Life in the early 1960s in Minneapolis
By Philip P. Hsieh, PhD
When I arrived in Minneapolis, MN (abbreviated Mpls), in the spring of 1959, there were about 20 students from Taiwan at the University of Minnesota. All were single except for two who were near completion of their advanced degrees. Almost all were graduate students because (except a few privileged cases) the Taiwanese government would not issue exit visas to the general public to study abroad for undergraduate college.
After the long winter months, everyone on campus looked forward to the warm and beautiful spring days. This particular spring of 1959 had a special meaning to two young students, John T. Ying and Margaret C. Lee. They had been engaged three years ago in Taiwan.
Then John travelled to study in the U.S., leaving Margaret behind in Taiwan. John and Margaret were reunited that spring when she also came to Minneapolis to study. Their reunion helped make the warm days feel beautiful — and also fulfilled Margaret’s Taiwanese name “Chun Mei”, which meant “beautiful spring”.
While at the University of Minnesota, John had also become friends with a medical student from Albert Lea, MN, named Lowell W. Barr. When Lowell went home, he invited John to come and meet his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Lowell C. Barr. Dr. and Mrs. Barr got along very well with John. When Margaret arrived in the spring of 1959, the Barr’s took a strong liking to the two of them as a young couple.
Originally, John and Margaret had planned to continue working that summer to save money, and then get married in August just before the new school year. When Mrs. Barr heard their plan, she said immediately, “Three years of waiting is a long time. Now that Margaret is here, you two should not wait any longer!”
Mrs. Barr also invited them to have their wedding ceremony at the Barrs’ home church, the Albert Lea Presbyterian Church. She promised to arrange everything. The bride and groom only had to bring their wedding clothes.
John and Margaret were deeply moved by such a loving offer, and they accepted it wholeheartedly. With the support of Mrs. Barr’s Adult Sunday School Class, John and Margaret were married on June, 20, 1959. After the ceremony, they celebrated with a picnic hosted at the farm of one of the church members. Approximately one hundred participants attended the ceremony, including more than ten Taiwanese students from Mpls.
Not long after the Yings’ wedding, they learned they were expecting a child. Their apartment was near campus in a small shopping area known as Dinky Town. Their baby girl, Evelyn, arrived in May 1960. (See Ph-1, Dr. & Mrs. Barr with Yings).
In the middle of August 1960, more new Taiwanese students arrived on campus. They included Kenneth P. Chen and Emmy H. Su, who were Christians who had attended church functions regularly in Taiwan. I and the others did not know each other, nor had we planned to apply to U. of Minnesota together. It happened that we all chose the same school for the guidance and education to prepare us for our lives ahead.
At that time, most Taiwanese students lived in rental houses near the main campus, and we cooked in a shared kitchen. The apartment the Yings rented had a good-sized living room with a small kitchen attached.
The Yings always made company feel welcome. Thus, the Ying’s apartment became the natural gathering place of Taiwanese students on the weekends.
After some serious discussions, five of us — John T. and Margaret C. Ying, Kenneth P. Chen, Emmy H. Su, and Philip P. Hsieh — agreed to start a “Mpls Prayer/Bible Study Meeting” every Friday night at the Ying’s residence.
The group started with about ten people (See Ph-2), and over time grew to near twenty participants (See Ph-3).
The days during the summertime in the north country are long. It is still bright enough to play outdoors sports at 9:30 p.m. A group of tennis enthusiasts who missed the Asian game of soft tennis successfully organized enough people to form a group and we purchased a set of rackets and balls from Japan.
When we brought our new equipment to play, the Western players on the next court were very puzzled. The balls were bare, they had no fuzz, no color, did not bounce very high, and also sounded funny! Some kind-hearted players offered us a few of their balls for us to play with. Of course, we declined politely and explained to them that this version of tennis was popular in Far East and there were even international tournaments for this sport.
Maybe this was our form of “Cultural Exchange”!
When Dr. and Mrs. Barr heard that some Taiwanese students in Mpls were holding regular Prayer/Bible Study Meetings, they invited this group of students to spend a few days during the winter holiday season with families of members of Albert Lea Presbyterian Church.
