got a perfect score. When the exam was graded, he did and told the teacher, “I told you so.”
He played pick-up baseball games at the park where the price of losing was to relinquish the ball. His position was catcher, and he played it without a chest protector, mask or shin guards.
He vacationed with his mom and aunt in Miami Beach, staying in the Betsy Ross Hotel and playing ping pong all day because he wasn’t fond of the beach and the sand.
Played American football for University of Havana where he studied Accounting. He was a defensive and offensive tackle, playing the entire game without rest. The helmets were made of leather and had no face masks.
Married his sweetheart, Gladys Bauza in 1961 and had Ary Jr. in 1964 and Gladys Maria in 1967.
During his honeymoon, he drove by a golf course and, out of curiosity, drove in and was allowed to attempt to play. On hole 7, he got lucky and flushed a 5 iron from 200 yards and hit it on the green, into the club pro and his playing partners. They started to yell obscenities at him, but he apologized, the pro was so taken with him, that he chose to teach him personally at no cost. That same pro, Pepe Fernandez, taught Sam Snead and other US PGA pros. Ary became so good that he was invited to join the private club, where he routinely played with the club’s best players as well as diplomats and other very influential people.
He ran a successful accounting business, until he declared his desire to leave the island. He was summoned to a concentration camp where he had to cut sugar cane in camps during the blazing sun and heat. At night, he discovered a pattern where the guards would switch and he would leave each night, ride trains and buses to go home to see his wife and children. At 3:30AM he would run to catch the train to make sure to sneak into the barracks before the guards sounded the morning alarms.
After completing this exit sentence, he was summoned to a much worse concentration camp, where most who went there didn’t live to tell about it. With his pregnant wife and son at home, he was excused at the 11th hour, as everyone was hopping on the bus to leave. His life was miraculously spared.
Following the tip of a good friend, he held a clandestine meeting with a “friendly” officer of the revolution that gave us the visa to escape communism and finally leave for Madrid.
He and my mom were strip searched at the airport and they gave the Cuban government all their worldly possessions in order to leave, arriving in Madrid with only the clothes on our backs and not a penny.
Through the help of other refugees in Madrid, we were given shelter and he was given a pathway to find employment within a few weeks. He developed a love for Spain and the Spanish people who opened their arms to us during the year that we lived there.
We finally were given the visa to come to the US, the land of opportunity, and we initially landed in New York.
With his accounting background, he began working for some of the country’s largest and most prestigious accounting firms in the audit area. Auditing gave him the ability to travel to very interesting places, many of which had award winning golf courses which he relish playing after hours.
With persimmon woods and blade irons, his handicap dropped to scratch and his regular foursome included three other single digit handicap players. His swing was so repeatable that he rarely missed even the most narrow fairways. If it weren’t for a balky putter, he would have easily reached plus handicap status.
Despite the passion he developed for golf, its competitiveness and the camaraderie with his regular group, he abandoned the game to be with his son while he played little league baseball and many other sports. He was at every practice, every game and every celebration or post game defeat.
He developed a health care specialty in his audit practice and became the head of this practice area, and later the Chief Financial Officer for Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
After a few years in this post, he had grown tired of the winters and was offered the Chief Financial Officer of Kendall Regional Hospital in Miami, FL (curiously the hospital where he eventually passed away).
With his children approaching high school ages, he opened a retail sporting goods store that became the first store in Florida to carry Nike and Reebok sneakers, and many other leading brands like Mizuno, Wilson, Rawlings, Easton and others. This broad array of products made ProLand Sports the neighborhood stop for kids that played baseball, basketball, football, tennis and other sports.
He later created ProLand Travel, where he and his daughter planned vacations all over the world for golfers and many other types of travelers.
For his son’s 18th birthday and his daughter’s 15th birthday, he took the family on a memorable 3-week trip through Europe.
He worked at the hospital and managed the businesses along with his family until the businesses got traction and until his son entered high school. At that point, he left the hospital to have the freedom to attend every practice, game, celebration and post game defeat. He later did the same with his daughter, who was a cross country champion in Miami, FL.
He routinely traveled to New Orleans to watch his son play baseball for University of New Orleans and he followed him later back home while he played baseball for FIU.
After the conclusion of his son’s baseball career, he fueled his son’s passion for golf and routinely played golf with him, teaching him all the lessons that Pepe Fernandez, his teacher in Cuba, taught him.
After the advent of Sports Authority and the mega sports store, he decided to close the store and he later sold the travel agency, claiming that the business would become obsolete soon.
