By Mark Hayward

My knee hurts most of the time nowadays. And I find myself asking my new, soft-spoken boss to repeat himself.

When the body starts sputtering like mine, it’s natural to ponder my final demise.

City Matters

And beyond that, immortality. To be remembered. For my little life’s spark to maintain a glow in the cold void of space-time eternity.

Me, I wonder. But not those of some 116 of Manchester’s finest citizens.

Guy Dumont, Ed Bourassa, Frank S. Piotrowski.

Their memories will always be.

Bob Rivard, Norma S. Welch, Andrew J. Loranger.

Gonna be around a lot longer.

That’s because each has a tree.

I’m not talking about a stately oak that provides shade in the summer or a cozy home for critters.

Rather, they own a piece of mostly gaunt, nearly starved trees that circle Gill Stadium and JFK Arena.

Their names are memorialized on nameplates that the city erected in the 1980s when then-Parks Director Clem Lemire (who has his own sign) thought it would be a good idea to plant trees in the sidewalk, according to current Parks Director Mark Gomez.

And since city government always is looking to make an extra buck, Lemire sold naming rights to each tree. For a hefty $300.

Ted Makris, Manny Brady, Wilfrid E. Aubin.

Liked the idea and all bought in.

Frank P. King, Angie Manni, Robert F. Hoey.

Bought eternity with a little dough-ey.

The names include a few organizations like some city schools, but for the most part it’s people. Mayors, politicians, city officials and business types. I counted only nine females, but I couldn’t be sure about a handful of others, given gender-cloaking identities such as GJ Kiriakoutsos.

While most of the trees struggle to live in their urban environment, the nameplates are doing fine.

Recently, the city started an upgrade. On the way out are the carved, painted wooden nameplates. Going up are sleek, etched metal replacements.

Long lasting, low maintenance, graffiti-resistant metal. Talk about eternity.

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Wooden signs line Maple Street in front of Gill Stadium in Manchester.

Former mayor Syl Dupuis, whose name is now metallic, said the city’s always been good about maintaining the signs. He welcomed the latest version and said they prove useful to this day.

“It shows the younger people that giving isn’t a new thing,” he said. “Citizens have been stepping up for a long time. It’s kind of a model.”

(Note to Mayor Joyce Craig: If you’re looking to generate extra cash, there are hundreds of nameless fire hydrants out there.)

Mike Flanagan, Don Macek, Don Stillman.

Opened their checkbooks and pitched in.

Tom Bud Welch, Raymond Lebel, Fern Wally Genest.

Showcased the city at its best.

Gomez said the new nameplates don’t cost much. Each is made in-house at a cost of about $25. The Parks crew installs them when they have the time.

Meanwhile, there are two trees with no names. And even more of a problem, I counted nine nameplates with no trees.

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A pair of wood signs, one with a tree in and one without, line the sidewalk in front of JFK Coliseum in Manchester.

Many of the trees are pretty paltry. The only dominant, thriving trees are on a patch of lawn at the corner of Valley and Pine streets. I’m not sure who Frank Malik knew at City Hall, but his tree boasts a healthy crown and is nearly twice the size of a nearby telephone pole. It dominates all others.

Malik, Les Dabek, Walter S. Mocek.

They get all due respect.

Guy Dumont, West and Memorial High

Don’t appear to thrive.

“A lot of it comes down to preventing damage,” said Steven Roberge, an extension forester with UNH Cooperative Extension. That means care for the trees: pruning, fertilizing, grates to prevent people from stepping on roots, minimizing salt in the winter. In an email, Gomez acknowledged the paved environment is not ideal for tree growth. He said the city replaces trees that die or decline.

To the best of his knowledge, Gomez said there are no specific promises made about how long the signs would stay up.

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Wooden signs line Maple Street in front of Gill Stadium in Manchester.

But I’m guessing a long time.

In 2003, the signs survived an effort by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, which wanted to remove them as part of their $4.7 million Gill Stadium facelift. The stadium got new seats, a new press box and a new turf field. The signs remained. And Dupuis said when he looks at the nameplates now, he counts all the people who have died.

“I can’t imagine anyone taking them down,” said newly elected school board member Jane Beaulieu, whose father, a former mayor, has his own sign.

“No. 1, they paid for them, and many of them are memorializing the persons.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.

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