Davis Enterprise

Globe Americas

Borton’s memory honored by giving college students a taste of the world

By Kevin Kalhoefer and Meilee Wong
Enterprise staff writers

Published July 10, 2005. (reprinted with permission)

Chris Borton had lived in New York and in Ethiopia, in the Philippines and Menlo Park, all before age 12.

That’s how old he was, when, in 1977, his family settled in Davis, seeking a home base at long last.

In the years that followed, Chris pursued his twin loves, science and the humanities, both here and abroad.

Since his death from cancer in 1996 at age 31, his parents, Ray Borton, 73, and Verena Borton, 66, have honored his memory — and his passions — by creating a scholarship for students from Chris’ alma matter, UC San Diego, who are studying abroad.

With the money they have received from the Chris Borton Memorial Scholarship Fund, recipients have played flute in a 1,000-year-old cathedral in England, taught dance to students in Costa Rica, studied at the oldest university in Europe (Universitá degli Studi di Bologna in Italy), and explored Egypt’s urban streets.

His own man

Chris attended Holmes and Emerson junior high schools, and graduated from Davis High. In 1983, he traveled to Vienna, Austria, with the DHS orchestra.

While working toward a degree in computer science at UCSD, he minored in German literature and studied in Germany and the Netherlands.

He set up Magnetic Frisbees, a dealership in floppy discs while still an undergraduate, and did programming for the UC Davis enology department, Tandem Properties and a UCSD professor.

After graduating, Chris started an advanced software company with friends and colleagues. Storm Technology, a Silicon Valley venture he co-founded with two friends, developed PicturePress and EasyPhoto, two compression programs for e-mailing pictures.

Later, when Chris decided to start a graduate school program at UC Berkeley, he wanted to study computerized education, or teaching by computer.

But he encountered resistance inside the program, his parents said.

“When they told him he didn’t fit the mold, he quit,” Verena said. “Chris was his own man.”

In memoriam

Shortly after his death, longtime friend Mike Scanlin came up with the idea for the scholarship. He announced it at a celebration of Chris’ life.

Scanlin met Chris while the two were moving boxes of computer equipment into the UCSD dorms, and they became fast friends.

They shared a love for computers, programming, Frisbee, heavy metal and travel — Scanlin has visited more than 40 countries.

Scanlin said he thought the scholarship would be the ideal way to honor Chris’ memory.

“The thing I liked about Chris is his openness and willingness to accept other cultures and people,” he said. It was very hard not to like him. He was always willing to try something new. I could envision him doing the same thing in my name. A lot of good has come from it.”

Chris’ legacy now helps fellow travel enthusiasts with eclectic interests to complete their education and broaden their horizons.

Just like Chris, once recipients get a taste of what the wide world has to offer them, many have become addicted.

As directors of the Chris Borton Memorial Scholarship Fund, Ray and Verena do not officially hand out the money until recipients contact them.

They also ask for frequent updates, originally by letter, now through e-mail messages or online Weblogs.

The Bortons say they favor students who, like Chris, study both the humanities and the sciences.

The recipients are a dynamic bunch who have studied on six continents. One of last year’s recipients, Achim Lyon, is studying in Beijing. He posts his updates on his Web site.

The Bortons said they see travel as an excellent means of both understanding the world and establishing relationships.

Brotherly love

That understanding can be on very personal level, as Ben Borton, one of Chris’ two siblings, would attest. Growing up in Davis, he lacked his brother’s worldly experiences, and their 8 1/2-year age gap had made it difficult to be close.

Realizing his experiences abroad had profoundly impacted his life, Chris pressed his younger brother to try studying abroad.

Ben eventually chose to attend the University of York in England.

That spring, Chris came to visit. He and Ben traveled throughout Europe together, and that time together allowed the brothers to bond as they never had before.

During the trip, they also reconnected with Chris’ friends in Berlin and elsewhere.

“It was a great learning experience. Sometimes you get to know somebody by getting to know their friends,” Ben remembered. “He had an amazing array of friends, and they were sort of uniformly remarkable people.”

A growing legacy

When Chris was studying in Berlin, his mother said, one of his favorite places to visit was the Unter den Linden, a street filled with beautiful trees that holds a place in German literature not unlike the Champs Elysees in France.

About a year after his death, neighbors got together to plant two little leaf linden trees on the south side of the Yolo County offices in Davis, at 600 A St., in Chris’ memory.

Ray and Verena Borton stand under one of the trees they planted in memory of their son Chris. A scholarship in his memory helps students travel abroad for their studies. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photoJust behind the trees are 50 peace roses the Bortons helped plant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

The scholarship board hopes this year’s three scholarship recipients, headed to Senegal, Egypt and Italy, will learn something from Chris’ legacy.

“I think first of all he was a man of the world,” said Dolf Starreveld, another close friend of Chris’ who is treasurer of the memorial fund and married to Chris’ widow.

“He had no boundaries — he had an interest and a knowledge about much more than where he was from. The key for Chris was always to understand things and know what to do with it.”

— Reach Meilee Wong at mwong@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8050.