Sitting in the living room of her Belvedere Bed & Breakfast in Peconic, Marie Beninati reflected on how every job experience she has had shaped her into the successful businesswomen and philanthropist that she is today.
Details are important to Beninati. From the ornate frescoes on her ceiling to her research on her beloved home, she loves to discuss history. It’s a far cry from how she started out her professional life.
In the late 1960s, she was a certified public accountant and was one of the first women hired at a top Wall Street firm. From the start, she saw inequities between how the male and female associates were treated. Within five years, she received a job offer to be the controller at Macy’s and got her first taste of marketing.
It was exciting and challenging but when the opportunity came to work at the corporate level somewhere else, she jumped at it. Her rise up retail corporate ladder was not without stress, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when few women were corporate officers.
“At one company, I remember being fearful to call in when my son was sick,” she said.
Over time, she focused on becoming a consultant. Her family landed on the North Fork basically to “lick their wounds” after a real estate deal went south that cost the family both their Rockville Centre home and a future business opportunity. They bought the home in Peconic and opened the bed and breakfast but she still held on to her consulting business until 2000, when she decided it was time to focus on real estate.
“I love real estate. I used to go and tour estate homes to look at their interiors,” she said.
Her family purchased the historic Whitaker house next to Southold Town Hall, restored it, and now uses it as home to . She recently purchased a 1970s modern house near Cedar Beach in Southold and plans to move there once Belvedere is sold.
Real estate may be her profession, but her passion right now lies with being chairman of the board at not-for-profit San Simeon By the Sound in Greenport.
Beninati said the board is working to bring the nursing facilities at San Simeon into the 21st Century. A lot has already been done but she said the board has many ideas for expansion in the future. She envisions a day where San Simeon will include affordable apartments, assisted living facilities and an on-site medical center for the area's growing senior population.
“It’s important work. I see a lot of older women in homes they cannot manage anymore,” she said. “Where do they go? Why should we lose these people to Riverhead?”
Although it is not a “sexy” cause, she feels there is important work ahead. She said she sees a time in the near future where the state cuts Medicaid funding to the elderly and leaves 70 percent of the residents of the nursing home without a way to pay for care.
“We have our work in front of us to protect these people,” she said.