Altgeld Hall gift rooted in friendship

Ramona Borders (seated) and Peggy Ruff have a decades-long friendship that has inspired Borders to give to the Altgeld Hall renovation project.

Ramona Borders (seated) and Peggy Ruff have a decades-long friendship that has inspired Borders to give to the Altgeld Hall renovation project. The Decatur residents are University of Illinois alumnae.

A generation separates them.

Ramona (Russell) Pogue Borders graduated from the University of Illinois in 1948 while her dear friend Peggy (Young) Ruff earned her degree from the Department of Mathematics in 1975. However, no matter the years, the two have a loyal friendship that is based on honesty and giving – two priorities that have led Borders to make an estate gift to benefit the Altgeld Hall renovation.

The $192 million project will revitalize the iconic building that is currently home to the Department of Mathematics and replace its neighbor to the west, Illini Hall.

Borders indicated that she has always loved Altgeld Hall, but the primary reason for her interest in giving is because it’s near to Ruff’s heart.

“When you love someone, what they care about becomes what you care about,” Borders said. “We are as close as any two human beings can be. She is a dear friend.”

Borders and Ruff met nearly two decades ago when they began serving on the same church committee before Borders convinced Ruff to join her on the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra Board.

“We are extremely close,” Ruff said. “She is like a mother to me, but she has occasionally said I’m like both a daughter and a mother to her. I’m not afraid to share my opinions with her, which I think can be rare in friendships.”

During the two decades of friendship, they have talked through many of life’s details including where they donate their funds and time. Borders spent decades on campus as a student and employee, although she is a Decatur native and has focused much of her giving in the Macon County area.

Borders worked in the Bureau of Economics and Business Research as a statistician on campus. From 1952-1984, she worked as one of the first operators for ILLIAC I. She was promoted to computer supervisor, and when the Digital Computer Laboratory (DCL) opened in 1958, Borders became the administrative aide in 1968. When the Computing Services Office (CSO) formed in separation from the Department of Computer Science in 1970, she became one of the first employees of CSO. She retired from the University of Illinois in 1984.

“She really hasn’t ventured too far from local efforts in her giving; however, I spoke with her about giving to the U of I,” Ruff said. “She’s led a wonderful life and is fortunate the university provided her with a degree and an amazing career. It’s her way of giving back. I owe so much to the U of I, and I know Ramona feels the same. It taught me how to think, which is not just arriving at an answer but problem solving and working through things. (Ramona) has spent a good portion of her life on campus in one way or another.”

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