Stephen Edward Benko Jr., 71


Stephen Edward Benko Jr., 71, of New Canaan, died Feb. 12 at Stamford Hospital after a brief battle with cancer.

Steve Benko

He was 71.

Born Dec. 28, 1950 to Madeleine Murphy Benko and Stephen Edward Benko Sr., Steve grew up in an Orchard Drive house that his father built with wood salvaged from an old barn on what would become the Saxe Middle School property, and later built his own house on nearby Douglas Road.

He attended St. Aloysius School from kindergarten through eighth grade before attending New Canaan High School, graduating with the class of 1968. Steve went on to the University of New Haven, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and went to work that same year for the town of New Canaan, where he would be employed for the rest of his life, first as assistant recreation director and then, in 1979, as recreation director.

He launched the New Canaan travel soccer program in his first year with the Recreation Department, driving groups of kids to games and paying referees out of his own pocket, later co-founding the New Canaan Soccer Association. Throughout his five-decade career, Steve made it a priority to make rec programs available, affordable and open to the entire community. 

He loved baseball and spent years on the board of New Canaan Baseball.

The two projects Benko was most proud of during his five-decade career were Dunning Stadium, and the Waveny Pool. A centerpiece of the great athletic fields at New Canaan High School, Dunning was a years-long effort in which Benko was closely involved. As with every project that Benko took on, he was passionate about and dedicated to the pool at Waveny, giving countless hours to a gem of the community that serves hundreds of residents and competitive swimmers each summer.

He loved his work, he loved what he had, and didn’t want for anything.

Steve bounded out of bed each morning with a smile on his face, and it stayed there through the day. Serving others was his joy. He gave no thought to retirement.

Steve loved going to his kids’ sporting events and was their biggest cheerleader.

He loved to cook for a table full of family and friends, and was famous for his paella and Irish soda bread. He learned to cook for a large crowd at the firehouse and went on to cater many times for the Old Timers Clam Bake and Town Hall Christmas parties.

Steve also loved to sneak out of town to his lake house and enjoy relaxation, family time and the simple life. He to loved cruise around in his boat with Sue and his beloved bulldog, Butch, a cigar and bourbon in hand.

He began serving with New Canaan Fire Co. 1 in 1973, and was its chief for all but one year from 1980 to 1995.

Without asking or taking credit, he set up the PA system for important community ceremonies, including each Veterans Day at God’s Acre and Memorial Day in Lakeview Cemetery. Steve also set up the speakers for the bandstand each Christmas Eve at God’s Acre, staying there long after others had returned home to take them back down again. He loved making the New Canaan Family Fourth happen each July.

In addition to his wife of 31 years, Sue Baer Benko, he is survived by his children, Lindsay Gardner (Christopher), of Troy, N.Y., Stephanie Benko of Philadelphia and Peter Benko of New Canaan, brother David Benko of New Canaan and sister Elaine Sullivan (Mark) of Wilton, as well as many nieces and nephews, who all showed up to the hospital at midnight Saturday, an army of angels who came to take Sue home.

A memorial service—to be live-streamed here—will be held at 11 a.m. on Feb. 24 at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, 178 Oenoke Ridge Road, New Canaan CT 06840.

Family and friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Hoyt Funeral Home, 199 Main Street, New Canaan, CT 06840.

12 thoughts on “Stephen Edward Benko Jr., 71

  1. It is great sadness to hear of the passing of Steve. The Saggese- Benko families date back to the 1920s in New Canaan. My Dad (Tony Saggese, Sr.) attended grammar and high school with Steve’s Dad, participating in many NCHS sports together with both graduating in 1939 and going on to serve in WWII. Steve and I attended St, Aloysius together (I was one year ahead), as well as NCHS. My son Chris played both Travel Team Basketball and Pop Warner football together with Steve’s nephew David prior to David going on to St. Lukes and Chris to Fairfield Prep, so the New Canaan connection, with particular reference to sports, goes back some 90+ years in New Canaan. So it is a time of reflection on New Canaan’s past relationship between the Benko-Saggese families as we mourn Steve’s passing. Tony Saggese

  2. Steve’s passing makes one realize how significant his presence will be missed.
    For 18 years Steve was instrumental in enabling the Summer Theatre of New Canaan to maintain a successful home in Waveny and Irwin Park. His insights of how to accommodate multiple competing interests in utilizing town resources is largely responsible for our theatre remaining in New Canaan. Melody and I mourn with the town his loss and are grateful to be a part of Steve’s unique legacy in New Canaan.

