BRUNSWICK — Several years ago, Dick Moll was walking around Edinburgh, Scotland, when he noticed a spectacular display of window boxes and flower plantings that reached from the ground to the top of a pub.
“I walked into the pub to have a beer and ask about the plantings,” Moll recalled, “and the bartender said that the pubs around the city participated in an annual window box planter competition.”
He thought that such a competition might hold promise for his hometown, so he suggested the idea to fellow board members of the Brunswick Village Improvement Association. They approved the idea unanimously, and Moll went to work.
The competition has been held for four years, and Moll is now known to some people as “the window-box man.”
Every May, Moll goes around to the store owners along Maine Street, encouraging them to enter the Window Box/Planter Competition. In mid-July, he and four fellow judges announce the winners: $250 for First Prize and $100 each for Best New Entry and Most Original.
The competition and other beautification efforts by the Village Improvement Association have created nice surprises since the competition began. This past year, three stores along Upper Maine Street combined efforts to create a garden between their stores and the street.
Cindy Neprash, owner of It’s All Good, said, “That’s my front yard; I have to look out there all day.” She added that many people have expressed appreciation for the new look.
Alan Hoang, owner of Lemongrass, which is adjacent to It’s All Good, said “This area had been really neglected; we had to do something.”
And something they did. In fact, Lemongrass won $100 for Best New Entry in July. “That was about one-third of what we spent,” Hoang said, “but it was well worth it and lots of fun.”
Diane Vella, owner of Blessings Home Decor at the other end of Maine Street, said “When I first started putting up window boxes, most people advised me not to do so because people might steal them. But I’ve never had a problem.”
It’s not surprising that Vella, who is a devoted gardener and a three-time winner of the competition, puts such effort into the area surrounding her store. “I live here too,” she said. “This is my home.”
Vella greatly appreciates Moll’s enthusiasm for town beautification efforts. “He’s a doll,” she said.
Moll, now in his 80th year, has made a career out of making a difference. He spent his professional life in college admissions, including a stint as director of admissions at Bowdoin College, where he helped raise the college’s national visibility when it instituted an SAT’s-optional policy and admitted the first women.
He’s written two admissions-related books (“Playing the Selective College Admissions” and “The Public Ivys”) and appeared on “Nightline,” “Today,” “CBS Morning News,” and “The Lehrer News Hour.” His Ralph Nader/Mark Russell-like musical, “Playing the Selective College Admissions Game,” was on the road around the U.S., Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Not one for resting on his creative laurels, Moll has an idea for a new beautification project: create what he calls a “pocket park” at the lower end of Maine Street, on the site where a building burned down a few years ago. He’s currently exploring funding options for converting that vision to reality.
So the next time you drive down Maine Street in Brunswick (Maine’s widest main street, by the way) give a tip of the hat to Moll and all the other people who have worked quietly behind the scenes to beautify the town.
Dick Moll took a hint from Edinburgh, Scotland, to encourage businesses to use window boxes to beautify downtown Brunswick.
One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: firstname.lastname@example.org.