By all accounts, Phyllis Bornt of Scotia lived a quiet and frugal life devoted to her church, her alma mater and her employer.
So friends and acquaintances were surprised to learn that Bornt, who died at age 80 in March 2010, left $706,000 to the Schenectady County Public Library and other large bequests to the First Reformed Church of Scotia and to Central College in Pella, Iowa. The bequests are just now being acknowledged.
“I knew she was generous, but I had no idea how much money she had,” said Alice Reed, her traveling companion and good friend.
Bornt worked at the Schenectady County Public Library for 35 years, retiring in the mid-1990s as coordinator of branches. She continued volunteering at the library until her death and served twice as president of the Friends of the Schenectady County Library.
Larry Happel, spokesman for Central College, said the college is not releasing the amount of Bornt’s bequest. But on Friday, college trustees dedicated the Phyllis Bornt Entry Way Plaza in her honor. The entry way cost $800,000 to build. Bornt, who graduated from the college in 1951, is listed as a donor who gave $10,000 or more. She obtained a degree in Library Science from Columbia Library School in New York City. The school no longer exists.
Pastor Craig Hoffman of the First Reformed Church of Scotia also would not reveal the amount of Bornt’s bequest. “She was a private person, and I am not sure she would want that in the paper. But it is a significant bequest,” he said.
Hoffman, whose church handled her funeral arrangements, said Bornt “would be fine with people reading that she divided her estate between the three things that meant a great deal to her.”
Esther Swanker, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Schenectady County Public Library, said Bornt’s bequest is one of the largest donations the board has received. “We are very grateful,” she said.
Acquaintances could only speculate as to how Bornt amassed such wealth.
Reed said Bornt “worked until she was 65 and she was always a good saver. She invested her money and saved a lot.”
Hoffman said Bornt was a single woman who lived within her means, who did not have children to raise and who lived in a house that was her childhood home on Sacandaga Road. He called her lifestyle a testament to living simply.
Swanker called Bornt a loyal employee and a hard worker.
Jean Rettie said she knew Bornt for 30 years. Rettie said the library meant a lot to her. “She loved the library and she loved her branches,” she said.
Swanker said Bornt directed her bequest be used toward the betterment of the nine branches in the county system. “Some of it will be used for materials, books and nooks,” she said. The money can’t be used for capital projects, such as toward the current construction of an addition to the central branch on Clinton Street.
Hoffman said the church’s leadership council is deciding on how best to use Bornt’s bequest. “That is an active discussion with the group,” he said.
Friends said Bornt was an active volunteer in the community, serving with the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County and on the Reformed Church’s leadership council as well as being the church’s librarian.
Bornt “had a heart for missions and was alert to ways to touch the community,” Hoffman said. She contributed toward mission work and was a regular giver, he said.
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