David Paul Danzeisen, one of Ponte Vedra Beach’s pre-eminent business leaders, died May 11 at the age of 78. News of his passing spread quickly with friends and acquaintances expressing surprise, even shock.
“It was very, very sad to hear of him passing,” said Dr. Erika Hamer, who served with him on the board of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Ponte Vedra Beach Division. “He will be very missed. He was a very, very active member of our community.”
“Dave was one of a kind,” said Susan Griffin, publisher of The Ponte Vedra Recorder. “I will miss him. His passing is a great loss to the community.”
Danzeisen was born in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, to Frank and Margaret Danzeisen, who owned a dairy farm. He had a brother, Frank Jr., and a sister, Margaret.
He attended college in Westchester County, New York, married and had two daughters, Dianne and Dawn. To support his family, he drove a school bus – a job that would lead to some of his biggest career successes.
After the bus company’s owner decided not to bid on a forthcoming contract, Danzeisen saw an opportunity. A friend who was a school bus dealer helped him finance the purchase of buses and get started in that business.
This initiative paid off. Danzeisen won his first school bus contract.
He built on this success by buying out several other contractors and ultimately became one the largest school bus operators in the state of New York.
But he didn’t stop there. He added a commercial coach business, an interstate transportation company called Vanguard Tours.
New Yorkers sat up and took notice of his success.
“He was actually voted the most eligible bachelor in Westchester County,” said his former wife of 30 years, Kathryn Danzeisen. Their marriage closed the door on that particular status.
David Danzeisen was a leader in his industry, and became president of four key associations: the American Bus Association, the American Transit Operators, the National Association of Bus Owners and the New York State School Bus Owners Association.
Still, he wasn’t one to rest on his laurels.
Returning to his roots, he launched a hobby farm in upstate New York on Lake Champlain. Eventually, it grew into a 2,000-acre grain-and-cattle operation that, at one point, supplied barley to Budweiser.
In 1986, life took Danzeisen in a wholly new direction. He sold his bus company and, while visiting his wife’s parents in Ponte Vedra Beach, fell in love with this small, First-Coast community.
He resolved to retire here, but as Kathryn Danzeisen said, “Retirement didn’t fit him well.”
In 1988, he bought Classic Car Wash and started Clean Getaway Car Wash. He later launched Showboat Car Wash in St. Augustine and Ducky’s Car Wash, with locations throughout Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, his son David and daughter Summer were born.
His daughter remembers how he always seemed to know everyone and how people enthusiastically greeted him everywhere he went.
“He was very outgoing,” Summer Danzeisen said. “He was very charming, very charismatic.”
She said he laughed very easily and that his laughter was infectious.
“He had a wild sense of humor,” she said. “He loved to poke fun at his friends and his family and give us all a rough time – and we’d give it right back. He laughed with all of us.”
Cabi fashion stylist and past Chamber board member Lori Adams attested to his sense of humor.
“He had a comment at the Chamber function when I wore the vintage Cabi flapper dress,” she said.
When she told him she’d renamed her dress the “car wash dress” because it looked like one of those car wash machines when she twirled, he said, “Could you wear that dress and swirl on 3rd Street near my car wash to generate some business?”
A Jacksonville Jaguars season ticket holder, he enjoyed a variety of sports. He attended the World Series while living in New York, and in Florida he enjoyed taking in Tampa Bay Lightning games. He also liked to spend time on his yacht, Champagne, play golf and spend summers at his home in Westport, New York.
He was politically active, and his family described him as “a real patriot.”
He served on the board of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce and as board chair for its Ponte Vedra Beach Division.
A strong supporter of local business, he offered all beach businesses the opportunity to put free advertising materials in his Clean Getaway car wash to help them during the pandemic.
Danzeisen lived in Ponte Vedra Beach for 35 years.
He is survived by Kathryn Danzeisen; children David Paul Danzeisen Jr. and Summer (Mark) Danzeisen of Ponte Vedra Beach, Dianne Batistoni of Morris Plains, New Jersey, and Dawn (Gary) Marchant of Scottsdale, Arizona; four grandchildren, Andrew (Dulcey) Batistoni, Austin Batistoni, Julianna Marchant and Daniel Marchant; and sister Margaret Danzeisen Toro of Pennsylvania.
Services were held Tuesday, May 18, at Christ Episcopal Church on San Juan Drive in Ponte Vedra Beach.