‘Seeing the Star Brings Me Joy’: Steve Benko’s Legacy Also Touches God’s Acre at Christmas


Steve Benko's homemade star is perched atop the caroling tree at God's Acre. Credit: Michael Dinan

Many years ago, Sue Benko fondly dubbed her husband, the late Steve Benko, as “New Canaan’s Christmas Elf.”

Steve Benko

A 1968 New Canaan High School graduate and standout Irish soda bread baker who would work as the town’s recreation director for four-plus decades—while also volunteering with New Canaan Fire Co. 1, serving as chief for all but one year from 1980 to 1995—Steve Benko “cherished” the Christmas tree at God’s Acre and the local tradition of caroling each Christmas Eve, Sue Benko recalled.

“Each year, his enthusiasm would peak as it came time to light the tree,” she said. “Wrapping up all the kids warmly, we would take a drive-by to ensure the tree was just perfect.”

This 20-year-old Con Color Fir tree was planted May 6, 2014 at God’s Acre. It now serves as the centerpiece for a cherished New Canaan holiday tradition: Christmas caroling at God’s Acre. Credit: Michael Dinan

In 2014, God’s Acre got a new fir tree to serve as the centerpiece for the holidays, and Steve Benko decided to craft a new star for it.

“In the inaugural year of its decoration, he sensed something was amiss,” Sue Benko recalled. “One night, I heard him diligently working in the basement. Unaware of his project, I was pleasantly surprised when he proudly presented the handmade star for the tree.”

Benko died in February 2022 following a brief battle with cancer. He was 71.

In the wake of his passing, New Canaanites honored Benko by dedicating the community pool at Waveny—a project that he had worked closely on—as the “Steve Benko Pool.”

God’s Acre on Dec. 11, 2023. Credit: Michael Dinan

It’s a befitting honor for the man, since Steve Benko—as much as anyone in New Canaan—worked so hard for so many years to bring joy to local kids and families. His love for his hometown and its people is reflected in the star perched atop the caroling tree at God’s Acre.

Sue Benko remembered how her husband would visit the bandstand each year on Dec. 24 to set up the speakers and “usually made it to church on time.”

“After the carolers dispersed, Steve and I would return to God’s Acre to dismantle the speakers in the freezing cold, and then off to our Christmas Eve festivities,” she said. “He did it all with joy in his heart.”

She added: “Now, seeing the star brings me joy. It warms my heart to know that Steve’s legacy continues to brighten people’s lives.”

[Christmas Eve caroling at God’s Acre starts at 6:30 p.m. each year on Dec. 24. NewCanaanite.com will publish the songsheet in advance for attendees, sign up here for our free daily newsletter.]

8 thoughts on “‘Seeing the Star Brings Me Joy’: Steve Benko’s Legacy Also Touches God’s Acre at Christmas

  1. This gives me goosebumps head-to-toe. I am so happy to know that he made the star! Adding it to the many way his memory lives on in the Next Station To Heaven. God bless, Sue, and may God rest his soul. He set a high bar for what it means to be a New Canaanite.

  2. Steve Benko loved New Canaan. His service to our community set a brilliant example, and it is fitting that his star shines on the town at Christmas time. God bless, and we miss you, Steve.

  3. Such a heartwarming article. Thank you Sue, for sharing your remembrances of Steve with all of us. I think of him often when I pass the firehouse, and now, his star will shine for all of New Canaan at this time of year with his great Christmas spirit. God Bless you all!

  4. I worked with Steve on the Mead Playground renovation (1999) and the creation of the, now namesake, community pool. Our last gig together was the proposed stone terrace on God’s Acre. He worked tirelessly on all these projects, often attending planning meetings at night after working a full day. On Christmas Eve 2021, I stood near the bandstand handing out song sheets and watched with amazement while Steve did final checks on the sound system, covering a myriad of details with complete focus. God bless Steve Benko and everything he brought to this town. Thank you to Sue too because it could not have been easy to perpetually share Steve with the entire town of New Canaan.

  5. Mike great tribute to Steve especially around the holidays. The star has a special meaning to me and my family as we pass by it running errands in town. You are right—he was one in a million!

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