Gill Stadium's past — and future — celebrated at centennial rededication
MANCHESTER — A crowd of Manchester residents brought memories of teams, big events, bigger games and personal accomplishments to Gill Stadium Sunday, celebrating both the venerable ballpark's 100th anniversary and rededicating the facility as it begins its second hundred years.
"It is wonderful to see a lot of familiar faces that came out and played sports here at this stadium come back to remember," said Mayor Ted Gatsas in his welcoming remarks. "They'll always remember the good stories as well as the bad ones."
The re-dedication, co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, celebrated community support as much as events and accomplishments.
The stadium was built by Amoskeag Manufacturing a century ago and later bought by the city, beginning decades of public devotion to the stadium. Community support staved off demolition on multiple occasions, and ultimately brought support for the return of minor league baseball and improvements that have equipped Gill for its second century.
City Chief of Parks Peter Capano said the stadium staved off threats to its future through the years.
"In dodging that it was cared for by people who appreciated what it is and what it meant to them for it to be in Manchester," said Capano. "We don't know a lot about its care in the first two decades, but we do know that Mr. Ignace Gill, who was park superintendent for more than 30 years, became the caretaker of the stadium that would bear his name."
Several members of the Gill family were present for the celebration.
Gill's youngest daughter, Rita, spoke for the family, recalling how her father began to work for the recreation department in 1935 and rose through the ranks, becoming parks and recreation superintendent in 1944, and would have been very proud to be part of the 100th anniversary celebration.
"He was a quiet, honest, devoted, hard-working man who was dedicated to the youth of the city," she said. "Many of my father's children and great-grandchildren have played at this great stadium ... in May of 1967, this stadium was named, and is still called, Gill Stadium. Wow. What an honor."
It was announced during the ceremony that a seat was permanently set aside as a remembrance of U.S. soldiers missing in action, particularly from the war in Vietnam.
"That chair is symbolic of 90,000 men and women who have yet to come home," said Doc Stewart, the regional director of the motorcycle group Rolling Thunder, which sponsored the idea. "I hope for the next 100 years that (Gill) stadium is here it will never be sold out, that there will always be a chair open for that man or woman overseas somewhere, who was captured or missing in action."
Former major league pitcher Skip Lockwood, who finished his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1980, represented New England's big-league baseball team at the ceremony.He told the crowd that support of fans at Gill during it's tenure as a minor league stadium was important in launching careers. "I will say thank you to you for helping me and helping all kinds of other players like me get to the big leagues," Lockwood said.
The day's celebration was tempered by the absence of George Smith, a longtime supporter of youth athletics in the city and a former alderman, who died in June after serving as a co-chair of the Gill Stadium Centennial Committee.
A plaque commemorating Smith's contributions to the young people of Manchester and his work to preserve the stadium is now a permanent fixture at Gill.
His widow, Ruthie, spoke of how her husband was too ill to attend meetings of the committee planning the centennial celebration, but remained dedicated to its mission.
"I think he is watching us; he'd say we did a good job."