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Phoebe Chandler brings decades of service—and now a special keynote speaker, her daughter Beth Chandler—to the shoreline’s 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Breakfast. The breakfast, which celebrates the life and teachings of Dr. King, is set to take place Monday, Jan. 21, at 8:30 a.m. at a new location, Branford High School, 185 East Main Street. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Chandler )
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On Monday, Jan. 21, Phoebe Chandler’s 34-year-connection and decades of humble work supporting the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Breakfast will celebrate a full circle moment when her daughter, Beth Chandler, returns to Branford as this year’s MLK breakfast keynote speaker.
Phoebe, who is once again co-chairing the breakfast with Maryann Pellegrino, suggested Beth as a speaker to the interfaith committee that organizes the event.
“I said to myself, ‘Goodness, we’re low key people, but they’re speaking so much about “Why don’t we get a young person to come in?”’ And that’s the reason I thought about my daughter,” says Phoebe. “We try to have people that will be an attraction to the breakfast and talk about Dr. King’s cause, and we like to have someone who works with helping other people. And that’s what Dr. King was about.”
A press release from the MLK Breakfast Committee notes Beth’s two decades in the non-profit sector include serving as deputy director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the state’s largest funding source for civil legal aid programs. Beth was also manager of national business development for Neighborworks America. Since 2012, Beth, a mother of two, has been president and CEO of YWCA Boston, working to encourage Boston organizations to help advance people of color, women, and especially women of color, in leadership positions.
The 2019 MLK Breakfast is set for Jan. 21 at 8:30 a.m. at a new location, Branford High School (BHS). As always, one of the goals of the breakfast is to help others by giving 100 percent of ticket sales proceeds to local food bank programs as well as those providing heating fuel for the elderly.
Phoebe notes Beth is excited to be returning to visit BHS, where she was president of the Class of 1984 and excelled in basketball and volleyball. At Harvard, Beth captained a two-time Ivy League title team as a junior and senior, and graduated with honors, majoring in economics.
“When she first graduated from Harvard, she was ready to go to The Urban Institute to work, right outside of Washington [D.C.]” says Phoebe. “We had packed for her, and then she gets a phone call from her coach, and he says they’re looking for an American to play over in Austria. And that was before [professional] women’s basketball came into being in U.S. That was in 1989.”
After two years of pro ball in Austria, Beth entered her work as a research evaluation analyst with The Urban Institute. Later, she joined the corporate world with Bank of America, while also earning an MBA in finance and management at Columbia Business School.
A New Haven native, Phoebe studied the secretarial field at Quinnipiac College and worked for many years in middle management. She came to Branford as bride in 1956. It’s the hometown of her husband, the late Joe Chandler, who served as Branford’s chairman of the Board of Education and also served with the Board of Assessment Appeals. Joe was a noted Cheshire High School basketball coach.
The Chandlers’ love of education and sports played into the young lives of their two kids, Beth and Joe Jr., as did their membership with Branford’s St. Stephens AME Zion Church, where the very first Branford MLK Breakfast was held, notes Phoebe, who was in attendance.
The church’s regular Third Sunday Breakfast was used as a springboard in creating its first annual MLK Breakfast in 1985, as the national holiday was taking hold.
“They had a little ceremony going on at the breakfast, and the person that was the chair of it was Collette Brown Spears. And Robert Louis Burns was instrumental in getting the members to go, as well Mr. Collin Rouse,” says Phoebe.
St. Stephens continued holding the annual MLK breakfast as a church community for several years. “Eventually, it became something where they would invite the ministers of [local] churches, and they would come, and we would have a breakfast or lunch,” she says. “From the breakfast, it then became a larger affair. It grew to be too big for the church, and at that point, Reverend Charles Woody had taken it to the Branford clergy.”
Phoebe recalls the first few years of the multi clergy-organized events as a “full weekend. They would start with a debate with the high school students, then they would have a basketball game on Saturday, then on Sunday we would have a worship service—we would go to different churches—and then on Monday morning was the breakfast.”
It was a lot to try to tackle. To assist, clergy from each church sought volunteers to help serve on an organizational committee. Phoebe signed up in 1995.
“When I started working with it, they didn’t have that many people attending; it was less than 100. The minister at the [First] Congregational Church said, ‘We need more publicity.’ That’s when I got involved,” says Phoebe.
She wrote publicity articles and event announcements that appeared in the Branford Review. She remembers the moment the volunteer organizational work began tipping toward today’s interfaith MLK Breakfast Committee.
“At that point in time, we would have a representative from all the churches. It got so we would ask people who wished to serve on the committee to sign up at the end of the breakfast, and that’s how that became interfaith,” says Phoebe, who has chaired or co-chaired the breakfast every year since the committee took over in 2001.
Held for the past 18 years at St. Therese Church Hall, the breakfast has succeeded so much in drawing residents from across the shoreline that it’s finally outgrown the space.
“They couldn’t accommodate all the people and there wasn’t enough work room for all the people that would be working there,” says Phoebe, thinking back to the many volunteers who have served up the popular southern breakfast (including grits and pork sausage—and now also turkey sausage).
“Mr. Collin Rouse, both he and Mr. Theodore Brooks were the main cooks for many years, and the Brooks family had three sons and they would come in and help,” she says. “Even the [former] chief of police, Bob Gill, would be in there helping out. So it was quite a family affair. Everybody would help out.”
Phoebe says the MLK Breakfast Committee is excited and ready to welcome a crowd to the 19th annual MLK Breakfast at BHS on Jan. 21 at 8:30 a.m.
“The committee has been very helpful. I have to give them a lot of credit, and of course to Maryann Pellegrino, our co-chair, who always keeps members of committee informed. And then there’s our secretary, Marion Lovig, who does so much, and Mr. Peter Stolzman, he was the first one that was instrumental in saying we should involve more of the young people...and so many others, I’m sure I’m not naming them al1! But all of them do so much for this breakfast,” says Phoebe.
She also thanks BHS Music Makers, which has provided music for the breakfast for many years, first under the direction of Cathyann Roding, and now with Michael Martone, Jr. In addition, at this year’s breakfast, students from BHS Culinary Arts will be helping in the kitchen.
“It’s a very uplifting day, and we appreciate the young people who attend. They give up their day,” says Phoebe.
Phoebe says it’s so important for younger generations to continue to recognize and celebrate the work and teachings of Dr. King.
“My daughter, she’s always admired Dr. King,” says Phoebe.
Her family’s continuum of admiration for the work Dr. King extends now to her grandson Elias Jack Chandler, 11, and granddaughter Cora Gray Chandler, who will be turning nine on Jan. 15, which is also the actual date of the birthday of Dr. King.
Phoebe says she’s enjoyed helping the annual MLK Breakfast thrive on the shoreline, but also feels the time is arriving for some youthful volunteers to sign on and help continue the work.
“I enjoy doing it, but I’m getting to that age!” she says.
The 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast takes place Monday, Jan. 21, at 8:30 a.m. at Branford High School, 185 East Main Street. For tickets ($10 adults; $5 children ages 5 to 12), call 203-467-9180. Ticket sales proceeds benefit Food Bank and Fuel for the Elderly programs.
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