Donor Spotlight: In Honor of Mary Merrill

The campaign to raise funding for our River Bend Farm project brings forth the special opportunity for everyday people to be honored by family and friends through gifts in their name. The places at River Bend Farm that have been (and continue to be!) named, hold heartfelt stories of people and businesses whose life's mission or business promise is to preserve our natural resources and promote their conservation through educational programming. In several instances our supporters have been inspired to raise funds from friends and family in honor of someone they hold dear. We look forward to sharing the intimate purpose of each gift with all of your in The Ecology School community!

Tom and Polly Merrill

Tom and Polly Merrill

Written by Bryan Matluk, Development Director

About 10,000 years ago the last of the Pleistocene ice sheets and glaciers receded across the Maine landscape forming the lakes, hills, rivers and islands that we have come to know so well. Among these was a small hill overlooking the Saco River where the tiny Stackpole Creek drains into it- about 10 miles before emptying into the Atlantic.

The first human inhabitants of the area were likely the pre-Columbian Red Paint People eventually followed by the Algonquin and Wabanki —although none are known to have settled on this spot of land. In 1794 a young couple, Nathan and Elizabeth Hopkinson, chose the hill to build a farmhouse and start their family.

Around 1954, Mary Merrill purchased the farm to raise and train race horses, and gave it the name River Bend Farm. Involved with the community throughout her life, she volunteered with the local library, museum, 4H clubs, and the Saco River Corridor Commission. Mary was also a dedicated social worker at the Sweetser School. When she passed in 2005, she left the property, which she had put under a conservation easement in 1998, to one of her nephews, Tom Merrill.

“My family and I sort of grew up on the farm I learned to ski on the hill in the winter and swam in the river during summers. Of course, the house was much smaller then. Just a cozy farmhouse that the entire family piled into during holidays."

Tom and his wife, Polly, sold their home in Massachusetts and moved to their new farmhouse in Maine. Polly kept the farm full of energy with their beloved horses, dogs, cats, and chickens. In 2015 after a decade of Tom's weekly commute to Boston for work, they decided to put the farm up for sale. “My broker called me up saying a nonprofit I had never heard of before was interested in making an offer. Drew then asked me over to The Ecology School and told me about the school and what his vision was. I remember saying, 'the last thing I want is to get involved in is a long drawn-out process.' Drew assured me that approvals were only a few weeks off." Tom shared the news and inquired with his family whether or not Aunt Mary would agree that the school was a fitting legacy, and "even though she had never heard of The Ecology School, my mother was absolutely convinced of it."

Through the long purchasing process, Tom and Polly came to embrace the school's mission and vision for the farm. In 2016, they pledged $100,000 to the school knowing it would make a huge difference. The Ecology School finally purchased the property in November 2017 and by that January Tom had agreed to join the Board of Directors. Since then, he has become one of the school's most important advocates—spending many nights and weekends determining a financial path to success, serving on the Campaign Planning Committee and now as a co-Chair of the Capital Campaign.

“The environment is the most important challenge we, as a human race, face. Our current path is not sustainable and my generation is not aware enough or prepared enough to change it. We can’t convince the older generations to invest now and the change will need to come from the next generation. This is why The Ecology School is so important.”
— Tom Merrill

We are extremely grateful for Tom's leadership and support; since the beginning of the Capital Campaign, he and Polly have donated an additional $75,000 in honor of his Aunt Mary.


From dorm rooms to outdoor pathways, each thoughtfully designed feature of the River Bend Farm project models sustainable construction practices and serves as a teaching resource for our program participants. If you would like to learn more about naming opportunities at River Bend Farm, please contact Development Director, Bryan Matluk at (207) 283-9951 or bryan@theecologyschool.org.