SoKno, music keep smile on Borsari’s face

Betsy PickleOur Town Stories, South Knox

Vestal resident Regis Borsari’s roots run deep – in Washington, D.C.

“On my father’s side, I was sixth-generation Washingtonian,” says Borsari, whose ancestors settled in Georgetown before the Revolutionary War. Her mother’s side moved from upstate New York to D.C. when her grandfather went to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Even though she wasn’t born and reared in South Knoxville, Borsari has become one of its biggest cheerleaders, and her favorite thing about it is “the people.” She is an officer in the Vestal Community Organization and has served on the Candoro Arts & Heritage Center board and as a volunteer at Ijams Nature Center.

She drove her convertible in the Dogwood Arts Festival Parade one year to accompany the Candoro float promoting Vestival.

Then-City Council member Finbarr Saunders poses with Regis Borsari at the July 2015 groundbreaking for Suttree Landing Park.

Pre-pandemic, SoKno folks were used to seeing Borsari at nearly every community event. She was sidelined after hip surgery in August 2019 and hasn’t been able to get out much, although she showed up for the ribbon cutting this summer at the Baker Creek Bike Park.

Borsari loves the outdoors and the indoors. She really loves music. She’s been the “bouncer” at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five concerts for about 13 years, even though she can’t stand at the door.

“I could walk in and sit down,” she says. “I sit by the elevator and check tickets. Somebody asked me, ‘Do you have a stick or something?’ This is before I had a cane. I said, ‘No, I have a grandmother’s glare.’”

She misses the WDVX Blue Plate Special at the Knoxville Visitors Center.

“I used to go nearly every single day to Blue Plate,” she says. “I was just getting back into that when Covid shut it down.”

She jumped at the chance to attend a socially distanced Knoxville Opera performance at Ijams. She isn’t able to drive now, but a helper drove and attended with her.

Borsari hasn’t let the pandemic keep her from being involved.

“So many things are virtual,” she notes. She does both Tai Chi and yoga classes online, and she even “attends” virtual concerts, including the recent Louie Bluie Festival.

Regis Borsari rubs shoulders with then-County Commissioner Bob Thomas in July 2017 at SoKno Taco Cantina.

She meets quarterly with the KMA volunteer advisory committee via Zoom, and she Zooms with her two grandsons on the West Coast. Three other grandchildren live in Knoxville.

Borsari spent her first 35 years in Washington, then four years in Florida while she was getting a divorce, and then 15 in Annapolis, which she chose so she could pursue a favorite hobby. She had joined a ski club in D.C. that sailed during the summer. She says she was never a good skier, but she didn’t realize how bad at sailing the other members were till she found a club of good sailors. She quickly joined that group instead.

She took a job with an aviation company in Annapolis so she wouldn’t have to commute from D.C. to sail. Her club had 600 members, and about 150 of them owned boats.

“We let them do all the expenses, and we crewed for them.” She spent her weekends crewing on 30- to 50-footers, sleeping on the boats and having a great time.

When her health started to decline, Borsari says, she couldn’t afford to retire in Annapolis, and since her son and daughter-in-law and their children had moved to East Knoxville, she came here.

“The house they owned was built in the ’20s, and the wife would not let the husband drink in the house, so he built a cottage up on the ridge,” says Borsari. “I was living in the drinkin’ house.”

She bought her own 1932-built home in Vestal, which she rented out while living in the cottage, and always stayed active in South Knoxville activities. She has been back at home about eight years. Her son and his family moved to Island Home Park last year.

Borsari has been beset by arthritis and joint surgeries since before she moved here, but she always has a smile on her face, even at home, where she’s surrounded by a lifetime of mementos.

“When they talk about getting rid of things because the kids won’t want it, I say, ‘Uh, uh, I’m keeping it.’ It may be their problem; I don’t care. It makes me smile.”

Chowing down at the very first Knoxville SOUP in March 2015 are Monte Stanley of the Old Sevier Community Group and Arnella Gregory and Regis Borsari of the Vestal Community Organization.

Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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