2010 Honorary Chinese Minnesotan of Note
by the Advisory Committee of the Chinese Heritage Foundation, with Sherri Gebert-Fuller of the Minnesota Historical Society
For many years following World War II, Jane Wilson was the superintendent of the Chinese Sunday School at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. Westminster had a long history of involvement with Chinese immigrants in the Twin Cities. Dating back to 1882 when the first Chinese men started arriving in Minnesota, the men of the Westminster congregation had responded promptly to their needs: help in language and business skills. During the 1920s as a few Chinese women began to arrive, the women at Westminster got involved and organized a Chinese Sunday School for them and their children. The School met on Sunday afternoons after the morning church service. In addition to regular Sunday School teachings, the teachers taught English and other social skills. Soon it became a tradition for subsequent Chinese immigrants to send their families to the Westminster Chinese Sunday School.
When Wilson joined Westminster Church in 1946 she heard about its Chinese Sunday School. Never having met a Chinese person before in her life, she signed on to be one of its volunteer teachers.
In 1947 a dozen or more Chinese war brides, mostly from Guangdong Province, arrived. Merely teenagers, they had been married to Chinese U.S. veterans by their families. They spoke no English and knew no one in town. Wilson was one of the teachers who greeted them at Sunday School and her heart went out to them. With no common language between them she and other teachers proceeded to teach these brides, on a one on one basis, practical language skills such as counting money, getting around on streetcars, or answering simple questions about their names and addresses, or whatever situation, such as an illness, that arose. This was teaching English as a Second Language at its best and gut level, before it became an academic discipline. Things got lively when babies began to arrive. The School soon became for these and subsequent families, in addition to a place where they could learn English, an anchor and important social haven where they could meet each other in an accepting environment and share common concerns. It was essentially the only support system they had.
After the Sunday School closed in the 1960s, Wilson, (zhengu, Chinese for 'Aunt Jane'), as she was, and still is, affectionately addressed, kept up her friendships with all her Chinese families. In the ensuing 40 years, she wrote many letters for their immigration problems and tracked their growing families meticulously, giving English names to the newborns and following each child's path through schools and professional careers with glowing pride. She is effusive in her praise as yet another child becomes a physician, an attorney, or an engineer. And these families have responded to her devotion in kind. She is invited to all family celebrations, graduations, weddings, birthdays, and traditional holidays and so on. Her proudest possessions are the numerous photo albums, all carefully dated and annotated, that document these family passages.
In addition to attending these family events, Wilson has been an astute observer of the feelings of different family members at different times. She shares their ups and downs and goes about offering support and seeking solutions, all the while remaining unobtrusive and without fanfare. Over time these long-standing concerns for individual members have deepened her relationships with the entire families.
The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors Jane Wilson for her openhearted compassion for the Chinese immigrants in need, her abiding faith in the resiliency of the immigrant spirit, and for bestowing the blessings of the Chinese ideal of a kind, loving and caring mother (címu), on so many who are not her kin. For more than 50 years, she has been a trusted advisor and confidant to numerous Chinese immigrants and their families. Her unwavering optimism in their potentials has contributed greatly to their becoming constructive members of the Minnesota community at large.
For report by Laura Yuen at Minnesota Public Radio, please visit
For articles in China Insight, please visit
For an oral history interview with Sherri Gebert-Fuller at the Minnesota Historical Society, please visit
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