‘Fearless’ mom tackled life’s challenges with zest
‘Fearless’ mom was happy with her life
The sprawling garden in Doreen Borger’s backyard was filled with everything you could make a salad with — something she did every day for her children.
There were tomatoes, which she would can at the end of the season, giving jars to family and friends. There were carrots, which she pressed into fresh juice. And there was the lettuce, beans, peas and beets, all growing under her watchful eye and green thumb.
Then there were the broad beans.
“My gosh. I just hated them as a kid,” Borger’s daughter, Janine, said. “We had a big bench around the table and would try and drop them behind the bench. Even though I knew she cleaned behind there, we never got reprimanded for the food behind there.”
Doreen Borger died May 17 from bowel cancer at age 82. She leaves behind six children, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and countless memories shared by friends and family.
She was born in Medicine Hat and raised in Wayne, a hamlet now part of Drumheller.
Borger grew up swimming in the Red Deer River and skating with her older brothers, Gordon and Robert.
She played hockey on a women’s team in Drumheller in the late 1940s and became the first female hockey referee when she was in her mid-40s in Sherwood Park in 1979, volunteering with the Crusaders minor hockey team for two years.
“They didn’t have enough referees. She decided she was going to be one and away she went,” longtime family friend Karoline Kiddine said. “Being Doreen, she probably thought, ‘Well, they’re short a referee? I can skate. I’ll go do it.’ ”
Borger loved gathering the extended family together at Christmas and renting ice or finding a frozen pond for skating. She did that well into her 70s, Janine said.
She was no stranger to tragedy. Her son Jerome died in infancy. Her daughter Leslie died at 17 in a car crash. She worked evening shifts at the Petroleum Club of Edmonton to support her family as her husband, John, earned his PhD. They eventually split after 37 years. Through it all, Janine said her mother remained the “centrepiece” of the family, and continued cooking and entertaining for both sides of the family.
Later in life, Borger saw the world through volunteer work with UNICEF. She worked closely with her church.
“When my own dad passed away and she learned that, the next thing I knew she was in my house making supper,” Kiddines aid. “That’s just who she was. That was her nature, an extreme caregiver.”
She was keen on learning, and took many courses, including massage and self-hypnosis. This hunger for knowledge helped her through some of the most difficult times in her life, Kiddine said.
“She was very philosophical and had a very practical view of life. She was just one of those very young-minded people, always looking into things and wanting to know more.
“She had her challenges, but she never let those stop her.”
For Borger’s children, many of their fondest memories of their mother revolve around her giant backyard garden. Their mother believed in fresh food. There wasn’t a store-bought can in their household, her son, Joshua, said.
The garden was a flurry of activity in the summertime. No one was allowed to go and play until the weeds were pulled, the peas shelled and the root cellar was maintained — something her husband built to store food yearround when the family decided to garden another plot of rented farmland to keep up with their demand for produce.
At one point, John Borger bought an old washing machine the family threw carrots into to wash them faster, Joshua said.
Doreen Borger moved to Edmonton in her later years, but still maintained a small garden for herself.
When she was diagnosed with bowel cancer, she decided to forgo any treatment in favour of living her last days with a higher quality of life.
She sang to her grandchildren the day before she died, Janine said.
“She just said, ‘I’m at peace with this,’” Janine said. “She was happy with her life, she was happy with her kids, she was happy with the work she had done to bring her kids to that point in their lives.
“She was just always there for people and when it was her time, she was OK. She was fearless.”