Boulevard beautifier vows to ‘leave no trace’

Daffodils bloom near the Brookline Boulevard cannon war memorial. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

Daffodils bloom near the Brookline Boulevard cannon war memorial. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

By: Katie Lipko

A woman opens the door of Cafe de Noir on Brookline Boulevard. Abruptly, she stops. Glancing over her shoulder, she notices empty pizza boxes propped against a sidewalk trash can.

She leaves the entrance and makes her way to the boxes, stomping them down and folding them to fit in the trash can. She stands and brushes off her hands, satisfied by her work. She continues into the coffee shop where she orders hot tea, kindly returning her mug to the counter before leaving.

The woman is Mercedes Faust. Her personal creed is to “leave no trace.”

Mercedes not only embraces this value in her daily life but also teaches it as Boy Scout Unit Commissioner.

Amid her daily work at Community College of Allegheny County, Mercedes spends her free evenings cleaning up and weeding the grassy spots on the Boulevard, walking to the main road from her house near Freedom and Berkshire Avenue.

Mercedes has been a Brookline resident since the day she married Robert Mercedes in 1972. “When I first got married, [Brookline] was just a place,” she says.

But now, Brookline has become a home she respects and cares for on a weekly basis.

Mercedes’ cleaning efforts coincided with the renovation of Brookline Boulevard that occurred five years ago. Benches and grassy, green spots were added to give the street character.

“The green spaces have made a big difference,” she said.

The largest new green space is the entry point into Brookline, located at the corner of Brookline Boulevard and Pioneer Avenue.

In an effort to make it look beautiful, Mercedes started her impromptu cleaning for a simple reason: “I wanted someone to do it, and instead of pointing fingers, I just did it myself.”

During the two year renovation, the tracks that were once used by streetcars were covered. Telephone wires were buried underground so a clear view of the Boulevard’s buildings could easily be seen by all. In addition, the road was widened to create a parking lane which Mercedes notes as the biggest improvement to Brookline’s main passageway.

“That has been a terrific change,” she said. Mercedes explained that after renovations were complete, Brookline was left with a stunning main boulevard.

Mercedes began to fall in love with Brookline when her son Russell was born in 1989. At this time, Mercedes became fully aware of the town’s sense of community. She joined the community enthusiastically, working with the schools and learning the local politics.

Russell attended private schools outside of Brookline, but to ensure he built relationships in Brookline, Mercedes and Robert signed him up for Boy Scouts at age eight. Both Mercedes and her husband became involved with the organization.

Russell is now grown, but Mercedes’s involvement in Boy Scouts and the Brookline community has not ceased. Mercedes is Unit Commissioner in Pleasant Hills, Dormont and Castle Shannon, and Robert holds the same position in Brookline.

For now, Mercedes is one of two individuals who regularly clean the Boulevard. She focuses on one side of the street while another woman works on the opposite side. “I hope in the next few years that more people help clean up,” she says.

Brookline does have a community group that is trying to get people to volunteer. “Hopefully more people will love it and keep it clean,” Mercedes says. “Hopefully more people will take over.”

However, Mercedes is not ready yet to give up her weeding and cleaning efforts. “I will volunteer as long as needed,” says Mercedes. “As long as I’m healthy.”

A love of community is the only reward she wants. “I want kids and people to say, ‘This is where I live; isn’t it a beautiful place?’” she says. Being able to strengthen neighborhood bonds by taking an hour here and there to clean up the Boulevard is a sacrifice that Mercedes does not mind making.

“It’s a matter of giving back,” she says. “Giving back matters.”  And at the end of the day, all that matters to Mercedes is that “[Brookline] is a really nice place to live.”