Maevonne Moench isn't your typical bag lady, plastic sack in hand. Instead of living on the streets, she cleans them.
While most people complain about litter, the 75-year-old artist does something about it.The diminutive grandmother won't let paper cups, cigarette packages, and packing popcorn lie. "One of my mother's chief pleasures in life is visual gorgeousness. She taught all eight of her children to have a huge appreciation of the visual gorgeousness of nature," said Moench's daughter, Michelle Hawes. "We've always had a mom who cared what the world looked like. It was from her that all of us got an enormous appreciation for scenery, love of the mountains and green things that grow.
"It's really distressing to her to see what she considers beautiful, messed up." Moench, a staunch advocate of mass transit when pollution blankets Salt Lake Valley, was for many years obsessed with the mystical pronoun "they."
Moench used to believe litter was someone else's problem. "There should be some agency , or someone to dispose of the trash," she used to tell her children.
"They ought to clean it up," she'd tell her children, pointing to the garbage that coats Utah streets and highways.
But ultimately, she decided to do it herself.
Her first target was a long row of lilac bushes "full of the biggest mess you have ever seen in your life." Her challenge was how to clean up the mess without offending the homeowners.
The problem was solved one morning when she arose before daybreak. Before the sun or homeowners had risen, she had filled and hauled away four big trash bags full to the brim.
"I never heard anything about it; I'm sure they didn't know the difference," said Moench, whose sense of humor is as spirited as her stride.
From then on as she and her husband, Dr. Louis G. Moench, took their morning walk, she'd carry a small plastic bag.
"I was sure my husband wouldn't like it because he always tried to be dignified," she said. But the psychiatrist, who bought his wife two pairs of tongs, only complained if she lagged behind.
His sole restriction was that she not haul home dead animals.
Eventually, Moench ventured farther away than usual from their Holladay home, cleaning up along both sides of the cemetery fence and along the lilac bushes across from the Villa Theatre.
The Villa cleanup alone took three days and 28 big leaf bags. Four weeks later, county garbage collectors had hauled the last bag from the Moenchs' home.
Moench's obsession for cleanliness doesn't diminish on vacations. The small plastic bags accompany her on family treks into the mountains, where she enlists the help of her grandchildren in picking up trash.
Her efforts are, in fact, catching. Moench said one day while walking, she met five neighbors on their morning jaunt. In their sacks were empty beer cans, remnants of a party a few blocks away.
In the late 1920s when Moench taught at William Penn Elementary, she'd take her sixth-grade art class to the vacant property on which her home is now located.
Although they've lived there 35 years, "the view of the vista of mountains is always fresh to her," her daughter said. "She knows every contour and can describe the mountains in every season. The visual world to her has all been gorgeous."
Moench, whose arms are scratched from pulling paper from beneath bushes, said she'd heard the expression that "the streets are clean enough to eat off of." But she didn't believe it until she toured Norway and Switzerland, where honeybees - not flies - buzz the fruit markets. Even Italians, who wade in litter during the day, sweep the streets when the stores close, she said.
"We don't do that here," said Moench, who's convinced parents and teachers should do more to help children conserve nature's beauty.