By Greg Ellison
(July 15, 2021) After jumping on board in the early phases of the downtown’s resurgence, Berlin Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen has witnessed the evolution of Berlin from a typical Eastern Shore community into Budget Travel’s 2014 title holder of America’s Coolest Small Town.
Native to the region, Bohlen grew up in Talbot County and graduated from St. Michael’s High School before enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving in the Military Police Corps during the mid-1980s.
“I’ve always been on the Eastern Shore,” she said.
Bohlen had relocated to the area several years earlier when her spouse, John Bohlen III, launched his law enforcement career with the Berlin Police Department.
“My husband was a police officer here in Berlin when we moved down,” she said.
John Bolen retired from the Berlin Police Department in 1998 and operated J & M Boating, providing charting fishing excursions on the “Mary Claire,” named for the couple’s daughter, until his death in Dec. 2018.
Bolen was hired by the Town of Berlin in July 1991, after spending several years working for the Wicomico County Humane Society.
“I started working for the town right after it had significant investment from private sources and [through] grants,” she said.
“I started out in the front office … doing what front office ladies do,” she said.
After a couple of years of answering phones and processing utility payments, Bohlen’s work ethic earned her a promotion in July 1993, when then Grants Administrator Linda Worstall stepped down.
“The town at that point was well on its way to being ‘America’s Coolest Small Town,’” she said, giving credit to a consortium of civic-minded business people for breathing renewed life into the downtown business corridor.
“There was a group of business people who jointly owned the Atlantic Hotel at that time,” she said. “That was sort of a catalyst for the downtown renovations.”
She remained in that post until the flow of grants began to slow to a trickle, the position was eliminated and she moved into her current role.
“This was kind of the … turn off on the big surge in state and federal grant money,” she said. “A lot of the programs no longer exist, which is part of why that title no longer exists.”
Over the years, although the town has continued to pursue grants, most of Bohlen’s efforts have been focused elsewhere.
“When I first came, there were a number of vacant storefronts on Main Street and we now have virtually 100 percent occupancy,” she said. “I have nothing to do with that — it’s [Economic and Community Development Director] Ivy Wells and before her Michael Day.”
Bohlen’s accomplishments do, however, include a multitude of “one-off projects,” and numerous oversight roles.
“I deal with the [Berlin] Parks Commission and do all the leg work for town elections,” she said.
Bohlen has also overseen the town’s webpage from its inception.
“I’ve done a lot of work with the Town Charter and code to bring it up to speed and keep it up to speed,” she said.
Other projects Bohlen has guided through completion include instituting the town’s emergency notification system.
“That was a project I recommended and saw through to the hiring of a vendor,” she said.
Bohlen has also pushed numerous upgrades to park facilities, including replacing tennis courts at Stephen Decatur Park and basketball courts in Henry Park.
In a word, Bohlen characterized her position as “eclectic.”
“I have always joked … when people ask, ‘what do you do?” she said. “I always say, ‘If they’re not sure whose desk to put it on, it usually ends up on mine.’”
Looking ahead, Bohlen said the town remains focused on managing continued growth to maintain curb appeal.
“It’s an attractive place for people to live,” she said. “We see that in the number of properties that have been … and continue to be developed, both residential and commercial.
“No matter what, not everyone always agrees with everything that gets done,” she said. “We need to do what’s right for most of the people most of the time and, unfortunately, it’s always going to not be right for somebody.