Furthermore, they learned that there were some potential romantic couples forming with the group. Therefore, they took the needs of the future into consideration when they made the guest lists for each host family.
Almost twenty Taiwanese students accepted the invitations to be guests of the host families for three days after Christmas.
Our hosts planned many activities. There were plenty of ice skating boots for those willing to try skating on frozen lake. Several strong hosts were always ready to offer supporting hands for anyone who was afraid of falling.
There were farm tours during the daytime, and dinner and music programs in the church at night. It was a wonderful vacation. We were all very grateful for the hospitality of our hosts. .
The Prayer/Bible Study group members also participated in local church activities on Sundays and during the week. Some confessed their faith and were baptized.
All the Taiwanese students were attracted to the University by the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees and learn skills that would help them provide incomes for living. At the same time, we could not ignore nor overlook the goal of finding lifetime partners with whom to start families.
Other than a few rare exceptions, most of us did not know each other. We had all arrived in Mpls because each of us had an admission to the University of Minnesota or some other nearby school in the area.
When Emmy went to the Foreign Student Advisor’s Office of University of Minnesota to check in, she was told that there was another music student from Taiwan named Margaret Ying. Emmy did not recognize the name, but asked for her phone number regardless.
When Emmy called that number, both ends of the line were surprised and delighted. “Margaret Ying” was Chun Mei Lee, Emmy’s former college dormitory roommate for two years back in Taiwan, and a fellow student two years ahead of her in the Music Dept. at Taiwan Normal University.
Margaret immediately sent John to pick Emmy up.
That afternoon, I had already stopped by the Ying’s place on my way home. Margaret told me that a new girl who had just arrived from Taiwan would be there soon, and asked if I could stay and meet her. Of course I was very delighted to oblige.
When Emmy arrived and these two old friends, Margaret and Emmy, met again unexpectedly, they jumped up and down with joy like a pair of little girls. I sat in a corner and watched them celebrate.
Later, Margaret introduced Emmy and me to each other as two people from the same hometown meeting half way around the globe. Even though our fathers knew each other, we did not know each other in Taiwan. We began dating weekly once the Prayer/Bible Study Meetings started.
Through the Fall quarter and the trip to Albert Lea, the affection between Emmy and myself grew steadily and rapidly. I proposed marriage to Emmy in January, 1961. Emmy accepted and made a lifetime commitment. Once this good news was known in Albert Lea, we immediately received an invitation to have the wedding there.
An engagement is treated more seriously in Eastern society than in Western society. Following Taiwanese tradition, we held an Engagement Ceremony at a restaurant on May 14, 1961 (Mother’s Day), followed by a dinner with about thirty Taiwanese friends. (See Ph-4)
We accepted the invitation from the Albert Lea community with gratitude. Our wedding took place on July 8th, 1961. Margaret Ying was the bridesmaid and John Ying was the best man. (See Ph-5). The groom’s family was represented by Earl and Penny Jacobsen. (See Ph-6). Carl Jacobsen was the ring bearer. (See Ph-5). The bride’s family was represented by Harry and Edna Brown (See Ph-7). The younger boy was Glen Jacobsen.
These two families — the Jacobsens and Browns — were our host families when we visited at Christmas time. Earl Jacobsen was Industrial Arts teacher in Albert Lea High School. He also taught Student driving. He helped me buy a car, a Desoto, and we went through basic driving lessons in one weekend. Later, Dr. Barr and Earl Jacobsen arranged to have the car driven to Mpls-St. Paul airport and we picked it up there. They have treated us like their own family for the past sixty years. Looking back, we have enjoyed a special friendship with this group of kind people in Albert Lea, MN, beginning six decades ago. This was a real “cultural exchange” in action.
John Ying was hired as a faculty member at South Dakota State University, in Brookings, SD, in Sept. 1962. He held a full time teaching position and also had time to write his doctoral dissertation. More than ten people from the Prayer/Bible Study Meeting Group were invited to visit the Yings in Brookings during the 1962 Christmas season.
