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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.

Labor of love for Hampton Monument Maker

Sep. 2, 2014
HAMPTON — The loss of a loved one can be an emotionally debilitating time for many, the raw pain clawing away at the joy individuals take in everyday activities.

Roger Syphers often sees people in the deepest throws of this sadness, but as one of the Seacoast area's preeminent monument makers and restorers he takes great pride in being someone who can be there for them and talk them through their grief.

"It's a sorrow time, but somebody's got to do it," said Syphers of his monument business, which he has run in Hampton for well over 20 years. "What is really emotional to me is when people come in and they've lost a young kid. It's very easy to break down while they're talking about it. I have to hold myself together and help them through the tough time. That is an emotional part of this business."

Roger Syphers, gravestones, hampton, seacoast, nh, monuments, memorial, seabrooke, syphers monument Syphers has been at the front lines of loss for decades, creating and installing over 3,000 gravestones and markers throughout the Seacoast and New England while repairing, restoring and cleaning thousands more. His hands are the ones behind a number of commemorative monuments throughout the area, from Hampton's Global War On Terrorism Monument to town-commissioned monuments in Portsmouth, North Hampton, Seabrook, Hampton Falls and numerous other communities.

Syphers also created and donated a monument for Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney after he was killed in the line of duty in 2012, and he's working on one for Brentwood Police officer Stephen Arkell, who was killed in the line of duty in May.

"I try to donate when things happen," said Syphers. "I enjoy doing work of that nature. You get a lot of satisfaction when you do something of that nature."

The Portsmouth native and former Coast Guard member first learned the highly skilled trade in high school when he worked with a monument dealer one summer.

He gravitated back to the work later in life because of the feeling he gets from helping families honor loved ones and helping protect a significant piece of local history.

That feeling keeps him going, and much like his monuments the 81 year old shows no signs of age or wearing down.

"It's hard work," said Syphers, who uses his bare hands and a dolly to lift and install the 1,000-pound stones he engraves. "It keeps you in shape."

The joy that the humble monument dealer takes in his work is readily apparent the moment you set foot in his 3 Post Office Square store.

A roughly 50-foot-long, 6-foot-tall section of wall space near his desk is used to prominently display hundreds of photos of monuments and gravestones, and scanning across them brings back Syphers' memories of his conversations with those individuals' families.

"They all have their stories," said Syphers.

Syphers, a longtime volunteer for a number of local causes and organizations, recently retired from running the Hampton Parks and Recreation Department's men's basketball league.

Even though he's scaled down on some of his activities, Syphers said he'll continue to sell, create and repair monuments because the thank you letters he receives in the mail from his customers show him it's an important job.

"It's a good feeling," said Syphers. "Being helpful is something that goes along with being a monument dealer. People really let you know how much they appreciate how much you have done for them."