Community activists to energize retirement village

BETHANY - Next week, the town of Bethany will experience a supernova event when twin constellations Bob and Betsy Bergen, residents for over 30 years, transfer their energies to a retirement community in Massachusetts. Many of their friends and acquaintances foresee the formation of a black hole in the community when they depart.

Balancing their political contributions, one in each party ("We cancel each other's votes," Democrat Betsy often said with a smile), they chaired and participated in community and church committees with humanitarian and civic goals. Betsy, inspired by the Rev. Will Reger, formerly of the First Church of Christ in Bethany, added a Master of Divinity Degree to her geriatric counseling master's and paralegal degree while raising three children.

The couple founded (with J.B. Gardner and Rev. Reger) the Interfaith Counseling and Action Program, the first non-profit to provide crisis counseling to New Haven's homeless. Ministering in the New Haven area, from work at soup kitchens to untangling legal problems and involving other suburbanites in solving urban problems, Betsy and Bob shone their lights on dark corners that needed the energies of their community.

The two have worked tirelessly within the town of Bethany, as well, to add needed services. Bob, a member of the Senior Ad Hoc Housing committee from its inception, eventually chaired it and moved it closer to its goal of providing affordable housing units to needy seniors. Betsy, trained in group process, gathered friends and acquaintances into discussion groups focused on community issues, politics, and Bible Studies. She is also a past recipient of Bethany's Citizen of the Year.

In addition to his many community activities, Bob was a Research Scientist and Director of Engineering at UniRoyal, where he became a world-renowned expert on plastics. He also taught chemistry and mathematics at the University of New Haven. Betsy served as a chaplain at Gaylord and Yale-New Haven Hospitals.

At a celebration of their town leadership Sunday, Garden Club President Geraldine Shaw cited Betsy's work to improve the landscape along Route 63, quipping that Bergen was determined "to beautify downtown Bethany, wherever that is!"

State Sen. Joe Crisco and state Rep. Vickie Nardello presented a proclamation from the General Assembly, and First Selectwoman Derrylynn Gorski declared Jan. 4 "Bob and Betsy Bergen Day."

"Washington has Mary Matalin and James Carville," Gorski said. "We had Bob and Betsy."