About Stanley and Marvel Chong

A Story of Generous Giving

by KaiMay Yuen Terry. First Published in CAAM Newsletter – Summer 1998

On a balmy spring afternoon, I visited Stanley and Marvel Chong at their downtown condominium to interview them about their recent generous scholarship donation to CAAM. The visit extended to much of the afternoon, and I left energized by these marvelous folks. Their life experiences and values can help us to understand and learn from their generosity.

Stanley and Marvel Chong are both 3rd generation Chinese Americans and successful lifelong entrepreneurs. Stanley, grew up in a family of five boys, recalled leaving Portland Oregon to work in his aunt’s Minneapolis gift shop as a young man. He came to Minneapolis because he felt then “there were too many Asian immigrants competing for same opportunities out West”. Stanley attributed his “Chineseness” to being raised by his grandfather, but more importantly he was influenced by his grandfather’s role as a
patriarch in the Chinese community. Later on, it was natural for Stanley to become a leader in the Minneapolis Chinese community.

Marvel’s family settled in Butte,Montana as she matter-of-factly concluded ” that was the end of the railroad”. She recalled with mirth how her father came to Wilmar, MN and bought a hotel staffed by Swedish immigrants. To be a good manager, her Chinese and English speaking dad learned Swedish and later married an Irish beauty from Canada.

The Chong’s marriage has been endearing and enduring. During the photo session, Stanley demanded “couple pictures” on the sofa as Marvel announced, “we never had a fight in all these years of our married lives, even working side by side every-day.” Yes,marriage was a partnership for the Chongs-from the small beginnings of supplying rice to the local Chinese restaurants after World War II to International House on Nicollet Island.  For decades International House- a Minneapolis landmark, was the largest wholesale and retail supplier of ethnic foods from thirty countries. It was hard work, but the stories the Chongs shared were about helping their immigrant Polish employees and their families, foreign students and their ingenuity in building and running their business. “We were clever, Marvel would be upstairs holding cooking classes and later the students would be buying up all the ingredients that appeared in their recipes” Stanley laughingly recalled. ” Computers?
We kept track of our inventories of hundreds of products by memory and in handwritten pricing books”, Marvel claimed that all her pricing books are still stored at their lakeside cottage.

When asked about their generous giving, the Chongs responded readily. “People had been good to us,” Marvel observed and
went on to give an example of their first loan from Norwest bank which accepted their rice warehouse receipts as loan collateral. They talked affectionately of Walter James, owner of Nankin Cafe, who lent space for Stanley and a core group for the beginnings of CAAM thirty years ago.

In funding scholarships for CAAM members, Stanley recalled his own need to leave college early for gainful employment. He hoped that the scholarship would help the recipients to concentrate on studies without having to take on many side jobs.Using their financial support for their granddaughters’ college education as an example, the Chongs exalted the importance of a good education. ” A fine education is like getting a jump- start in life and no one can take it away from you” Stanley reflected. The beautifully handwritten Chinese proverbs that Stanley asked me to keep seem to sum up their life long philosophy:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap If you want happiness for a day, go fishing
If you want happiness for a year “win a scholarship” If you want a lifetime of happiness, help somebody.

I suspect, as usual, Stanley has the last word in any gathering. With a twinkle in his eyes as I stepped into my car, he whispered, ” I also have a selfish motive for giving. I’d like to see CAAM continue to help our community for many years to come.”


Scroll to Top