2007 Stanley Chong
2007 Chinese Minnesotan of Note
By the Advisory Committee of the Chinese Heritage Foundation
Stanley Chong was born on February 14, 1912, in Yakima, Washington. He grew up on his father’s hops farm, working every spring to build trellises for the hops vines, and later on in the season harvesting the flowers to be shipped to breweries in Chicago. The strong work ethic that he developed in those early years remained with Chong throughout his life.
At the suggestion of relatives in Minneapolis, Chong moved here in 1934 to further his education. In search of work to support himself, he discovered, through his fluent Cantonese, that the local Chinese restaurants were having difficulties getting their grocery supplies from the west coast. Chong promptly set out to help them, and International House, a wholesale supplier to restaurants, was born. After World War II, during which Chong served in the U. S. Army, he expanded his services. By 1961 International House was the largest Chinese food mail-order operation in the nation.
Observing another need in the growing local Chinese community, Chong worked with his good friend, Walter James of Nankin Café, to organize a social and cultural association that eventually became the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAAM). One of the missions of CAAM was, and still is, to preserve the cultural heritage of Chinese Americans and promote its cross-cultural understanding with the greater Twin Cities community. Chong served as its first president in 1967.
During this period, Chong, together with Marvel, his wife, business partner and best friend, also ran the International House of Foods on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota. The only store on campus to carry Chinese food items, it was a haven for Chinese students. They went there whenever they felt home sick, knowing that the generous Chongs would envelop them and offer whatever assistance and encouragement they needed. During fishing seasons they also knew that on Monday mornings there would be free fresh fish for the taking in the display case, courtesy of the Chongs’ legendary fishing prowess!
The Chongs were also innovators in the development of frozen foods. Another one of their business ventures, Marvel Foods, was the first in the country to offer frozen chow mein. The company also offered cooking classes and assisted in the development of a mechanical celery chopper.
Watching a new generation of Chinese children growing up, Chong sought to ensure their future by establishing a college scholarship fund at CAAM for them. He explained, ‘Education is very important and I wish to help young people, who are willing to work hard, to become productive citizens. I am proud of our Minnesota Chinese community, and hope that our succeeding generations will continue to learn about our Chinese homeland and culture. My grandmother taught me that it is very important to know our heritage and to form strong relationships within and outside of our community. Everyone has something to contribute. We can learn so much from and help each other.’ He passed away in 2006.
Relationships were very important to Chong. He was deeply devoted to his family, especially to Marvel, and their many close friends, among them Howard and Lolita Wu, and Howard and Margaret Chin. Chong’s daughter, Siu Linn and her children have wonderful memories of frequent big gatherings at their lake cabin, events that were open to friends and friends of friends.
The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors Stanley Chong posthumously for his generous spirit, civic mindedness, strong work ethic, abiding devotion to family and friends, abundant joy in life, pioneering role in the building of our community and ready responses to its needs, and exemplary promotion of cross-cultural understanding in the greater Minnesota community.