Kim Suey Wong came to Wichita in 1947 as a new bride after her husband — in the traditions of both their upbringings of Buddhism and Confucius — enlisted the services of a matchmaker in China.
She was the 10th woman Wayne Wong and his mother interviewed. She was born in 1929, the year of the snake; he was born in 1922, the year of the dog.
She was not quarrelsome. She followed the old ways. A deal was struck.
Together, they embarked on a 71-year journey that took them from the poorest of restaurant workers to restaurant entrepreneurs and investors.
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Mrs. Wong, retired co-owner of Georgie Porgie Pancake Shoppe — one of Wichita’s most popular restaurants in the 1970s and 1980s — died Tuesday, Feb. 27. She was 89.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Monday at Old Mission Mortuary, 3424 E. 21st St.
Kim Suey Yee was born in Daixing Village, China, on Feb. 7, 1929.
“They were happy and successful and loved each other all these years,” Edward Wong said of his mother.
His sister Wilma Wong said that early on her parents formed a partnership.
“Both of them worked together,” Wilma Wong said. “Dad had the savvy to go out and seek opportunities. Dad was the one who spoke English and laid the groundwork for the restaurant. She learned how to wash dishes and would learn from existing cooks on how to cook and prepare meals.”
She would study weekly grocery ads in the newspaper and put a checkmark by the pictures of items she wanted the family to buy, Edward Wong said.
She taught herself how to speak and eventually write English.
Her husband, Wayne Hung Wong, was a “paper son.” At the turn of the 20th century, when U.S. laws prevented Chinese immigrants from entering the country legally, some came illegally with false papers identifying them as sons of Americans.
That is how Wong came to Wichita in 1935.
He was 13.
In the seven decades since then, he fought in World War II as a decorated soldier, earned his U.S. citizenship, raised four children, worked as a restaurant and real estate entrepreneur and wrote a book about the couple’s experiences.
As a teenager, Wayne Wong studied for school and worked at the Pan-American Cafe, living in a room above it. He had little female nurturing.
“There were no Chinese women in the city of Wichita at that time,” he told The Eagle in 2006. “Not until after World War II, when the Chinese veterans brought their wives to Wichita to start their families and raise children. . . . Until then the tiny Chinese community in Wichita was what we called a ‘bachelor’s society.’ ”
He enlisted in the Army on Nov. 6, 1942, and was assigned to the 987th Signal Operations Company in Camp Crowder, Mo. The 987th was organized to provide communication services between American and Chinese troops.
It was the Army’s only Chinese-American unit; Wong served as its supply sergeant.
He was honorably discharged on Dec. 21, 1945, and awarded the Bronze Star, the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal, the China War Memorial Ribbon, the World War II Victory Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
When he brought his wife to Wichita, the couple first lived in an apartment above the Pan-American. They saved and eventually bought a modest house on Market Street.
“Back in those days, children would go to Joyland,” Edward Wong said. “We went to Joyland and found silver dollars in Easter eggs. Mom and Dad collected those and used that money to put on the down payment for the house.”
The couple bought Georgia Porgie’s, near Central and Woodlawn, in 1972 and continued to operate it until 1990, when they retired.
“I learned to have honor, respect and integrity in what we do,” Edward Wong said. “She installed that in us and she always encouraged us to be fair to the other party when we were doing a deal or bargaining. She would encourage us to imagine being on the other side of the table.”
His parents, Wong said, always called the United States “Geem San.”
“Back then, all Chinese people called the United States ‘Geem San’ — that meant golden mountain. They thought the United States was the golden mountain. That you came over here and picked up gold off the streets and lived a comfortable life.”
Mrs. Wong is survived by her husband, Wayne, of the home; daughter, Linda; son David (Lillian); daughter Wilma (late husband, Ronnie Yee); son Edward (Shawna Kerns) his children Erik, Kimberly and Kevin Wong and their mother Jean; and Shawna’s children, Curtis and Brandon.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation can be made to the Kim Suey Yee Wong Endowed Library Fund 610128, Wichita State University, 1845 Fairmount Street, Wichita, KS 67260-0002.
Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner