KALAMAZOO, Mich.—“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.”
When it comes to describing the special bond between Cheryl Whitman TenBrink, BA ′69, MSL′ 77, and Margaret Borton, BS ′60, MA ′64, this simple quote from Jane Austen resonates. Because these proud WMU alumnae did so much for and with one another.
“At Margaret’s funeral, someone I’d never met told me, ‘I think she thought of you as a younger sister,’” says TenBrink.
Like Austen, TenBrink and Borton placed a great deal of value on education, too. In fact, that is a big part of why Borton arranged for the Frey-Borton Endowed Scholarship through her estate before she passed away in 2022. The scholarship was established for full-time undergraduate students enrolled in WMU’s College of Education and Human Development.
“This scholarship was not an afterthought,” TenBrink says. “Margaret was an only child, never married and had no children. She was very independent and caring, and she planned for everything, especially recognizing and supporting students who embodied her passion for education.”
A Kalamazoo native, Borton spent 38 years teaching homemaking, English and French in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). She retired from Hillsdale Middle School in 1998. Also a Kalamazooan, TenBrink was a KPS librarian for more than three decades, retiring from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2007.
The pair of former educators even grew up in the same neighborhood, although they didn’t know it at the time. “I lived two blocks over from Margaret, and while I never had her as a teacher, I went to the middle school where she taught,” TenBrink says.
It was as members of the Epsilon chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International where they met and became fast friends. Borton was a 50-year member of this professional honor society of women educators. TenBrink is a 38-year member and counting, serving as past president and in many other roles. Currently, she is the chairman of the committee for a grant-in-aid program that gives awards annually to future educators studying at Western.
TenBrink and Borton also traveled extensively together. Their favorite destinations included the Pacific Northwest, where they visited for Borton’s 80th birthday; a couple of memorable floats aboard American Cruise Lines: Charleston and Savannah; and a trip along the East Coast.
“Margaret ‘claimed’ to have never been on a boat before,” TenBrink jokes.
A legacy of love and paying it forward
A big believer in giving back, TenBrink has loved and served her community well. She was elected as a trustee on the Kalamazoo Public Library Board not long after her retirement, where she served as president. A 13-year breast cancer survivor, she also volunteered for and participated in the Susan G. Komen of Southwest Michigan Race for the Cure.
TenBrink was recognized for her passion and dedication to the Michigan affiliate of Susan G. Komen with the Promise of One Award. Other accolades have included an award for her volunteer work with Family and Children’s Services and in 2017 earning her 50-year sorority pin in 2017.
“I joined Alpha Omicron Pi at Western in 1967,” she says. “I was very active on several committees, including one that facilitated the purchase of our first house.”
TenBrink’s affection for Western also extends to her life partner. She met her beloved Burt TenBrink, BS ′70, during her first semester at WMU, and the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary before his passing in 2020.
“It was raining the day I walked up to my first class at Wood Hall, and there was this kind man who asked if I’d like to share his umbrella,” she says. “That was my Burt, and from that point on, we were pretty much inseparable.”
The TenBrinks had two sons, Cory and Carl, both born while Burt was on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army. They also experienced the joy of having seven grandchildren.
As for her own legacy, TenBrink hopes that by supplementing the Frey-Borton Scholarship with a matched donation, she will broaden its impact and further honor her dear friend’s wishes.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have been an educator for 32 years at KPS, and because of the college education I was able to receive and the money I earned in my career, I feel it’s my responsibility to give back to WMU.”
It's a commitment that dovetails nicely with her advice for today’s Broncos.
“Give all you can,” she says. “In your job, in your personal life and to your students or your colleagues. Be the best you can be.”