They were 17 of the most inspiring words in 20th Century American History.
“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your Country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Those words, spoken in 1961 by newly elected President John F. Kennedy galvanized a generation of American youth into the service of something much bigger than themselves: For some it was the Green Berets; for others it was the Peace Corps; still others chose to be teachers or public servants.
Among those was Beth Sabo, who felt a special calling, and made it her goal to become a teacher when she grew up, but who—as fate would have it–would instead excel in another field of service.
She smiles as she looks at Kennedy’s image on her office wall at City Hall and begins her story that is told with emotion, and just a few tears.
Beth grew up in Levittown, Long Island: Developed in 1947, Levittown was the first, and best-known major planned suburban development in America.
“It was a magical time in a magical place. You knew all of your neighbors; and all of the adults you called ‘Aunt’ or ‘Uncle’ and their name,” she said. “Nobody locked their doors, and the community was like one big family. Our fathers were all G.I.s who had returned from the war, and were fulfilling their dreams of marriage, home and family. While our fathers were at work and our mothers were at home, we kids played stickball and roller blade hockey in the street every day after school. I graduated from high school in 1969 and went away to school. All those kids of yesteryear still have reunions, and these days we stay in touch via the social media. We laugh at our memories, and I feel blessed that all of this has lasted through the ages.”
After graduating from SUNY Brockport, Beth continued on, pursuing her master’s degree from Southern Connecticut State College (now University), while she applied for a teaching position in West Haven. But at that time, the demand for teachers was low. She began working part-time for the Recreation Department, under Barbara Barry and Bob Schotta. Apparently, they saw some promise in her, for one year later Beth was managing “Project SOFTEN” which was financed by a state grant and offered a multitude of after-school activities and included transportation for those who participated. “Project SOFTEN” was enormously popular: it offered sports and skills instruction in woodworking, sewing, cooking, etc.
And the years came and went. Beth became assistant to Azelio “Sal” Guerra, who was Director of Human Resources, and in 1987 she became Commissioner of Human Resources, when “Sal” had been elected Mayor.
And because she was Beth, she also took on some “special projects” which did not fall within the scope of Human Resources.
More years passed. From 2003-2013 Beth served as Commissioner of Public works; in 2013, she became Director of Personnel and Human Resources, a position which she held until her retirement in July of 2021.
Retired, she may be, but Beth Sabo is still working at City Hall, albeit only “part time,” which for her is probably about 40 hours per week.
In a reflective moment, Beth looks back on some of the projects that she has overseen: Renovations—with the help of committees–of West Haven’s Historic Green, Quigley Stadium, Old Grove Park, and the High School baseball and softball fields. Also, Duffy’s Soccer Field, Savin Rock Museum, Veterans Museum, and the Veterans Walk on Bradley Point.
“Think of it,” said Sabo, “West Haven’s premier property, dedicated to all of our veterans—what could be more fitting? When you visit the site, the nature of it commands a certain silent respect. And what you see there are people looking for the names of loved ones, the names of the people, the places, and the service that they rendered unto their country. It brings out a certain reverence among the visitors.”
Beth Sabo also managed the city’s involvement in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 1995, which she terms, “An amazing display of humanity.” In addition, she chaired the West Haven Breast Cancer Awareness Program and was honored in 2003 by Yoplait and Susan G. Komen as one of 25 individuals in the nation making a difference in Breast Cancer.
And finally, in late 2020, Beth Sabo was asked to accept the daunting assignment of assembling and chairing the “City of West Haven Centennial Celebration – 1921-2021 Committee;” she accepted the position and discharged her duties as expected.
It might be added that it was a desire of that committee to create a “pamphlet” of West Haven history with ads interspersed. The initial concept grew and grew, and quickly became much more that that!
In accordance with their insistence, this author saw the development of a book entitled “West Haven – Village to Town” become a reality, to his great delight! With the assistance of Catherine Bushman, Sue McCarthy, Michael Walsh and Beth Sabo–a portion of West Haven’s 100 years as an entity–stories from the Historian’s Corner–achieved this goal!
In all, Beth served under eight mayors, and two supervisors. They are, respectively, Mayors Robert Johnson, Lawrence Minichino, Azelio “Sal” Guerra, Clem Evangeliste, Richard Borer, John Picard, Edward O’Brien, and Nancy R. Rossi, also Robert Schotta and Jon Purmont.
How does Beth sum up her career?
She closes our discussion with a quotation from Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”