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Sometimes serendipity can lead to events that will shape one's life. And sometimes the people one meets can help that life take shape. Jolson Ng `58 was born in Hong Kong in 1932. A student at a prominent Jesuit high school there, Jolson followed the example of his classmates and upon graduation, went abroad to attend college. He began his studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg as a chemistry major. During his freshman year, he developed a friendship with fellow student Jim Walsh `60 (a Wisconsin native who was familiar with Lakeland as the alma mater of his older brother, Richard). Jim convinced Jolson that a smaller, more intimate educational environment might suit him better than the big university. Jolson was intrigued with the idea of coming to the U.S. and on his new friend's advice, decided to take a risk on a small school in the cornfields north of Sheboygan.
Jolson transferred to Lakeland College in 1955. Arriving here to discover hardly 300 people on campus, he says, "I wanted to go away the next day." But a kind, cigar-smoking professor asked him if he would like to understand baseball and improve his language skills. Stanley Barr, professor of English, offered to correct Jolson's papers and gave him individual attention to help him assimilate to his new environment.
He also met Professor Voight, with whom he felt a great affinity through their shared passion for history. Rev. Dr. Clarence Schmidt, father of fellow 1958 classmate, Lewis Schmidt, also had a strong impact on Jolson in those years.
Today, Lakeland is a truly global community with a total of 119 international students (12.5 percent of the total student body) from 24 different countries/regions in its undergraduate program, making Lakeland one of the most diverse campuses in the Midwest. It might be hard to picture what life was like for Jolson in 1958. He was one of only five foreign students on campus and the only Asian student. At first, he felt entirely alone, but soon he joined the choir and began to find a place for himself at Lakeland. He fondly remembers choir tours and the opportunity to travel to different states singing at Lent and during other seasons as well.
Throughout his time at Lakeland and even afterward, Jolson wanted to be a seminarian, but instead majored in chemistry. Upon graduation, he first went to UW-Madison for his Masters degree, turning his attention to education. His first job was at Washington Junior High School in Kenosha. He had been there only about a year and a half when he received word that his father in Hong Kong had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Jolson pulled up stakes and returned to Hong Kong even though immigration laws were such at the time that his return to his homeland would make it nearly impossible to return to the U.S. And yet, he knew that the most important thing was to be with his father and mother.
While taking care of his family and building his life in Hong Kong, he served as a high school principal. He met the woman who would become his wife, Felicia, and they had two daughters, Melissa and Lydia. Eventually, he was able to return to the U.S., settling in California, where he received his PhD in Education. He worked in the Cal State University system (in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Dominguez Hills) for many years preparing graduate students to receive their teaching credentials.
One of Ng's proudest accomplishments came in the summer of 1976 when he was asked to serve as Deputy Director of a volunteer agency created by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. The organization was a consortium of 26 different Chinese organizations. In this capacity, he helped to arrange for the relocation to the U.S. of approximately 1,000 Chinese people living as refugees in Vietnam.
He retired in 1987 at age 55. He took an early retirement he says, "because all my siblings passed away before age 60 and I wanted to make sure to have a few good retirement years!"
Jolson has been involved with many community groups over the years. He was the founder of several organizations that served Asian immigrants including: Chinese Service Center, L.A., and the Asian American Education Commission of the Los Angeles Unifed School District. He was appointed by the city of L.A. to serve on the L.A. China Town Redevelopment Advisory Committee, was a convoy for the 1984 Olympics, and is the founder of the Ng Family Association of Los Angeles as well as Honorary Permanent President of the Ng Family Association of the World.
Jolson states emphatically that Lakeland shaped his life a great deal. "I got what I wanted. I wanted to know America." Some of his favorite memories of Lakeland include hearing his 1958 classmates Ralph Mueller, Lew Schmidt, David Gumm, and his roommate, Gerald Hollenbeck, singing barbershop quartet-style in the bathroom. He also gratefully remembers the help and attention he received from Dr. Krueger and Dr. Hoffman, both of whom made a special point to attend the Chinese New Year dinners that he would cook in the dorm. Thinking back, he misses campus life and hanging out in the Muskie Inn. And he will never forget the dietician, Mrs. J, who always said when she saw him, "Jolson is coming, give him a big plate!"
Although Jolson is unable to travel to Homecoming this fall, he writes: "My regards to all 1958 classmates, especially to Ralph Mueller, Lewis Schmidt and Geraldine, Gloria (Jonas) Reider, Donald Stannard, Gene Thieleke, Melvin Vilhauer (he gave me driving lessons!), Judith Taylor, and Gerald Hollenbeck (my short term roommate)." Jolson does not have an email address, but he can be reached at 22663-A Nadine Cir., Torrance, CA 90505.