By Joseph Pratt
Thousands of tourists visit the riverfront and spend time crawling down Front Street in their cars to take in the detailed history of Portsmouth through the floodwall murals.
A trip down Front Street this summer will show a clean view, sans weeds and trash. The cleanup of the area was all thanks to Margaret Bazler, an 85-year-young retiree living across from them in Riverview Apartments.
Bazler has been a tenant of Riverview Apartments for nearly two years, after suffering from kidney failure and a few other health issues. Even at her age, Bazler said that she doesn’t consider any of her outdoor maintenance or gardening work, because it is a passion for her. She went on to explain that she was once a city girl who married and moved to a farm, where she discovered a love of flowers.
“One day, my husband was out of town and my sisters and I just took his plow, attached it to our Jeep, and we began what would become the most beautiful garden anyone could ever see,” Bazler said.
Bazler said that the idea to clean Front Street came from her son, Butch Stall. Stall is a local history enthusiast and a member of the Portsmouth Murals Incorporated. Stall discussed clean-up plans with his mother before leaving for a vacation, and when he came back, she had taken it upon herself to completely weed and clean the murals in front of Riverfront Apartments.
Not only that, but the dedicated gardener also took cleaning supplies and went up and down Front Street, cleaning each mural information stand to make them as good as new.
“There were days that it got so hot, and I became so tired, but I just found spots to sit and rest,” Bazler said. “I spent quite some time on the bench in front of Tom Russel’s glass shop just taking a break and enjoying the murals.”
When Stall returned home and saw how clean everything looked, he partnered with his mother and they both completely cleaned the area over the course of one week, all 2,000 feet of street and murals.
“My goal was to get everything done in just one week,” Bazler said. “I wanted it done before the Fourth of July, because I knew a lot of families would come down here to celebrate and I wanted them to be proud of our home.”
Once Bazler finished her work on Front Street, she moved her dedication to a garden that is cozied between two buildings and provides a place for retirees to enjoy the outdoors.
“I just came out here, saw all the weeds, and began working,” Bazler said.
Bazler doesn’t consider her time spent cleaning and gardening work at all; spending time in the dirt only means more colorful flowers.
“One thing I really appreciate is all of the different colors,” Bazler explained. “I had cataracts on both of my eyes, and when I had them removed, I never realized how beautiful colors were. Now, I just want to fill everything with color.”
When asked why she felt compelled to clean the streets and plant flowers, her answer was simple, “Portsmouth is such a beautiful city and I just love it. It is a shame not to keep it clean.”
Bazler said that once she began weeding the garden at Riverview, she was surprised to see all the support.
“My daughter even showed up on her own birthday to give me gifts of flowers,” Bazler said. “She helped me plant them and everything.”
Bazler said that gifts of flowers kept coming in, starting from friend Linda Whisman and going on to include more and more of her family and friends.
“When the weeds became too much to keep up with, and I started to worry, my daughter surprised me with 18 bags of mulch while I was at a dialysis,” Bazler said. “She even got the color I was hoping for, because I wanted it to match the brick of the buildings.”
Bazler said that she counts each warm minute spent outdoors a blessing.
“When I got sick, before I came here, I was headed to Hospice; but Doctor Khoury put a port in my shoulder to perform dialysis and he saved my life,” Bazler said. “After that, I just had a change of heart about living. I wanted to do something and give back.”
Bazler said she looks forward to spending more time gardening and cleaning up Portsmouth so that everyone can enjoy the town that she and her son has so much devotion for.
“When I was young, I always thought 65 was so old. I was sure that would be my cutoff date. Now, I am 85 and I keep on going. I think keeping the murals clean and gardening colorful flowers for everyone to enjoy keeps me alive. It gives me something to look forward to and it is makes life just so beautiful.
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.
Bazler working in the sun to get the area surrounding the murals clean
Bazler (right) and her friend, Linda Whisman, enjoying the south end of her garden.
Bazler’s garden within the Riverview outdoors area.