In Mpls and surrounding areas, there were quite a few people of Japanese descent who were also members of an Episcopal Church ministered by Rev. Otani. Most of the older Japanese people had been detainees in US government internment camps in the Northwest region of US who settled down in this area. Rev. Otani had received a medal from the Emperor of Japan for his work in helping these former detainees.
In 1962, Maki Wu, a classmate of Emmy’s in Taiwan, who also earned a Masters degree in Music from Univ. of Georgia, came to visit. Soon afterward, Rev. Otani’s church needed an organist. Maki was selected as their organist, and she held that position for over four years. At the Friday night meetings of Prayer/Bible Study, Maki met a Taiwanese student, Herbert Chen, and they fell in love. Rev. Otani represented Maki’s family and escorted her for their wedding in October, 1963 (See Ph-8).
The Taiwanese community in Madison, WI, also held activities similar to our Prayer/Bible Study Meetings in Minneapolis. The Madison community invited us to join them in organizing a Summer Conference, held at a campsite in Wisconsin Dells.
Stephen and Clara Chen and several other people worked hard to organize the conference, which was a success, and this began a new tradition. In subsequent years, different Taiwanese groups from various localities helped run the annual Midwest Taiwanese Christian Summer Conferences held in various cities through the Midwest.
When John Ying and his family moved to South Dakota, their Minneapolis apartment was rented by Maki Wu and Josephine Lee, who had arrived from Taiwan one year earlier. The Prayer/Bible Study Meeting continued at that same location for a while. The location later changed a few times. The meetings continued until 1965 when Rev. Andrew Chao came from Taiwan for advanced study. All the participants were delighted to have the guidance and leadership of Rev. Chao.
John Ying completed his dissertation in the summer of 1963 and earned his Ph.D. degree. He secured a faculty position as an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, in Terre Haute, IN. He taught at that school for thirty-three years, advancing through the academic ranks until he retired in 1996.
Margaret earned a Master Degree in Music at Indiana State University. She worked in the Library of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for almost twenty years and they retired together.
Every year at the end of summer, new students arrived from Taiwan all enthusiastically sharing the same goal of getting an advanced education. Josephine Lee arrived in Sept 1961. She met Kenneth Chen, who had arrived a year earlier, through the fellowship of the Prayer/Bible Study Meeting.
Josephine and Kenneth’s romance blossomed rapidly. It only took them a year to make a lifetime commitment to each other. When they announced their good news, Mrs. Barr of Albert Lea immediately invited them to have the wedding at her church. On Sept. 21, 1963, they became the third Taiwanese couple to get married at the Albert Lea Presbyterian Church. There were more than forty Taiwanese from Mpls in attendance at the wedding.
We were particularly grateful to the ladies in the Sunday school Class taught by Evelyn Barr and Edna Brown. They originated, organized and involved their family to carried out three weddings and the holiday visit in December of 1960. All these took place within four and half years.
In June 1964, Philip P. Hsieh earned his Ph.D. degree and secured a position in the Mathematics Department at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. He taught there for thirty-six years and supervised four Ph. D. students. Emmy earned a Master Degree in Music Education and she taught piano for over thirty years.
Kenneth P. Chen earned his Ph. D. Degree in December 1965, and accepted a job at the Whirlpool Company in Benton Harbor, MI. Josephine earned her Masters Degree in Library Sciences.
The Chen and Hsieh families in Michigan lived less than 60 miles apart, and less than 280 miles from the Yings in Indiana. Our families could easily get together for holidays and special occasions. The seven kids — Evelyn, Angela and Helga Ying, Paul and Timothy Hsieh, and Ted and Mindy Chen — practically grew up together like brothers and sisters. (See Ph-9 ).
Rev. Angela Ying has served almost thirty years in the ministry in the East Coast and in Seattle as a pastor. In fact, she officiated at both Tim’s wedding and Mindy’s wedding.
We have been blessed by the love and help of so many teachers, friends and family over the years, specially the good people of Albert Lea, MN. I wish to express tremendous gratitude to everyone who helped us so much when we were all young students, working hard to study and build lives for ourselves in this great country.
Source from Philip Hsieh
Posted on 04/15/2021