Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Rae Borrok
Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Rae Borrok, 85, passed away unexpectedly Monday, May 28, 2018, at The Residence at Shelburne Bay in Shelburne, Vt.
Virginia was born at home on June 18, 1932 in La Porte City, Iowa, to Margaret E. Rolston Stahnke and Raymond Franklin Stahnke. She graduated from Iowa State University in 1953 with a degree in home economics, which at the time was one of the few areas of study available to women. Upon graduation, she bought a one-way bus ticket to New York City, where she worked for the Elna sewing machine company.
That’s where she met her husband, Chester “Chet” Borrok, at a Halloween party in 1956. She was dressed as a princess and he as a hobo. They married five and a half months later on March 16, 1957, in New York City.
Virginia found her true calling when she volunteered for Phoenix House, a drug treatment center in her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City. When the family moved to Jacksonville, Fla. in 1971, Virginia continued her career in mental health, drug and alcohol treatment. While continuing to work and raise her family, she earned her doctorate in public administration.
At a time with few role models to emulate, Virginia was a true “boss lady,” shattering the glass ceiling when there was little culture to support women in business. She culminated her career as executive director of Gateway Community Services, the state of Florida’s s largest alcohol and drug treatment center.
Virginia’s legacy of helping those struggling with addiction reverberates in our communities today. With a focus on teens, mothers and children, some born with addictions, Virginia led the first substance abuse program in the United States that allows children to remain with their mothers while in treatment after giving birth. Prior to Virginia’s bold initiative, infants and young children were routinely removed and placed with a foster family or relatives. She also assisted in the establishment of numerous similar treatment programs throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Virginia’s reach was felt throughout the world with frequent trips to Kenya visiting her dear friend Barbara Steenstrup. Virginia and Barbara worked together, teaching Kenyan communities about treatment programs during a tour that also took her to Mauritius, Tanzania and Germany to share her expertise. During those excursions, Barbara said of Virginia: “Always a true professional, never a tourist; always a human being and always a friend.” Virginia’s Midwestern demeanor belied a warm, adventurous and generous heart.
Virginia discovered a second true love on trips to Africa: elephants. Anyone who knew Virginia was aware of her love of these gentle giants and their matriarchal system, and the care they gave. As a testament, her apartment was filled with photos and carvings, and we can’t imagine that there’s an elephant-adorned piece of jewelry, scarf or t-shirt that she didn’t own. Virginia would eventually bring each of her three children individually to Kenya to share her love of that nation.
With the death of her husband Chet in 1993, she went on yearly excursions with the Jacksonville Women’s Network to England, Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Morocco, and many other destinations.
In 2002, Virginia moved to Shelburne, Vt., to be closer to her grandchildren. In retirement, she continued her lifelong commitment to community as a grant writer for the State of Vermont’s Department of Public Health, and the Lund Family Center.
She spent her final years at The Residence at Shelburne Bay with her constant companion, Dutch, a kitty adopted from the Humane Society of Chittenden County.
We will forever remember our mother as the epitome of a lady, dressed to the nines with matching accessories. Always quick to point out if her children were not groomed to her satisfaction, Virginia also taught us to properly use each and every swear word! Not a loose thread on your jacket nor a crooked picture hung in your home would she ever fail to notice.
Virginia followed gas prices closely and would often drive out of her way to save a few pennies. We will miss all of her various critiques, and think of her when we pay too much at the pump. When confronted with our misdeeds as children, a common refrain from mom, was “Don’t tell your father,” except in the case of Christopher, whose misdeeds could rarely be hidden.
Virginia was preceded in death by her husband, Chester H. Borrok; her parents, Margaret E. Daggett and Raymond F. Stahnke; her aunt, Ruth L. Stokes; and her uncle, Graham Rolston.
She is survived by her three children: Leslie Borrok, married to Josh Cohen of Shelburne, Vt.; Christopher Borrok and his wife Jennifer Hamdan of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Natalie Harder and her husband Hank, of Shelburne, Vt. Virginia is also survived by six grandchildren: Nathaniel Borrok-Hoffman and Emile Cohen, Chester Borrok, and Haley, Henry and Charlie Harder.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, June 10, at 2 p.m. at Shelburne Museum’s Pizzagalli Center. All are welcome to join us in celebrating Virginia’s life. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to one of Virginia’s favorite organizations: the Lund Family Center in Vermont (lundvt.org) or the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya (sheldrickwildlifetrust.org).
We would like to thank the caregivers and staff of The Residence at Shelburne Bay for their loving care and dedication to our mother.