Honoring Service and Sacrifice: New Memorial to Public Works Employees

Bill Boynton

"I can remember it like it was yesterday." It was May 25, 1959 and Jim Rivers was nine years old. "My mom got a call and they said my dad was injured on the job. I was waiting in the yard when Louis Colgan from the State Highway Department drove up and told my mother, 'I think we better go inside.'"

Ephriam Rivers, or Steve as everyone called him, was a foreman in the Traffic Division, which installed and maintained traffic lights and beacons across New Hampshire. He was working at the General Sullivan Bridge in Newington-Dover when a crane cable snapped. A lamp post fell on his head, killing him. Steve Rivers was 35 years old.

"My last memory of my father was sitting on his lap watching television on the night before he died," Jim says. "It changes your life forever. Your life takes a different path," according to the longtime New Hampshire radio broadcaster and state employee. "My mother had to go to school to become a hairdresser."

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Mark W. Richardson was home from college. The rest of the family was still sleeping on the day after Christmas in 1973. Early that morning Mark's mother was visited by a local police officer who gave her the bad news.

Mark's dad, Carl Richardson, was a Highway Maintainer and Light Equipment Operator at the New Hampshire Department of Public Works and Highways working out of the Alton patrol shed. On Christmas night, as he had done so often, Carl responded to an ice storm to treat the highways. He was shoveling road salt in the back of a plow truck when the truck rolled over on NH Route 140.

"It wasn't unusual for my father to be called out for a day and a half during a typical storm," Mark recalls. "We were used to him being gone for long hours during winter storms, but of course assumed that he would always come home - only this time he didn't. He was only 47 years old when he died, and even after nearly 40 years he is still greatly missed. It is rare for a day or more to go by without my having thoughts and memories of him," Mark says.

* * *

Carl Quiram knows these stories all too well. The Goffstown Public Works Director has felt strongly for many years that public works employees who have died while doing "critically important work" for the citizens of New Hampshire should be honored. Quiram was part of a small group who pushed for and received legislative approval for a Public Works Employee Memorial.

"We envisioned a memorial as a way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and also to raise safety awareness about the hundreds of workers who are out there every day. It is still a dangerous job," Carl states.

On June 15, 2009, Governor John Lynch signed into law a bill "establishing a committee to oversee the design, construction and maintenance of a memorial to public works employees who have died in the course of performing public works duties on behalf of a municipality, a county or the state."

The resulting 13-member committee put out the call for designs for a public workers memorial. Among those who jumped at the opportunity in late 2010 was Kelsie Lee, a senior studying graphic arts at Colby Sawyer College at the time, whose father Richard Lee is Public Works Director in New London. Kelsie's entry was selected as the winner of the $1,200 scholarship from the NH Road Agents Association. One committee member called her submission "far and away the best design."

"It definitely helped that I had grown up watching what my father did for work. It's not as easy as some people think. I know what it's like to have the phone ring at two, three or four o'clock in the morning," Kelsie recalls. Adding to the personal connection for Kelsie Lee was the memory of Ryan Haynes, a friend who worked for the Town of New London. Ryan was killed in 2005 when he was struck by a car while patching potholes on a local street.

While preparing her entry, Kelsie kept jotting down her thoughts and design ideas in a sketchbook. On the night before it was due, she was finalizing a watercolor design, when she suddenly tore it up. "By 2:00 a.m. I had drawn another design that was about 70 percent different from the previous one," Kelsie remembers.

The new design proved to be a winner that captured the essence of what the committee was looking for. A walkway and reflection garden are surrounded by four gray granite benches that represent the four seasons that public works employees are on-call. Four large black granite monuments will bear the names of those who died performing their duties, and a black granite sign will welcome visitors. A line of 24 inverted shovels will represent every hour of the day that a public works employee will be called to duty. Surrounding trees to add some height will include a grove of purple lilacs, the state flower.

"I researched New Hampshire plants and flowers, both annuals and perennials, which can stand up to tough weather conditions." Kelsie says. "I thought a lot about colors and how they will interact with each other, with something always in bloom. The shovels are a tangible thing that everyone can relate to, and a tool that all public works employees may use."

"It's phenomenal," says Carl Quiram. "What's so impressive is that there are no trivial details. Every aspect of the memorial design means something."

Since her design was chosen, Kelsie Lee has been working with a Portsmouth environmental engineering firm (Weston & Sampson) on the site plan, which has addressed drainage for the project and fitted the design to its future location on a section of land at the NH Department of Transportation headquarters on Hazen Drive in Concord.

The project is now in the fundraising stage with $300,000 needed in financial and/or services donations to make the memorial a reality. Names of deceased New Hampshire public works employees are also being solicited for review by the committee to determine eligibility for being honored at the memorial.

If at all possible, those behind the memorial would love for construction to begin this spring. That can only happen if supporters of this noble idea step forward to help with contributions.

Those whose lives have been most impacted by the death of a loved one in public service are looking forward to its completion.

"It will be a nice recognition of the effort put forward by public works employees and their families," says Mark Richardson, who has spent his career at the NH Department of Transportation and now heads up the Bridge Design Bureau. "They are called out at all hours in all kinds of weather and are just expected to go."

Jim Rivers is also looking forward to the new public workers memorial as a place for reflection. While working at the University of New Hampshire, he would often eat his lunch at the now closed General Sullivan Bridge where his father died more than 50 years ago. "It was very peaceful."

The Memorial Committee is accepting both In-Kind and Monetary Donations. Tax deductible donations may be sent to: The Public Works Memorial Fund, c/o Bill Janelle, Commissioner's Office, NH Department of Transportation, PO Box 483, Concord NH 03302-0483.

More information, including the application for submitting a name to the committee for consideration for the memorial,  learn more at this website.

Bill Boynton is the Public Information Officer for the NH Department of Transportation. He may be reached at 603.271.6495 or by email .