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

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

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.”

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.

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

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.

‘I Know He’s Thrilled’: New Canaan Dedicates ‘Steve Benko Pool’ at Waveny

The architects’ original specifications for the popular community pool in Waveny Park were for a certified Olympic competition pool that could play host to official state, regional and national swim meets, according to Steve Karl. Citing an anecdote from Assistant Recreation Director Bill Kapp, Karl told more than 200 people gathered poolside Saturday morning that Steve Benko immediately objected to those plans “because the shallow end of the pool was about 20 feet long at a depth of six feet, and sloping much deeper to the diving well end.”

“Steve realized as a municipal pool, we had to have a shallow end three-and-a-half to four feet deep so that kids and teens could stand up,” Karl continued. “The battle would continue as the architects refused to build a custom pool. Steve also objected to the length of the shallow end, that it was too small, and mandated that the shallow end should be at least doubled in size, and the entire slope of the pool would be would be re-engineered. This was because as a municipal pool we had to accommodate most of the public to enjoy the shallow end.

Dedication of ‘Steve Benko Pool’ Set for Saturday, June 4

Town officials this month voted unanimously to approve a June 4 ceremony to honor and memorialize one of New Canaan’s most recognizable, well-liked and dedicated residents. The Parks & Recreation Commission at its May 11 meeting voted 7-0 to approve a plan to dedicate the “Steve Benko Pool” in Waveny on the morning of Saturday, June 4. “I think it’s wonderful,” Chair George Benington said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “Steve Karl and Robin [Bates Mason] have worked really hard to put this together.”

Benko died Feb. 12 after a brief battle with cancer.