Remembering a Friend on a Park Bench

Leaving a memorial for a proud lifelong town resident or a local community activist is a terrific way to commemorate a life of hard work and civic action, but this gesture needs someone to carry out this endeavor.

Creating a memorial in an East Hampton or Southampton Town Park is not as difficult as one may think. Both towns have their policies but make it easy and accessible to leave a lasting memorial in a public park.

In the Town of Southampton the process begins by filling out a written application with an intended site noted on the form and submitted into the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, where the office will then either approve or reject the request.

“We have a first come, first serve system when filing for a memorial,” informs Christopher Bean, the Superintendent of the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department.

If the department approves the site requested, the applicant can then move onto the next stage of the process: funding. All private memorials to be placed in a public park come from private funds, and not the taxpayers.

The town’s two most popular requests come in the form of a park bench or an inscribed brick, which the town typically lays in a decorative walkway. The bench costs the applicant $750 and the brick $150.

Once the product is paid for, the town orders the request and usually will place the memorial in the park within a few months. If the intended site is not available, the town informs the applicant within one or two days of their filing.

The Town of Southampton does not erect figurative monuments in public parks by an applicant’s request. If they are to be erected, they come only from the town under special circumstances.

“We do not handle monuments of people,” says Bean. “No figures. Our department does not handle that sort of thing.”

Southampton was founded in 1640 and has a long and proud history with many important people who have contributed to the town’s grandeur. However, the process of leaving memorials for residents, like benches and bricks, is fairly new to the town.

“This process began about seven or eight years ago,” says Bean, and it has been a great success.

This procedure was immediately popular when it first began, as if making up for lost time, the town had an overload of requests and accepted as many as they could.

“When we first started this process we approved a lot of these requests because we had the space, but now—due to limited space—four or five requests is what we normally do a year,” says Bean.

Due to the programs’ large response, there is no more space available for benches in certain town parks, such as Long Beach in Noyac and the Village Green in East Quogue. While several other parks only have space available on the bayside, as the oceanside has been filled.

“We’d like to approve them all,” says Bean, but it is not possible. “We have a certain amount of places to put a memorial and simply cannot approve as much as we once did.”

Southampton prides itself on its scenic vistas and landscapes, its proximity to blue ocean water, and its secluded, rural feeling, especially in its own parks. Memorials are designed to complement the landscape and reflect the natural beauty and tranquility of the town.

“We don’t want our parks looking like Yankee Stadium,” joked Bean. The town approves requests on a first come, first serve basis, so do not hesitate if you’re thinking about leaving a memorial in a loved one’s honor. As Bean points out, “You cannot have a park with more benches than trees.”

The Town of East Hampton offers the same type of public memorials as their neighbor Southampton does for its citizens. However, there is no official process with a written application.

We do not have a formal process with an application,” informs Barbara Claflin Administrative Assistant to the East Hampton Town Board. “All memorials are handled individually by request.”

Even though there is no official procedure in place there are steps one must follow to go about creating an everlasting memorial in someone’s name.

One begins their request by first choosing a location for the future memorial. The requester, then, continues by submitting a request to the town board. Once the request is submitted, the town board discusses the matter at their next work session. The board typically holds their work session the day before their board meeting, where the panel formally announces their decision.

The only formality in this process is that the East Hampton Town Board makes a declaration.

“There has to be a resolution to name or rename something because it’s town-owned property,” clarifies Claflin. The town must then also create a Suffolk County Tax Map.

The most standard request in the town is dedicating a bench or rock in someone’s honor. Once the town approves of this notion, the person or persons can move on to the next step, which is ordering a plaque and accumulating donations. All memorials by request are privately funded, unless under rare circumstances.

More extravagant requests, such as proposing a memorial of an animal, a human being, or even a larger plaque are approved or disallowed by how the board perceives the monument will harmonize within the given surroundings.

“The memorial must always complement its immediate and overall surroundings,” tells Claflin. She adds, “If someone wants to dedicate a monument of a horse it must not take away from its surroundings or it can change the park.”

A monument’s objective is not to outperform its surroundings but to synchronize with nature and the manmade. Specific locations for monuments are usually selected because they symbolize something special in the person’s life.

However, some requests are not subjected to the town board. When a requester has an inquiry for a memorial in a nature preserve—which is quite common tells Claflin—the town’s decision is delegated to East Hampton’s Nature Preserve Committee.

The process otherwise is quite similar, informs Claflin. “The Nature Preserve Committee discusses if a memorial can be renamed or created on their grounds.”

Like a memorial in a public park, all donations are handled privately.

In December 2007, a portion of Maidstone Park was dedicated and renamed after Terry Ganley, who was a long-time resident and owner of the Round Hearth Garden Center and Florist in Springs.

The request was approved by the Nature Preserve Committee to help remember Ganley as a woman who was deeply dedicated to preservation and protection of natural habitats and their flora and fauna. The renaming of that part of the preserve is not just in memory, but an honorary gesture to celebrate a life.

Memorials are created in memory of a person or an event, but for many they are more than that—they are a way of transcending a person’s legacy into immortality. East Hampton and Southampton Towns are proud of both their larger-than-life and their everyday residents. To have a memorial in a public park, it doesn’t matter who you are, just what you do for the community when you are here.

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