Ursula Maria Borrelli

Mother, polyglot, teacher, gifted chef

Ursula Borrelli, a longtime Claremont resident, died after a brief illness on December 6, 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 82.

Mrs. Borrelli was born Ursula Lebeda in Germany on August 31, 1930. Her childhood was spent in the tumultuous times before, during and after World War II. In spite of bouts of starvation and the loss of family members in the war, she managed to finish her school years and later study at the Germersheim Dolmetscher Institut; her program enabled her to translate in real-time between English, French and German. She was headed for a career in the United Nations.

In 1954, Mrs. Borrelli received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States and received a bachelor’s degree from Ursuline College in Louisville, Kentucky. Somewhere along the line, her interests changed and she decided to pursue a PhD in English at the University of Frankfurt. Just as a 4-to-one devaluation of the Deutsche Mark was about to cut her studies short, Mrs. Borrelli found a job teaching German with the University of Maryland Overseas Program.

This job took her daily to a small intelligence unit of the US Army located near Offenbach, where she met her future husband, Robert Borrelli. They married in her mother’s hometown, Bad Wildungen, on July 7, 1956. Nine months later, their first child, Monica, was born, in Germany, and Mrs. Borrelli’s graduate studies were interrupted for the time being.

Upon discharge from the Army, Mr. Borrelli entered the PhD program in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley and the family moved to the United States. During Mr. Borrelli’s graduate years, their other children, Christina, Stephen and Margaret, were born. Although the household budget was tight, Mrs. Borrelli never complained and learned how to make do with meager resources. To augment the family income, she taught a course in the German department at Stanford University.

Mr. Borrelli finished his graduate studies in 1963 and found a job in industry. After just one year, he decided on a teaching career instead, and accepted an assistant professorship at Harvey Mudd College for half of his industrial salary. The family moved to Claremont and Mrs. Borrelli once again pitched in like a trooper, running the household with 4 children and tight resources efficiently and without complaint.

During her childhood in World War II, Mrs. Borrelli and her family at times had to subsist on soup made from potato peels. As a result, she knew the value of a tasty and nutritious meal.  An excellent cook who had earned a certificate from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, Mrs. Borrelli did wonders in the kitchen. She loved to experiment with the recipes culled from around the world in the Sunset series of cookbooks and was known for her delectable short ribs. Another specialty was a pudding made by boiling rice and milk, seasoned with sugar and cinnamon, called Milchreis mit Zucker und Zimt.

“We kids used to love that,” Mrs. Borrelli’s daughter Monica shared.

Later, when Mr. Borrelli developed diabetes, Mrs. Borrelli revamped their diet, tinkering with recipes to ensure that they were low-fat and low-sodium. Her meals were still delicious, her family shared, and often featured fresh produce from the farmer’s market or from the Borrellis’ own garden.

After her youngest daughter entered school, Mrs. Borrelli was able to attend Claremont Graduate University to obtain a teaching certificate and begin a career teaching high school French, German and English.  Her teaching career lasted over 25 years between Claremont High School, Damien High School in La Verne and Don Lugo High School in Chino. The income from Mrs. Borrelli’s profession was used to supplement Mr. Borrelli’s modest salary to provide educational classes and recreational activities for her children.

In later years, when the family income improved considerably and the children were through with their schooling, Mrs. Borrelli developed a program of charitable giving and became active in church activities. Most of the charities dear to her centered around children. The charitable organization that was especially important to her was the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. Mrs. Borrelli took the opportunity to visit the school with Mr. Borrelli a few years ago. The other charities she supported included the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Habitat for Humanity. Mrs. Borrelli was always willing to volunteer her time as well to various church and social functions; she became a lector for the Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church and, most recently, she volunteered at her grandson’s elementary school in Glendale as an aide.

Mrs. Borrelli was a voracious reader, devouring 2 books a week and particularly relishing novels by British mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Elizabeth George. She was no bookworm, however, and remained physically active in later life through exercise and travel. She also continued to be a lifelong learner, expanding her knowledge of Italian, Spanish and all things Internet. Mrs. Borrelli also developed new hobbies that she was passionate about, such as scrapbooking to maintain the family history. A music-lover who particularly enjoyed the compositions of George Frideric Handel, she also sang with the Mountainside Master Chorale.

Mrs. Borrelli was a devoted wife, loving mother and loyal friend, whose kindness, humor and gentle wisdom will be deeply missed, family said, adding that the people of Claremont enriched her life and she touched the lives of many.

Mrs. Borrelli is survived by her husband of 56 years, Robert, her 4 children, Monica, Christina, Stephen and Margaret, 11 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren and her sister, Lucia Hartung of Germany.



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