Carmella Sabaugh, who spent decades serving the public as the Macomb County clerk/register of deeds, died June 8 at the age of 85.

Carmella Sabaugh, who spent decades serving the public as the Macomb County clerk/register of deeds, died June 8 at the age of 85.

Photo provided by Matthew Sabaugh

Community remembers Carmella Sabaugh

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published June 11, 2024


MACOMB COUNTY — When Matthew Sabaugh was first appointed to the 37th Judicial District Court in Warren in 2008, his mom, Carmella Sabaugh, offered him some sound advice.

“The office is not yours. It belongs to the people,” she told him. “You are only a caretaker. Try your best to leave it better than you found it.”

Matthew Sabaugh, who is currently a Macomb County Circuit Court judge, is remembering his mother for her love, encouragement, enthusiasm, spirited conversations, tireless work ethic and public service.

Carmella Sabaugh, who spent 24 years as the Macomb County clerk/register of deeds from 1992 to 2016, died on June 8 at the age of 85. She is survived by her former spouse, Richard Sabaugh, and their five children: Richard, Michael, Renee, Jeanine and Matthew. Sabaugh also is survived by 13 grandchildren, two great grandchildren, her sister Pauline Peterson, and many loving nieces and nephews.

“The outpouring of support and condolences over these past few days has shown us how much Carmella was loved and supported by her community,” Matthew Sabaugh said via email. “We are forever grateful for that.”


A trailblazer in Macomb politics
Sabaugh was a presence in local politics for decades. After marrying Richard Sabaugh in 1960 and starting a family, she became a trailblazer for women in the workplace. The Democrat was first elected to the Warren City Council in 1975, serving one four-year term. She was then elected as Warren’s city clerk in 1979 and as Macomb County’s clerk/register of deeds in 1992.

With a genuine desire to help others, she is credited with using technology to modernize the Macomb County Clerk’s Office to make it more efficient. She also spearheaded registration efforts to encourage people to vote, regardless of party affiliation.

“Her motto was, ‘Your vote is your voice!’ She believed the best democracy was through maximum participation. Carmella was a bright woman who wanted to help her community with the challenging issues of the time,” Matthew Sabaugh said. “Public service was her true calling. As Warren City Clerk and later Macomb County Clerk, her name is on countless birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates. Through all the significant milestones of our lives, Carmella was right there.”

She even once opened the clerk’s office on the weekend to help a constituent get married.

“She built the Sabaugh name and made us all proud. To this day, whenever I meet people, it is still most often Carmella they remember when they hear my last name,” Matthew Sabaugh said. “She was on a first-name basis with countless friends and neighbors. Carmella made friends everywhere she went. I remember her as a loving mother who would do anything for us and always challenged us to be our best.”

Growing up on Sutherland Avenue in Warren, Matthew Sabaugh remembers the family home “often filled with the hallmarks of grassroots campaigning: stuffing literature, canvassing, sign building and spirited discussions and debate.” He said it was his dad who encouraged Carmella to run for public office.

“She was charismatic, hard-working and kind of a pioneer in the idea of woman having the right to run for office,” former Warren Mayor James Fouts said.  “I think she made a great impact upon the population, particularly when it comes to voting for a woman in a major office.”

Fouts attributes getting elected to the Warren City Council in 1981 to Sabaugh.

“I was an unknown candidate when I ran. No one hardly knew me, and she endorsed me and I think that played a very significant role in my election back in the early 1980s,” Fouts said.


‘She certainly had an impactful life’
Although they belonged to different political parties, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice S. Miller, a Republican, and Sabaugh became good friends when, in 1992, Sabaugh ran for county clerk, Miller ran for Macomb County treasurer and Mary Chrzanowski ran for a seat on the bench in Macomb County Circuit Court. All three were elected and would occasionally meet for breakfast or lunch.

“We just hit it off and got along very well. She was a remarkable woman. She had high energy and was very organized,” Miller said. “She was very creative and innovative. She certainly had an impactful life. She was an excellent public servant. She certainly will be missed.”

Something state Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, noticed about Sabaugh when they both worked at Warren City Hall during the Mayor Ronald Bonkowski administration in the 1980s was how friendly she was with all the employees.

“She really liked to communicate with people. She really got to know everyone in City Hall from the department heads to the office clerks,” Wojno said. “She wanted to know what was going on in everyone’s personal lives. She was so down to earth. She really loved people. We always had a friendship and working relationship.”

Wojno and Sabaugh connected again when he became the Warren city clerk during Sabaugh’s tenure as the Macomb County clerk.

“With the local clerks, she was very supportive of what we did,” Wojno said. “She was probably the most well-respected county clerk in the state of Michigan. Carmella was great to work with. She was always accessible and had a great staff.”

Each time she ran for office, Sabaugh would be out on the campaign trail talking to people and listening to their concerns.

“On Election Day, she was always out at the polls,” Wojno said. “She really enjoyed interfacing with the constituents in Warren. She cared about seeing individuals in her role as in the City Council and county clerk.”   

Warren City Treasurer Lorie Barnwell crossed paths with Sabaugh many times over the years.

“For me, watching her innovations in the County Clerk’s Office was very significant. She was such an important figure,” Barnwell said. “She blazed the way for a lot of women not just in Warren but in the county.”

Barnwell said Sabaugh worked to make the community feel more connected to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office.

“She had a drive to offer the best customer service,” Barnwell said. “Sometimes, there’s a fear in government of technology and moving things forward. She thought outside of the box. She won all kinds of awards for what she was able to accomplish. Her reputation in the community was bar none.”

Aside from politics, Barnwell saw Sabaugh as a woman who was “an outstanding parent.” She never missed an opportunity to talk about her family.

“Her kids and grandkids were her everything,” Barnwell said. “She was so devoted to those kids and grandkids.”

Miller echoed that.

“She was very family-oriented,” Miller said. “For her, it was family first.”

The Sabaugh family will receive friends from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 23 at the Wujek-Calcaterra funeral home, 36900 Schoenherr Road, in Sterling Heights.