Scarecrows honor beloved neighbor

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Handmade scarecrows line Falls Road front yards in tribute to their creator, neighbor Maedean Birmingham, who died last week.

By MADELINE HUGHES

Shelburne’s Falls Road has lost its matriarch, but her neighbors hope to keep her spirit and memory – particularly at this time of year – alive for many years to come.

Neighbors are remembering Maedean L. Birmingham for her whimsical fall lawn decorations and her expansive kind heart.

Birmingham, 91, died Oct. 10 at the Respite House in Colchester after a long struggle with cancer.

Her handiwork, however, can be spotted along the street she loved on various neighbors’ lawns: Scarecrows of various sizes and shapes smile at passersby, a tribute to Birmingham this autumn.

It took Birmingham years to create the scrappy characters until the collection grew to more than 60 scarecrows today.

Every October, she placed them all in her yard. School kids ran through the maze of scarecrows, and tour buses stopped to let out passengers to snap photos. The scarecrows were an overall hit with local residents, neighbor Linda Riell recalled.

In recent years, as Birmingham’s health forced her to step back from her elaborate decorations, neighbors helped her continue the tradition, including Riell and her sister Lori Bergquist.

What was supposed to take a few hours ended up taking the sisters a whole day of digging and placing the iron rods and the scarecrows around the tight-knit village neighborhood, Riell explained with a laugh.

Courtesy photo
Maedean Birmingham enjoyed visiting with neighbor children Blakely and Penelope Witt.

This year Riell and Bergquist enlisted the help of neighbor Laura Cawley, who with her husband and son, Matt, and Cole Smith, distributed the remainder of the scarecrows to their neighbors’ houses.

“Maedean loved to do it because it made the children happy,” Riell said. This year, neighbors decided to continue the tradition “as a tribute to Maedean.”

As luck had it, Birmingham was able to see the scarecrows in her yard before moving to the Respite House in September. She enjoyed the sight on a walk with Riell on a perfect sunny fall day, one of her last in her neighborhood.

The rest of the scarecrows were put up at neighbors’ houses after Birmingham left home, but she was happy when she heard that they were on display on her street, Riell said.

With Birmingham’s passing, Riell said the neighbors now will keep their scarecrows if they would like. “Hopefully the scarecrows will pop up every October for years to come,” she said.

In the meantime, the community will miss the smiling, white-haired, good-natured woman who was known to many as “the face of Falls Road.” Birmingham was often out and about mowing her lawn, tending her garden, or relaxing in her green lawn chair. As people drove by she would always wave, Riell said.

She even brought her green lawn chair to the rally in support of former Police Chief James Warden when he abruptly left office in August 2017.

The scarecrows weren’t Birmingham’s only large-scale craft project. She was known to take on big gestures of kindness. Over the years she knit and donated dozens of sweaters to children at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Neighbor Evelyn Sikorski helped match Birmingham up with the program, which kept her busy.

Riell, who lives across the street, said she often would see Birmingham’s pink lamp on in the living room, her white hair shining in the evening light as she looked down intent on her knitting.

“She was a good, good lady, and will be very missed by us,” Riell said.

Birmingham and her husband Ted lived in Shelburne for many years; he died in 2003. She leaves many nieces and nephews.

There will be a service for friends and family today, Oct. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at Trinity Baptist Church, 127 Webster Road.

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