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A story of love: the dedication of the Mary and Jean Borg Center for Reading and Literacy

By Matt Kurnick

(September 19, 2008) Beginning on Wednesday, September 17, 2008, the Center for Reading and Literacy on the third floor of DeGarmo Hall at Illinois State University will forever be known as the Mary and Jean Borg Center for Reading and Literacy.

The naming will provide all that enter the Center with a reminder of several important values that the Borgs share with Illinois State.

“The dedication is a story of love,” said Joy Hutchcraft, executive director of Development/Fundraising for University Advancement. “The love of a mother and a daughter, love of reading, love that extends outward to others.”

Jean Borg, a 1950 graduate of Illinois State Normal University, attended ISNU on her mother’s wishes, and eventually became a reading teacher, mentor, and scholar. Jean retired in 1993 and has since focused her efforts on giving back to the place that helped her reach her goals.

“I selected Illinois State because it has meant so much to me in the past,” Jean Borg explained during her address at the dedication ceremony. “It was really my home. I loved it here. It was very small at the time, I really felt pretty much at home. I really am so happy to have come here because they did make me a teacher. I reached my goal.”

It was Mary Borg, Jean’s mother, that pushed her to become a teacher, and especially to attend Illinois State. It was also Mary Borg who inspired Jean to give back to the University that provided her with a base for a career that lasted over 40 years.

After Jean retired she met her financial advisor, and now long time friend Rick Sabbides. Fortunately during a fateful meeting in 1993, Sabbides asked the question.

“‘Is there something inside you that is really bothering you, or you’re concerned with? Or is there something you could do if you could do anything?'” Sabbides recalled asking Jean during their meeting. “She broke down crying.”

The thoughts of her mother, who was also her best friend, overwhelmed Jean. The two came up with the idea of providing educational funds for young people who might not otherwise be able to afford it to honor Mary. The two started by setting up scholarship funds. In the 15 years since that meeting, the gifts they have been able to secure have increased in size by 150 percent.

“There’s probably no other client I’ve had in 34 years who’s more giving than Jean Borg,” Sabbides said as he addressed the crowd at the dedication. “Most of you don’t have to hear that because you know that.”

Because of the exponential increase in the size of the gifts Jean has set up, she will now be giving much more than financial aid.

“You’re giving the most precious gift of all, the gift of reading,” ISU President Al Bowman said during the dedication. “Your generosity will help future teachers provide services to students and educators, support the tutoring programs, enhance the Center’s lecture series, grant access to professional development, connect students to research opportunities, and promote in-service training.”

The ceremony was a tremendous reminder of just how giving a person Jean Borg is.

The names on the pristine glass door at the entrance of the Mary and Jean Borg Center for Reading and Literacy will act as a permanent reminder to all who spend time in the Center.

“When these young people and adults walk through the Center, there’s not a day that’s going to go by that they’re not going to be thinking about Jean and Mary Borg,” Sabbides said.

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