Getting Personal: Eileen Borgia


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Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 74-year-old Urbana resident EILEEN BORGIA, who worked in early-childhood care and education for 50 years, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Borgia has been an educator and consultant for Head Start and child care workers and has taught college courses on child development and education. In retirement, she has become a nature guide and teacher.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Long Island. I have four sisters and one brother. We lived in a three-bedroom home with one bathroom. Younger generations express horror at the thought of life with one bathroom. My dad taught us to take "split-second" showers. I don't think we did. We girls were expected to stay close to home. But my brother Billy? He went wherever he wanted to go.

What were your parents like?

Unconditional love and support for education were our parents' highest priorities. When they married in 1941, they promised each other that all of their children would have a college degree. We do ... and more.

Do you have any funny family stories?

Family vacations (nine in a station wagon) were packed with hilarity, cloth diapers and sibling games. After a day of wild rides and wilder food at Coney Island, my sister, who sat in the middle seat, "lost her dinner" out the car window. The momentum of the car sent her pizza, soda, doughnuts and ice cream back to us in the seat behind her. We still love her.

How did you become a nature lover?

We had three beaches in Glen Cove, where we learned about sun, moon, tides, birds, aquatic animals, saltwater and how to swim. Getting there, we passed 19th-century gated estates with huge old pines, vines, hardwoods and gardens. They were so formal and out of reach. We enjoyed hiking at state and national parks.

And after you moved to central Illinois?

When my family lived in Chatham, my best friend, Jan Grimes, and I regularly walked at Lincoln Memorial Garden on Lake Springfield. I was fascinated by the wildflowers, insects, trees, changing seasons and the less formal developmental process of the natural world, but I didn't know much about botany, entomology, ornithology or soils. After retirement, I enrolled in the Master Naturalist course through the University of Illinois Extension. I emerged as a lifelong nature learner and volunteer. Always passionate for educating young children and parents, I developed and present a workshop for early childhood practitioners: "The Playful Naturalist."

What brought you to Urbana?

Graduate school. As a senior consultant at the Illinois State Board of Education, I helped design and administer the pre-kindergarten program for at-risk children.

What's your best advice for enjoying the outdoors?

Wonder about little things. Walk, explore your backyard, plant things. Breathe. Sketch. Write. Visit parks on foot, car or bus. Many parks have accessible paths for people with disabilities. Borrow and use nature packs from nature centers and public libraries.

Where should you go, what should you bring and what should you do?

Wear a hat, long pants and sleeves, a bandana, gloves, closed-toe shoes or boots, and a reusable water bottle. Bring a bag to pick up small trash. Remember bug spray and sunscreen. Hug a tree. Catch a fish. Lie on a blanket and name the cloud formations. Visit a children's nature playscape.

Do you think children should have room to roam when on a nature hike?

Taking risks is important for a child's development. Balance that fact with a child's age, everyone's safety and respecting all things nature. As an educational volunteer at Yellowstone National Park, I saw how roaming could put one in danger of meeting a bear or bison that also has room to roam.What are the guidelines for preserving natural areas?

Take pictures. Leave only footprints. Rocks, flowers and other living things remain in place. Bring a snack, have a picnic but do not feed animals, birds or fish. Stay on marked trails. Never kill critters; carry out litter. All ages can volunteer.

What are some other hobbies?

I borrow audiobooks from the library, hike, kayak, help friends in need and travel to our magnificent national parks.

What else keeps you busy?

In the past five years as a volunteer, I have served the Champaign County Forest Preserve District — Citizens Advisory Committee. We reach out to communities in Champaign County, encouraging people to use the marvelous resources of the six forest preserves. Our proudest achievement in 2018 was helping to earn designation as a Dark Sky Park at the Middlefork Forest Preserve.

What's your favorite food?

Turtle frozen custard.

What did you make on your first job?

In 1964, I was a women's locker room attendant for $1.25 an hour.

Favorite sports team?

Let's go Mets.

What would you order for your last meal?

Nothing. I want to die suddenly.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).