Remembrances & Tributes
Standing from left to right: Bobby Joe, Marshall Chee, Dr. William Chun-Hoon, Michael Woo, Kay Fong, Kim Wong
IN REMEMBRANCE OF OUR FRIENDS
by Dr. William Chun-Hoon
on 16 June 2017
We remember our 5 dear friends: Lupe Chee, Fred Gong, Beth Woo, Tyrus Wong, and Alice Joe who were active in their service to the community and to their devotion to the Chinatown Branch Library.
Lupe was an unsung hero who was a quiet and dedicated person who actively supported the mission of the friends. She would attend the friends' board meetings and assisted at events; and always to our delight she would surprise us with a large strawberry cake for us to enjoy. She cared deeply for the library’s service to the community and would proudly wear the Friends’ button wherever she went.
Fred Gong, whom the children endearingly called “Grandpa Fred”, was a retired graphic artist who volunteered after school hours and Saturdays reading with children. I once asked Fred why he devoted so much of his time with children? In his modest way he would say “oh no, the parents of the children helped me improve my Chinese.” Fred would also find time to tutor adults in English and citizenship. the LA City Public Library was so impressed with Fred that he was featured on the cover of its citywide brochure---he was their “poster boy” for the 72 branch libraries.
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Upon Beth Woo's retirement from Chung King Produce she wanted to be useful so she began volunteering at the Chinatown and Monterey Park Libraries. Beth was faithful in her participation in the grandparents and books program in which she would read to the children. She especially enjoyed spending time with them, selecting and reading fun and adventure books to enhance their love and skill in reading. She devoted her retirement years well into her 80’s at the Chinatown and Monterey Park Libraries. At the entrance to the Chinatown Library, the community meeting room is named for Beth and Wilbur Woo. Currently, Beth's family and the Chinatown Library staff are planning a memorial project with donations received in Beth's memory.
When Tyrus Wong passed away, his amazing life of 106 years was published in the obituary of the LA Times and New York Times. He was remembered as the inspirational art director of Walt Disney's film, Bambi. Tyrus began his career in art with a scholarship, from the Otis Art Institute at the early age of 13. Although recognized nationally, Tyrus found time to use his creative talent to draw cartoons for students and design and make kites which he flew outside the library. One of Tyrus' murals, the celestial dragon can be seen at the central plaza in Chinatown, Tyrus and his wife Ruth were avid supporters of the Chinatown Library for many years before the current library was built. Tyrus had a positive influence in Chinese America and in the Chinese community.
Alice Joe, with her husband Sam was one of the earliest supporters of the Chinatown Library. Sam was the Friends’ treasurer and Alice would assist him as he organized & maintained the finances of the Friends. Alice participated in the Friends board meetings and at various library events such as the Friends book sales and fund raising. When Alice passed away, a memorial fund was established together with Sam’s to purchase bookcases for the children’s collection. Their daughter, Joanne is the author of three books which she wishes to donate to the Chinatown Library in memory of her mom. To represent Joanne is her brother, Bobby who will make the presentation to Shan, the Chinatown branch manager.
TRIBUTE TO FRED GONG
Fred Gong was an active volunteer at the Chinatown Branch Library for many years. During the weekdays after school he read stories to children of immigrants where they would learn the pronunciation of English words and he would learn to pronounce Chinese words from their parents. “Grandpa Fred" was part of the Library’s Grandparents and Books (GAB) Reading Program. On Saturdays, Fred was an English language tutor to adult immigrants who wanted to learn English to pass citizenship and employment tests. He was a very quiet and unassuming person and very few people knew about his life before he volunteered at the Chinatown Library.
On Sundays Fred faithfully attended the Chinese United Methodist Church where the members formed a committee of “Uncle Fred’s Angels” to take care of his needs during the last few years of his life. At Fred’s memorial service held on January 16, 2017, his youngest brother, Michael and his wife, several nephews and nieces, and many friends celebrated his life. I discovered several noteworthy achievements in Fred’s life from the newspaper articles, testimonies and artifacts they shared.
Fred Gong was born on February 4, 1923 in San Francisco, CA to Fred Gong, Sr. and Mae Law. In 1924, his parents moved to Portland Oregon; Fred was the second of five children, including Henry, Peter, Michael, and Elizabeth. Fred’s parents had entered the United States from Mexico in 1922. In 1936, his parents were named in deportation proceedings because they entered this country illegally. According to a newspaper article, “Portland clergy, newspapers, congressmen and friends came to their rescue. The proceedings, which would have separated the parents from the children, were dropped in 1939. “
The Portland community respected the Gong family; the five children were all high school honor students. Fred was a talented young artist. In 1941, his painting entitled “What my Community has Contributed to the Nation” won the “American Magazine Youth Award” for the “best design for a mural based on American tradition.” Besides receiving national recognition, the $1,000 prize was considered a huge sum of money back then.
In December 1942, he left the University of Oregon to join the army. He trained and “qualified successively as bombardier, navigator and pilot. He was promoted to first lieutenant and became the leader of a bomber squadron flying missions over Europe. “ In a 2011 interview with his great nephew, Nate Gong, Fred said he flew over 35 missions as a bombardier in the B-17 airplane for the Army 82nd Aircorps.
On one mission over Yugoslavia, “his entire unit retreated because of a huge cloud bank, but he urged his plane to finish ” and he hit the target
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precisely. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courage to complete this mission. He also “earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. “ He was later transferred to the Pacific arena to train to attack Japan. He felt relief after the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered in 1945.
After life as a war hero, Fred transitioned to civilian life. He attended Pratt Institute of Art financed by the GI Bill. He became a commercial artist and painted billboards in Los Angeles for forty years. He also managed an apartment complex in Santa Monica where he lived and took care of his mother. After his mother died, Fred sold the apartments and moved to live and volunteer in LA Chinatown. While Fred transitioned safely to civilian life, he did not fly another airplane again. He was a beloved homebody in LA and rarely, if ever, boarded a plane bound for other cities. But when people spoke with him about World War II, his face lit up and he became very animated when he recalled his flying missions against the Germans.
I had the pleasure of meeting and serving with Fred on the Board of the Friends of the Chinatown Library where he continued to make contributions to the community.
This tribute written by Fleur Fong, my sources are from newspaper accounts, and kind words spoken by friends and family of Fred Gong (2017).
Friends' Board Member Honored by Alma Mater
Friends' former Board President, Patricia Kao, was honored with a Stanford Associates Award. Patty was recognized as an outstanding volunteer contributor to Stanford University's alumni community. She was the speaker at several alumni social programs both on campus and in the LA region. She was also active in several performing arts programs.
Patty is a talented speaker and has been the gracious Master of Ceremonies at the Friends' Scholarship Dinners for the past few years. The Friends appreciate her volunteer work with the Board and would like to congratulate her on this award.