  3. I am saddened to learn of Steve Benko’s passing. He was dedicated to the core to serving New Canaan, and his hard work, generosity and friendly spirit exemplified what we all treasure as New Canaanites.

    Our hearts go out to all of the members of the Benko family — and especially to Steve’s brother, David, and David’s son, Davey with whom we spent many wonderful times.

    Bently Elliott and family.

  4. I’m very saddened to hear about Steve Benko. My heart goes out to Sue and family. Steve was one of the first New Canaanites I met when we moved to town 45 years ago. His life was dedicated to recreation and sports for kids. We worked together many times. I have lost a friend and New Canaan has lost one of its pillars.

  5. Steve will be missed by so many people- family/friends. I know personally he was a mentor to me growing up in New Canaan. He is a great guy and friend.

    Thanks Benko Family

    Ron Ryan

  6. Steve Benko harkens back to an earlier time in New Canaan, when local kids spent their entire lives serving the community. Lou Moreno returned to his home in New Canaan to spend his entire life in service to the town. The Ready’s, Gene, Ed, and ‘Bucket’ all spent the lives in town. There are many others, but Steve’s passing brings back many memories of local service.

    Steve will be missed, an will be irreplaceable for his many rolls, including the sports, the fire department, Waveny, all the recreation groups, Christmas, the family fourth, and innumerable other town functions.

    I have lost a friend, and the town has lost a bit 9f itself.

  7. So many wonderful memories. I can remember Steve’s annual budget presentation for many, many years. Last night at our BOF Public Works budget review, there was an empty void. As someone who always relied on Steve, I know it will be years before we discover all the history in his head.
    A very sad time for Sue, his family and our community.
    Judy Neville

  8. I have lived in New Canaan for twenty years and got to know Steve initially thru New Canaan baseball. He was always willing to do anything for the league/town and for any person, all you had to do was ask. Steve was always willing, ready, and able. One of my last memories was him wrapping up the last summer concert series and as the town packs up their dinners and deserts after a great night of music, there is Steve putting away the recyclables and garbage cans.I remember thinking, I can’t wait for the next summer’s music series. Well, next summer’s series will not be the same without Steve and many things in this town will not be the same without Steve. I think we all need to strive to be more like him.

    Thank you Steve Benko, you will be missed.

    -Bob Naughton

  9. Steve Benko was one of the most unselfish individuals I have ever met in my life. He was a genuine man who believed in traditional values and lived them every day of his life. He was a dedicated and loyal employee of the New Canaan Recreation Department and believed in its mission to his core.

    I first met Steve when I was a Little League coach in New Canaan in the 1960’s. The town decided to withdraw from the national organization and form its own youth baseball program. That decision denied many 11 and 12-year-olds in New Canaan the opportunity to participate in national all-star competition. Steve helped me organize a local all-star traveling team to help fill the void and he even provided the uniforms.

    My relationship with Steve continued with the New Canaan Recreation Department’s youth soccer program, the traveling all-star soccer team and the soccer exchange program with Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Sadly, our relationship came to an end in 1990 when I moved to Redmond, WA to work for Microsoft Corporation.

    We are all so much richer for having known Steve Benko but we are so much poorer for having lost him!

  10. New Canaan will miss our unsung hometown superhero, Steve Benko. Steve, always with a smile and full of energy, had the rare ability to be everywhere at once. He very much enjoyed taking care of our beautiful town and did more for New Canaan than anyone will ever even know. Many years ago, my daughter got locked in the upstairs bathroom at Waveny House during camp. Within minutes, Steve arrived with a ladder. He placed the ladder on the back patio, climbed up and through the window, and opened the door. Steve the hero, it all happened in a flash.
    Steve was a wonderful husband to Sue and father to Lindsay, Steph, and Peter. Steve, the ultimate family man and fan, cheered his kids on at every one of their games. He was also a loving brother to Elaine and Dave. I was lucky enough to know him growing up because we shared cousins. I got to see him at all the Murphy gatherings. Steve also absolutely loved his dog Butch, who often accompanied him around town. He did an outstanding job in anything he touched. He had an impeccable work ethic. And what a chef too! I will never forget the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations; they were the best. Steve was one of the most honorable, humble, kind-hearted men I have ever met and he will be truly missed.

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