Family upset after state removes memorial bench from Wallis Sands

Union Leader Correspondent
September 21. 2017 8:31PM
Johanne Gillard holds the plaque that was attached to the memorial bench for her late parents. (Jason Schreiber/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

RYE -- Johanne Gillard was outraged when she discovered that the memorial bench she purchased after the deaths of her parents 25 years ago was removed from Wallis Sands State Beach without notification.

“I’m kind of mad at the state of New Hampshire for doing that to us,” said Gillard, a former Rye resident who lives in New York but has returned to town to visit each summer for decades.

Gillard’s son, Chris, found the bench missing when he stopped by to see it over the summer. Gillard said she had no idea that the bench, which was damaged over the years, was going to be removed along with the memorial plaque that she had made and attached.

Gillard said she paid about $200 for the bench after the death of her father, Arthur Gray, in 1991. She had the name of her mother, Esther Gray, added following her death in 1997.

The message on the plaque read: “For 25 years of unforgettably delightful memories at ‘Grandpa’s Ocean.’”

“We thought it was a forever bench. They never told us that it wasn’t,” Gillard said, adding that the bench was the only memorial she had for her parents, who built a home on Ocean Boulevard in 1965 after they retired.

She said a friend who bought a bench next to the one for her parents also found it was removed without their knowledge.

After finding the benches missing, Gillard said the state Division of Parks and Recreation was contacted to find out what had happened.

She said they were told that the memorial benches were good for 10 years and that if they wanted to replace it they would have to pay more than $1,000.

According to the rules for the Division of Parks and Recreation’s Commemorative Memorial Bench Program, the state will attempt to notify donors “if possible” to inform them that the bench is no longer there after it’s been permanently removed because of theft or damage.

The rules also explain that the state will monitor and maintain the benches for 10 years after their installation. After the 10 years is up, the rules say the donor should contact the state to arrange for future maintenance of the bench if they wish.

The cost of a bench, which includes the installation, monitoring and other related expenses, exceeds $1,000, according to the program.

“We understand the frustration these families experience and will look further into this situation. The Memorial Bench Program is a unique opportunity for families to recognize loved ones. The program has evolved to incorporate changes that address some of these issues,” said Amy Bassett, public information and outreach specialist for the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

Gillard said she refuses to pay so much to have a new bench installed, but will try to do something with the plaque, which her son was able to get back from the state.

“I’m fortunate to have that,” she said.

The reason for the bench’s removal isn’t exactly clear, but Gillard said it was likely because it was damaged. Regardless, she said still she feels the family should have been informed that it was going to be removed.

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