Setauket recently welcomed a new financial services office to the area, but the company’s president is no stranger to the Three Village community.
Harlan Fischer, president of Branch Financial Services, recently moved his offices from Smithtown to Setauket. His business, which was located on Route 111 for 25 years, and before that, for 21 years in Hauppauge, has now found a home at 21 Bennetts Road.
The Head of the Harbor resident and his wife of almost 47 years, Olivia, are known for their involvement in the art community across the North Shore, and both are familiar names at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. For the past three years, the couple has sponsored a monthly concert series at the music venue and museum, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus.
Loft founder Tom Manuel said the Fischers were its first donors. The musician still remembers the day in 2015 when he was in Stony Brook village performing to raise money for the renovation of the venue’s future home. He said a man with a dog walked up to him and they began talking about jazz. The man turned out to be Fischer.
“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, how interesting that there’s this guy that kind of digs what we’re trying to do,’” Manuel said. “Little did I know he’d already read about us, and he came there on purpose. I just thought he was passing by.”
He said Fischer gave him an envelope with a check inside, but Manuel didn’t open it until he was home, thinking it was maybe worth $50. Later he opened the envelope and found the check was for $1,000.
“My eyes were as big as saucers,” he said.
The Jazz Loft founder said that with Fischer’s interest in jazz and the couple’s love of art, the venue is a perfect match for them.
“They’re doing it because it’s a passion,” he said. “It’s not just that they’re looking for a place to make a tax-deductible donation.”
Fischer and his wife’s philanthropy goes beyond The Jazz Loft. While the financial adviser spends the day discussing finances with clients — people from all over Long Island as well as 26 states — his interests lie elsewhere when the workday has ended. Both he and Olivia through the decades have developed a shared love of art.
Fischer said, for him, it began after a 1988 car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver. He realized he could have been killed, and up until that point his life was mostly about work.
“All of a sudden it got me in touch with my mortality,” he said.
“All of a sudden it got me in touch with my mortality.”
— Harlan Fischer
He was talking to his physical therapist who told him about the Rotary club. Not only did he join the organization, but he also went on to become the president of Smithtown Rotary from 1997to 98. Through the Rotary he became involved in various community projects, but when a friend told him how the Smithtown Township Arts Council was looking for a board member, that’s when he found one of his true passions. Fischer told his friend he knew nothing about art, but it turned out the board was looking for a businessperson like him. Fischer decided to join and a year later became its president.
During his five-year tenure, he said he learned a lot about art, thanks to Norma Cohen, who was director of the council back then. He and his wife began collecting artwork, especially contemporary studio art glass pieces that fill the couple’s Head of the Harbor home.
Olivia Fischer said the couple’s interest in art grew together and the two began raising money for various organizations, including hosting fundraisers in their home.
Through the years, the Fischers have been members of many art organizations as well as sponsored many events. Among their philanthropic activities have been being members of The Long Island Museum’s Directors Advisory Circle and sponsoring the East End Arts Music Masters Mentorship Program for high schoolers. The financial adviser is also a former board president of the Art League of Long Island, and in 2000, he was named The Times of Smithtown Man of the Year in Business.
In addition to their work in the world of the arts, the Fischers have rescued dogs and are in the process of adopting their 11th one. In late 2018, the Town of Smithtown recognized them for their $7,600 donation which enabled the Smithtown Animal Shelter to build a dog park that bears their name, the Olivia and Harlan Fischer Recreational and Development Park. The Fischers have also backed Little Shelter Animal Rescue’s annual Pet-A-Palooza in Huntington.
Fischer, who is in his early 70s, said he feels 10 years younger and has no plans to retire, especially in his new office that features some of his art collection. He added that he’s fortunate to work with good people too, which helps with leading a busy life.
“I can’t ask for more than that,” he said.
Success and enjoyment in life are something he believes people find when they feel passionate about what they are doing. He also believes in good timing, which has become a common theme in his life not only with finding ways to give back but also in his career life.
After spending four years in the Air Force and almost a year in Vietnam, he wound up in retail despite having an engineering degree from Northeastern University. He was running the Levitz Furniture & Showroom in Farmingdale when he told someone he no longer wanted to be in retail, and it was recommended he consider the financial field.
“Timing is everything in life,” he said. “Just being at the right place at the right time and saying the right thing. You make a right turn instead of a left turn, your whole life can be different.”