After closing his businesses, he became the CFO for Eagle Brands, the Budweiser distributor in Miami, FL.
Here, he continued to enjoy his renewed passion for golf, playing in many scramble tournaments sponsored by Budweiser.
He created the USCGA and began having the annual Cuba Libre Cup, which was sponsored by Roberto Goizueta of Coca Cola himself as well as the Bacardi family on the rum side. The USCGA competed against amateur golfers from many other countries in the Caribbean, Latin America and the US.
He traveled to Puerto Rico many times and played in many tournaments, including Cheito Oquendo’s (2nd baseman for St. Louis Cardinals) tournament with Eddie Murray (Hall of Famer with Baltimore Orioles) and Vince Coleman (New York Mets). He made a 50 foot putt and was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
He was asked by a friend to do the commentary in Spanish for the first hockey game played by the Florida Panthers in the NHL. He was offered the full time job but turned it down because he didn’t want to travel and be away from his family, but the audio tape of his game call sits today in the NHL Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada.
He competed for NAGA (Nicaraguan American Golf Association) and won the prestigious Centro Anericano golf tournament in the Senior Division, defeating the top amateur golfers throughout Central America.
He started a home durable medical equipment business and many of Miami’s most successful doctors began referring patients to him because of his honesty and ethics in an industry that was overwhelmed with cases of abuse and fraud.
He and his University of Havana football teammates were honored by the Miami Dolphins before a Sunday NFL game.
He celebrated the birth of his first grandchild, Isabella Velasco and became Abu.
Abu also celebrated the birth of his second grandchild, Felix Bernal.
He celebrated the birth of his third grandchild, Dante Velasco.
From their first day of school, he picked up his grandchildren every day from school and took them to their after-school activities.
He watched Isabella begin competitive volleyball and immediately became a volleyball expert by observing her coaches and those of the older girls and boys. He translated this knowledge to teach her and coach her to become one the better young players in Miami.
He watched Dante play baseball, basketball and eventually his best sport: football. He used his experience and knowledge of playing offensive and later defensive line to teach his grandson technique that helped him become an excellent player in little league.
He was always there for Felix, whether it was assisting in homeschooling him, pushing him to work hard and setting a great example of integrity and decency for him. He was at every Karate belt ceremony.
He watched Isabella graduate from elementary/middle school as the valedictorian, making a very compelling commencement speech to the audience.
He experienced Isabella being accepted to the Bernadette Honors program at her high school and later saw Dante be accepted to the Mas Scholars program at Christopher Columbus High School.
In Dante’s last year of little league football, he celebrated his team winning the super bowl and enjoyed the tailgates and celebrations with all the other parents. Everybody loved him.
All along, he was one of the regulars at practice and games and became one of the coaches’ and other dads’ favorites to talk to and seek life advice from.
He accompanied Isabella to her high school cross country practice every day and went to every meet.
He went to every freshman high school football practice and game with Dante, watching his team go undefeated and twice beating St. Thomas Aquinas (where all the sons of former NFL players go).
He celebrated with Felix when he got his GED 1 year earlier than his friends that graduated high school and he drove him to/from Robert Morgan Tech College where he was the only one in his class to get his A+ Certification.
He was there for his daughter during a difficult divorce and helped her get back on her feet emotionally and financially. He showed her by example that good men do exist and that she should not settle for less than she deserves. She is now happily married to a wonderful and loving husband.
He watched Isabella graduate second in her high school class and win over eight awards from her teachers and faculty.
He also watched Isabella graduate with a Bachelors in Business in Finance from Carnegie Mellon University.
He watched Dante graduate from Columbus High School, just like his son, winning several awards and getting a scholarship to Northeastern University, where he studies Computer Science today.
In 2018 he walked his daughter down the aisle along with her son, Felix, to marry a great man and childhood friend, Tony Newman in a beautiful wedding ceremony.
Ary renewed his love for Spain, taking several trips with his wife and grandchildren to enjoy the culture, history, food, wine and rich ambiance.
He struggled with Myasthenia Gravis and its many side effects, but never complained and always said he was doing well even during the most challenging days.
He also gifted Felix his car when he decided he didn’t want to drive anymore.
During their amazing and eventful 58 year-long marriage, Ary and Gladys were always by each other’s side, loving and supporting each other. As a testament to the strength of their union and commitment to each other, during Ary’s most challenging days, his wife took care of him relentlessly, and without complaint, every second of every day, and did everything she could to make him feel comfortable and safe. She was his loyal soldier until the end...caring always with a loving heart and spirit! Their love still endures and inspires us!
Ary C. Velasco Jr