On Monday, May 17, International Telecommunications Day, Saba’s telecommunications provider Satel NV, which celebrated its 45th anniversary, honored its former director and telecommunications pioneer Chester Zagers by naming its main building after him.
Satel befittingly utilized the occasion of International Telecommunications Day and the customer appreciation day for the company’s 45th anniversary to pay special tribute to Zagers, who worked for the company for almost 40 years and who after his retirement served as chairman on Satel’s supervisory board for another 10 years.
Sonia Johnson of Satel, who acted as the MC during Monday’s event, reflected on Zagers’ tenure in the telecommunications industry. When Zagers started his career in 1959 at the age of 17, technology was far from what it is now, and his duties focused on radio/telephone connection and Morse code. The only direct and consistent communication was with St. Maarten and St. Eustatius.
Communication from other islands than St. Maarten and St. Eustatius arrived via telegram. He had the very challenging job of delivering telegrams announcing the death of relatives living overseas. According to Zagers, this was the hardest part of his job. Chester was very dedicated to his work: he worked seven days a week and on weekends his hours were even longer, up to 12-hour shifts. He worked alone for the first eight years.
A big change came in 1976 with the agreement between the Saba Government and Landsradio to establish an automatic telephone system and a ship to shore coast station on Saba. Saba Radio was in operation for 20 years, a 24-hour service divided into three shifts. Saba Radio closed its operations in 1997. It played a very important role in the Eastern Caribbean, assisting ships in need of information or in distress helping to save lives.
Fiber optic cable
Another advancement in the telecommunications field on Saba occurred when a fiber optic cable was laid from The Bottom to Windwardside in order to prepare for a new telephone system.
Additionally, a tower for the microwave link between Saba and St. Maarten was constructed. This link greatly benefitted the island and its people because it allowed private citizens to have telephones at home and gave them the ability to make international calls.
A second fiber cable was laid from Windwardside to Mount Scenery as a backup system, and a building was placed on top the mountain to house the equipment. An additional building in St. John’s housed the equipment for a microwave link from St. John’s to St. Eustatius. A Canadian contractor laid a new network of cables throughout the entire island, and the St. Maarten telephone company Telem NV installed an aerial telephone network. “Chester managed and supervised this entire undertaking. It was a tremendous opportunity in his career and he felt privileged to spearhead this operation,” said Johnson.
The next development in telecommunications brought Saba in the modern technology age when the internet was installed via a satellite link from Miami and Saba obtained multimedia service.
Zagers was also in charge of the television repeater on Peter Simmons Hill which brought in TV reception from St. Croix and the PBS station in St. Thomas. If the wind turned the antenna around or effected its signal, Zagers climbed the hill to manually fix the problem. Unfortunately, Hurricane Hugo destroyed the site and the antennas.
Johnson and the other speakers, Commissioners Rolando Wilson and Bruce Zagers, and Satel board member Mizaida Hassell-Linzey spoke highly of Zagers’ qualities and dedication. “His outstanding leadership qualities have made him an exemplary role model to other civil servants and that is why we are proud to honor and celebrate him today,” said Johnson.
Commissioner Wilson referred to Zagers’ “professional dedication to a job done with pride and commitment.” But, he added, there was much more to him than his job, because Zagers was also a highly dedicated family man, a man of faith and presence in the Catholic church, and a man of service to his community by chairing the board of the Sacred Heart Primary School, the Saba Red Cross and the Saba Lion’s Club.
“Chester has been a stalwart figure in the community, and the renaming of the Satel building after him is but a small demonstration of appreciation to someone who has done so much, for so long and so very well. We thank you and salute you,” said Wilson.
“To say that Chester has given his time and dedication to the advancement of telecommunications on Saba, would be an understatement. Chester has given his heart and soul to the field, his dedication throughout his professional life. He truly is a pioneer and an icon. There is no more fitting person to name this building after than Chester. His life’s work and dedication deserves to be honored,” said Bruce Zagers, on behalf of former Commissioner Chris Johnson.
“He has been a mentor and role model for many on Saba,” said Satel Director Jennifer Zagers. Board Member Hassell-Linzey said Zagers’ dedication to his job was without limits. “Everything he did was in the best interest of the company and the Saba people with total commitment and selflessness. It is because his devotion, we name the Satel main building in after him. We bestow this great honor to him and his legacy will live on as a great contributor to telecommunications on our beloved Saba,” Hassell-Linzey said.
The last speaker before the unveiling of the sign was Chester Zagers himself. He said that it was a very special day for him and his family. “My job at that time, being 17 was my only link with the outside world. It was my pleasure to serve Saba for all those years. Thank you for recognizing my efforts and for naming the building after me,” he said.