By Tim Gardner
H.Wayne Huizenga, a nationally known and highly successful businessman and entrepreneur as well as a colossal philanthropist, with deep ties to the North Carolina High Country, passed away March 22, at his South Florida home. He was 80 years old.
Huizenga and his wife, Marti, who died in 2017, also had a home in Linville.
Huizenga built Fortune 500 businesses that included Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and AutoNation, as well as owned three major professional sports franchises.
He was founding owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers and Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins, and former owner of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins. He owned all three franchises from 1994 to 1998. And Huizenga may have been best known for his ownership of those—especially the Miami Dolphins. He also was instrumental in the North Carolina High Country in the founding and ownership of Diamond Creek Golf Club, near Banner Elk in 2003 until selling his part of the club in 2012.
But perhaps Wayne and Marti Huizenga’s most meaningful legacy was giving much money and their time to help those in need.
Their efforts were key in the fundraising process to build a new Humane Society building in Avery County, to help shelter children at Crossnore School and the construction and establishment of the Williams YMCA of Avery County.
The Williams YNCA provides bears evidence of Huizenga’s generosity. According to Williams YMCA CEO Trey Oakley, the naming rights for the lobby were The Y’s way to showing appreciation for a $600,000.00 gift made by the Huizenga Family Foundation to help establish the YMCA in Avery County.
“The Huizengas were very instrumental in getting The Y up and running. They were an incredible family that did so much our county,” Oakley said. “With Wayne and Marti and their affection for children’s programs, including with the impact seen in their involvement with the Boys and Girls Club in Broward County, Florida, they understood the impact that a YMCA would have on the area here, investing north of half a million dollars in our Y to ensure that the Wellness Center could be built and equipped with the most modern equipment. The Huizengas were a huge part of the initial giving campaign to help make The Y possible here.”
The Huizengas also donated generously to Crossnore School, helping the organization fulfill its goal of providing a Christian sanctuary of hope and healing for children in need from across North Carolina.
Additionally, the Huizengas also invested into the efforts of Hospitality House, donating money to the organization’s capital campaign to build its new facility. A reception and welcome area at the Hospitality House is named in their honor.
The Hospitality House is located in Watauga County, but the organization also serves the needs of Avery, Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Mitchell and Yancey counties.
Huizenga is survived by his children, Robert, Jay, Pam, Wayne Jr. and Scott, along with eleven grandchildren.