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Granite man with a heart of gold

Aug. 24, 2015
Son carries on family monument business
HAMPTON- Richard Syphers never predicted that he would become a granite man. Yet, restoring regional monuments and cemeteries turned out to be the perfect way of earning a living while giving back to the great Seacoast community for both him and his father.

Richard, then a fisherman, was roped into the business when his father Roger, a long time driving instructor for Winnacunnet High School, asked for a ride over to Rock of Ages in Barre, Vt., so he could take classes in stone work.

Unable to say ‘no,’ Richard, too, enrolled in the class, and the two of them graduated together.

“Almost immediately, Dad lined up our first assignment,” said Syphers. “It was the Elmwood Quaker Cemetery in Seabrook, and it was quite an introduction to the profession. There were hundreds of stones, and each required re-blocking, realignment and cleaning. It was no easy chore. Some of those stones weighed many hundreds of pounds. They had to be handled with care. After all, that’s the whole concept of delicate stone restoration. There is no margin for error.”

Since then, Syphers Monument Co. has created and installed more than 3,000 gravestones and markers throughout the Seacoast and New England while repairing, restoring and cleaning thousands more.

Syphers’ Dad passed away on Patriots’ Day at the age of 81.

“I think that is when I came to realize just how civic-minded he was,” Syphers said. “He was into everything from the Masons to the American Legion. I think I learned my inability to say ‘no’ from him. Like him, I receive calls to be involved in this function or to help work out a particular project, and I’m generally there.”

Syphers recently helped out the Historical Society during its 90th anniversary celebration.

“Part of the event was to acknowledge the Nay family stone at Founders Park," he said. "The problem was that the stone had yet to be placed. That’s where I came in. I tracked down a great 2,400 pound stone; dug an adequate hole; rounded up a small crew of guys with a few minutes to spare, and we wrestled that stone into the ground. That’s exactly the kind of thing Dad would have done.”

Bud Desrochers, a member of the stone wielding crew and an individual recognized for his own civic involvement, refers to the late Roger Syphers as “a quiet force in the Seacoast.”

“Dad truly loved the town and the region,” Syphers said. “He always felt that he had received much more than he could ever repay. He fostered in me that sense of pride and a sense of history. I remember how thrilled he was to be involved in the Portsmouth African Burying Ground Project.”

Syphers said his Dad was also a “true stickler for perfection.”

“That was another trait he instilled in me,” Syphers said. “Like Dad, I’ve been involved in projects for churches, Masonic halls and cemeteries up and down the coast. The work is always exacting, but the sense of pride I feel at the conclusion of the task does make the chore all seem worthwhile.”

The Syphers Monument Company has had only one assistant for the last 17 years, Glen Simmons. The former field engineer for the General Electric Company came on board after he approached Roger Syphers to clean his wife’s headstone.

When Syphers’ Dad said he was shorthanded, Glen said “show me how to do it and I’ll do it myself.”

“That’s how the company acquired an assistant,” said Syphers.

Syphers said he still finds time to go fishing.

“Last year, I managed to land a 1,000 pound tuna,” Syphers said. “It was a real beauty of a fish. On occasion, if things get dull aboard my boat, I’ve been known to wrestle a shark or two.”

Life, however, is rarely dull for Syphers. Working with stones is more than an occupation; it is a passion . . . a passion based on precision and dedication. It’s a family tradition.

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