Wa Sung Recollections

by Dr. Joshua Fong (August 1998)

As a young teenager growing up in the depths of the Depression of the 1930's in the small town of Niles, now a district of the city of Fremont I followed the fortune of semi-pro baseball teams because my older brother Joe was a star pitcher for the Milpitas Merchants baseball team. Baseball was very popular during those days as it provided an outlet for restless young men to enjoy a sport and inexpensive entertainment for small communities on Sunday afternoons. They were called semi-pros because at each game they passed a hat to collect for expenses of each team playing.

Reading the Monday Oakland Tribune then owned by the local Knowland family, the results of games between teams like E. Bercovith, Elmhurst Merchants, Melrose Merchants, San Leandro Merchants, Niles Merchants, and Milpitas Merchants, I noticed that there was a team called the Wa Sung with names such as fielder Allie Wong, catcher Henrye Bowen, pitcher Al Bowen, 1st base Ed Yee, also catching Ed Hing, George Bowen, and names such as Joseph Lee, Hiram Eng, Bob Chow, Art Tom, Eli Eng, Harry Hing, Ed Tinloy, Gay Wye, The Kai-kee brothers, and a host of other Chinese names that I can't recall. I never knew any of these fellows because they played other teams in Sacramento, Stockton and an occasional game with local Oakland merchant teams. Some teams were sponsored by local businesses, hence their names of Merchants. Wa Sung had no such sponsor and depended upon the passing of the hat for expenses. In 1941 WWII came along and most able bodied young men were called to serve our country and semi-pro baseball disapeared. Many of the team members entered into one of the military services.

After the war many of the Wa Sung players were now married with families, and in 1951 they had a grand reunion in an Orinda restaurant. It was there that they heard of several families in need and collected several food baskets for these families. With such a great feeling, the group decided to do it again during the holidays of that year. Someone suggested that they should reform the group for service and that was the beginning of the Wa Sung Service Club. Monthly meetings were held at the Oakland Chinese Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Paul Louie was Pastor there at that time and he was invited to become the first non baseball team member of Wa Sung Service Club.

In the fall of 1952 after graduating Southern California College of Optometry with a degree of Doctor of Optometry, I opened my practice in the Elmhurst district of Oakland, a then thriving area with new homes being built there and many bustling industries such as Gerber Baby Foods where Sam Kai-kee, a former Wa Sung baseball player was superintendant, Chevrolet and Dodge assembly plants, Fleishman Yeast, American Home Foods, General Electric, White Truck plant, and hosts of other manufacturers providing postwar jobs there. Dr. Edwin Yee, one of the pioneer optometrists in the Chinatown area was my mentor and one evening in October he invited me to a Wa Sung meeting at the Presby Church. I was so thrilled to meet these men that I used read about when I was a youngster and was very impressed by what they were doing, that I immediately accepted the invitation to become the second non-baseball team member of Wa Sung Service Club.

Hector Eng was still working on the bylaws, Joe Lee was the first president and served two terms in those formative years from late 1951 to Spring of 1953. Frank Lim, a food broker was our second president in 1954, followed by Al Bowen, star pitcher of the baseball team. Al worked for the U.S. Embassy at the time and in midyear was assigned to the embassy in Italy. Thus Dr. Edwin Yee stepped in to serve out the term in 1955. The year 1956 saw Henrye Bowen installed at those fabulous dinner-dance ceremonies which became the highlight social event of each year. I felt very proud and honored when I was asked to become the first president who was not a member of the original baseball team, serving in 1957 and followed in 1958 by another ballplayer George Bowen. Meetings always began with an invocation by Paul Louie, a tradition lost during the past few years. That part of each meeting impressed me and we always had an unofficial chaplain with the Rev. Edwar Lee as a member at each gathering. Working with these men I, who was a stranger in town made the closest and best lifelong friendships of my life. I remember the gathering and assembly of food baskets in1954 vividly because that was the evening of the 24 hour labor of my bride of one year Lena with our firstborn. With such a long labor it provided me time to leave the hospital for a few hours to help with the food assembly. It was eight hour later that our son Neal was born. The support I got from all the members was overwhelming.

From those beginnings of providing food baskets when we gathered on Thanksgiving and Christmas evening afternoon to assemble and distribute over two dozen baskets each holiday the club-began to expand the sphere of services to Alien Registration under the chairmanship of Gay Wye, rice to undernourished of Hong Kong, Christmas trees to local churches, Chinese movies, Easter donations to churches, a career day with Joe Lee, school administrator guiding, and a scholarship program to high school graduates. We even sponsored a free intro jazz festival hosted by then member Herb H. Wong, jazz scholar and host on jazz radio station KJAZ.

In the year when Dr. Clinton Lee was president a donation of the Chinese junk for Lincoln Square was the major project inspired by a a young Chinese sailor who spoke to the club about his adventure of sailing by himself across the Pacific Ocean from Taiwan to San Francisco in a small Chinese junk, a feat never before accomplished. I was proud to be appointed chairman of this project by Dr. Lee and through the cooperation of many businesspeople such as honorary chairperson Ed Daly of World Airway and Milton Shoong we raised enough funds through raffles for trips to Hawaii, and an automobile from Daily Chevrolet, and a huge dinner dance at Goodman Hall we were successful to raise enough money in one year to build the playground structure designed by member and landscape architect John Sue.

The pancake breakfast project had its genesis at my home in 1955 when Joe Lee, Henrye and George Bowen , Ed King and myself came together to discuss a fundraiser in the form of a Chinese dinner. After deciding that the project would be too large of an undertaking for our small membership at that time, I mentioned the long lines waiting for breakfast after Easter sunrise services, then being held at Mountain View Cemetery, followed by breakfast at Plands, a roadhouse type of restaurant at the location where the Broadway MacArthur Building now stands. Joe Lee mentioned that he could borrow two stoves and secure some pancake flour from Albers Milling Co. located at the foot of Seventh St. We set up these two stoves at Lincoln Square near the old clubhouse built by the Chinese Center group of Oakland and presented to the city by them. Safeway Stores donated some milk and orange juice, and some of our members in the butcher trade persuaded Miller Packing Co. to donate sausages and we serve over 200 breakfasts at 50 cents that morning. In subsequent years we needed more stoves as the breakfast became more popular and the borrowed stoves were no longer available, so I visited junkyards and used restaurant equipment companies to find those stoves in use today converting all of them from natural gas to butane. Thanks to Victor Mar who joined the club and built caster platforms so we no longer had to lift each one of those approximately 200 pound griddles. The rest is history as we are now serving thousands of Stacks 'n Sausages at one of the major events on Easter morning.

Our first Wa Sung directory was hand typed eight pages on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper folded once published around 1960. It is so nice to see such a great publication that we have today. Reflecting on the many great members of the past such as the original ball team, and members now gone like Dr. Ray Chan, Ed Chew, Hon Chew, Esq., Carl Chung, my brother John, Sid Fong, Ed Hing, Harry Hing, Dr. Ken Hoh, Dr. Charles Lee, Rev. Edwar Lee, Richard H. Lee, Dr. Ted Lee, Myron Marr, George Quan, Jansen Shue, Gay Wye, Dr. Jacob Yee, and many others, I am very proud of my 46 years of membership. I look forward to many more exciting years with new energetic members and events as the recent very successful "Chefs Delight" food and wine festival. Keep on the tradition with even greater programs of service to our community!