Shai Wun Yee Wong, a Sacramento matriarch who immigrated from China as a picture bride and went on to raise a family of business, education and health care professionals, died Monday. She was 100.
Mrs. Wong devoted herself to securing a better life for her children in America after growing up in a time of stifling customs for women in China. Born in 1911, she saw her mother left crippled by the traditional practice of foot binding. At 17, her family gave her away in an arranged marriage to Wong Wing Gim, who later took the American name Harry Yom Wong.
Her husband, who had immigrated earlier, returned to the United States when she was four months pregnant because his visa was expiring. He earned enough money to send for his wife and their 4-year-old daughter to join him in Sacramento in 1935.
Mrs. Wong, who was from a well-to-do family in China, spent hot summers canning asparagus and peaches at Del Monte Cannery to supplement her husband's income from menial jobs. He later owned a grocery store and a Chinese restaurant and invested in property.
While her husband worked long hours, Mrs. Wong nurtured their seven children. She cooked all their meals and made their clothes from scratch. She met them at school every afternoon to walk home, where snacks were waiting. She cleared space in the family's three-bedroom house for a quiet area to read and study.
"My dad was the head of the household, but she was the heart," said their daughter, Janet Chan.
Mrs. Wong and her husband encouraged their seven children to pursue education so they would not have to do manual labor. Through hard work and personal sacrifice, the couple saved enough to send all their children to college and professional schools.
Their two sons became physicians, while their five daughters became an accountant, a dentist, a teacher, an optometrist and an orthodontist. The couple's 19 grandchildren all went to college, including several who became physicians.
"My father and mother made our family what we are today," said their son Gordon. "We owe everything to them."
Mrs. Wong was born in a village near Canton (Guangzhou), China. Her father was a successful businessman and close adviser to Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China. She met her husband for the first time on their wedding day in 1929.
She began raising her family in their first home in downtown Sacramento. Her children helped her learn English, and she became a U.S. citizen during the 1950s.
Her husband died in 1996, and she was predeceased by their daughter Sylvia Fung in 1999.
Mrs. Wong enjoyed sewing, gardening and visiting with friends from First Chinese Baptist Church in Sacramento. A devout Christian, she regularly read the Bible and sang her favorite hymns "Jesus Loves Me," "Amazing Grace" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers" at her home in the South Land Park Hills area, where she lived since 1967.
She was an excellent cook who prepared Chinese dishes for four generations of her family at holidays. She was renowned for her chiffon cake, which her husband delivered to friends in pink boxes tied with red string.
"We never saw her without an apron," Chan said.