Arborist Larry Borger dies at 97

Lawrence Borger of Bayside, arborist who died at Lawrence Borger of Bayside, arborist who died at age 97. Photo Credit: Handout

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Larry Borger was an arborist, but his job went far beyond working with trees.

Borger spent a lifetime spreading his enthusiasm for environmental and progressive causes to others, from aspiring arborists and horticulturists to unemployed city residents looking for job training to his three daughters.

"Anything was an opportunity to teach us about trees," said a daughter, Margaret Borger, of Bayside. "There's a whole generation of landscapers and tree arborists and urban foresters who were really mentored by my father."

Borger died July 30 at his Bayside home of esophageal cancer. He was 97.

Borger's first language was sign language; his parents couldn't hear or speak. He graduated from Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1937.

He spent about 75 years working with trees, beginning in 1938, when, fresh out of forestry school, he traveled to western Maine to assess damage caused by the Great New England Hurricane.

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Borger's career took a hiatus during World War II, when he served in Europe. He met his wife, Ruth, when he was on leave at an Adirondack resort in 1945.

She complimented his rendition of a song -- fittingly, "Maple on the Hill" -- during a performance the previous evening.

"I said, 'I heard you last night and it was lovely,' " recalled Ruth Borger, 90. "What else do you say to a young man flirtatiously?"

The couple settled in Bayside, and after jobs with the city Parks Department as a pruner and a "Bengal lancer" -- slang for employees who would stab stray scraps of paper -- Borger founded his own company, Trees and Gardens, headquartered in Little Neck.

"He came home really dirty and full of oil and grease," Margaret Borger said. "That was just everyday stuff for us, because Dad loved his work."

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That work went far beyond running a business. Borger also helped revitalize the Queens Botanical Garden, was a president of the Long Island Arboricultural Association and testified as an expert witness in tree-related court cases. He also taught horticulture at John Bowne High School in Flushing and mentored anyone with an arboreal interest.

That included Susan Lacerte, 56, the botanical garden's executive director, who recalled how much information Borger could glean just by looking at trees.

"He could see subtle differences in color of leaves, in the form and the vigor, and he would be able to paint a story of what might have happened there," she said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Borger is survived by a brother, Harrald, of Fishkill; and daughters Kate, of Pittsburgh, and Irene, of Santa Monica, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

Family members said the funeral service would be private.

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