Parks Officials Support Plan for Picnic Area Dedicated to Steve Benko Near Waveny Paddle Courts


The paddle tennis area at Waveny. Credit: Michael Dinan

Parks officials last week voted in support of a proposal to create a picnic area near Waveny’s platform tennis courts in honor of longtime New Canaan Recreation Director Steve Benko.

The New Canaan Men’s Club, together with the women’s and men’s paddle leagues, raised nearly $6,500 for the effort, according to club member Peter Eldridge.

“There was a very strong feeling not only among the paddle players in the club but throughout the membership that Steve was very deserving of a memorial,” Eldridge told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their June 8 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. 

Eldridge noted that club members also felt Benko would be very pleased with the renaming of the town pool at Waveny in his honor. Those behind an effort to do something related to paddle tennis met with Parks & Rec Director John Howe to talk about possibilities, he said.

Howe said the funds already raised could go toward purchasing picnic tables for an area overlooking the paddle courts that could be expanded if it catches on.

“Very simply, we think it would be a great tribute, but also it would be a nice place for a little picnic area with some picnic tables, and the type of area that could increase in size over the years if it’s a hit, so to speak,” he said. 

Parks & Rec Chair George Benington, Secretary Francesca Segalas and Commissioners Matt Konspore, Rona Siegel, Carl Mason and Gene Goodman voted in favor of the plan. Commissioners Keith Richey, Steve Haberstroh, Jake Granito and Hank Green were absent. There’s one open seat on the Commission. 

A widely respected and beloved town native who worked as head of recreation in New Canaan for five decades, Benko died Feb. 12 following a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Howe said that with more funding, additional benches, tables and pavers could be introduced to the area, and that Gregg’s Garden Center downtown already has offered to donate shade trees in Benko’s name for the effort. 

“People could still watch paddle, even in the in winter,” Howe said. “They could sit there, eventually with some trees around it. It would be a nice little area for a picnic place, close to parking.”

Segalas said she was concerned that the area could serve as a place for an additional paddle court in the future. Howe said that the thinking for an additional court, right now, would be continue the row of courts to the north, toward the parking lot and perhaps set closer to Lapham Road in order to minimize a loss of parking.

Benington noted that those using Spencer’s Run—another facility that came to be during Benko’s long tenure—also could use the new picnic area.

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