Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Borders made mark with library patrons


March 31, 2011

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on April 9 for Haines librarian Ellen Borders, whose cheerful nature and wide knowledge of books made her a favorite to a generation of public library patrons.

Borders died March 24 of an apparent heart attack, just a few blocks from her childhood home in southern California. She was heading to the airport at the end of a two-week trip seeing family. She was 55 and suffered from diabetes and heart disease.

For 31 years, Borders shared jokes, tips about good reads, and even chocolate chip cookies with readers. Her job included choosing new books.

"Ellen had great curiosity and open-mindedness about new materials," said longtime library board member Cecily Stern. "Often, when I requested a book or film through inter-library loan, she would say, ‘We should have that in our collection. It sounds like something lots of people would like. ’"

She was planning to retire from the library April 15.

Borders had only a high school education, but she read about three books a week, on a variety of subjects.

Titles she reviewed in her "Borders’ Book Bites" column included "Unaccompanied Women: Late Life Adventures in Love, Sex and Real Estate," "The Titanic: The Legacy of the World’s Greatest Ocean Liner," and "The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery."

Of the last, she wrote: "The photographs are quite graphic, so if the sight of blood bothers you, don’t check this book out!"

At a library party last year honoring Borders’ 30 years of service, Chilkat Valley News editor Tom Morphet recounted trying to get a copy of the "Unabomber Manifesto" before the Internet made such documents readily accessible.

"I asked Ellen if the library had a copy. She said, ‘No, but I know where you can get one.’" Borders took Morphet’s phone number and passed it on to a resident who had a personal copy of the mad bomber’s diatribe.

Before there was a Google, Borders would field reference questions for readers who called the library in search of some arcane point.

Longtime resident Carol Waldo said she benefited from Borders’ knowledge and thoughtfulness.

"Who could find anything not to like about Ellen?" Waldo said. "When I had cancer and couldn’t leave the house for five months, she would have a bag of books for me every week. She would choose them. Books to make me laugh, history books. It got me through a very difficult time."

Ellen Elaine Gonce was born on July 8, 1955 in Glendale, Calif. and raised in Anaheim. Her father was a postal worker and her mother, a homemaker. Because of childhood health issues, her parents were told she would not live past 50, husband Ralph Borders said this week.

She graduated from Magnolia High School in 1973 and spent six years as a lab assistant at the University of California-Irvine Medical Center. Ralph grew up 15 minutes away, attended the same church, and was friends with Ellen’s older brother Bill, who came to Haines and worked at the former Food Center grocery.

In 1973, Ralph followed him north, settled in Haines and grew sweet on Ellen. They were married in Fullerton, Calif., in 1979. "I was in love enough to get married during moose season," Ralph said.

Ellen enjoyed scrap-booking, baking, and volunteering for Hospice of Haines. She attended three church services a week.

Jennifer Ford worshiped with Borders and found her faith inspiring. "She was a great encouragement to me. Seeing her health limitations, and yet she never complained, she still had a very sweet, generous, and Godly spirit."

Borders is survived by husband Ralph of Haines; parents Ellsworth and Elizabeth Gonce of Anaheim; sisters Susan Wood of Aurora, Colo., Linda Soristo of Cottonwood, Calif., and Judy Gonce of Redondo Beach, Calif., and brother Bill Gonce of Remond, Ore.

In addition to nephew Danny Gonce of Haines, she leaves eight nieces and nephews and 14 grand-nieces and nephews.

Library director Patty Brown said the grief at the library was palpable, but that Borders’ legacy will endure. "People who never knew her will benefit for years to come from the books she’s selected."

Donations may be made to the Friends of Haines Borough Public Library, P.O. Box 1089, or Hospice of Haines, P.O. Box 1034.


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