By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer
My wife Linda and I recently returned to our hometown - Chicago’s Chinatown - over the Labor Day weekend to join many of our old acquaintances in celebrating Chinatown’s 100th Anniversary and hold a reunion. Former residents of Chicago’s Chinatown came from California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other parts of the country to reminisce with locals and family members during the three-day celebration organized by Helen (Tomatoes) Moy, to whom we all owe a great “thank you!” We know it wasn’t an easy task, and arranging for John Moy to be the “official” photographer was a bonus.
We arrived several days before the official events to have extra time to visit family and old friends, and we didn’t waste any time by arranging to have dinner with my old boss and owner of the Kow Kow Restaurant on the north side of Chicago where I worked during my high school years. Several other friends and family members joined us for what would be the beginning of too much eating and many conversations. Linda, along with my sisters and sister-in-law, spent the next day shopping and came home with some great Italian food.
Because of the dining and visiting the night before, we got a late start on Friday during which we had planned to do some sightseeing since it has been years since I was able to do any. Before the reunion activities, we were able to squeeze in only a visit to Navy Pier, where I went very often during the late 60s and early 70s where many trade shows were held. It was a surprise to see how it had been converted into an entertainment complex, complete with its own Ferris wheel; but the US$25.00 cost to park was perhaps the greatest shock of all!
Our next stop was the St. Therese Church basement in Chinatown where the first reunion activity, a social gathering, was held. This was the first time many of us met so there was a lot of greeting and hugging taking place while many of us shared photo albums and enjoyed the extensive snacks that were provided. On a sad note, there were three poster-sized cards listing many of the people that were no longer with us, but many of whom were represented in the photo gallery on display that represented a chronology of the history of St. Therese Church/School that many of us attended. No one seemed to mind the lack of air conditioning in the basement. Nobody wanted the evening to end, but finally said “good night”, knowing we would meet again the next day for dinner.
Prior to the dinner on Saturday, there were optional activities planned. We opted to visit the library where a photo exhibit of works by local photographer Eugene Kung were featured. After this, many of us visited the Chinatown Museum to view the different displays and watch a video of Chinatown’s 100th Anniversary.
A traditional Chinese banquet was held at Cai Restaurant located in the Chinatown Square. As expected, the abundance of food enabled many of those in attendance to take home to enjoy later. As at each event, everyone was taking photos and organizing group photos was always a challenge. After the dinner, individual groups made plans to meet someplace else to continue catching up on old times before calling it a day.
The next event on the reunion program was a picnic at Ping Tom Park located on the banks of the Chicago River that included two different eating sessions during the day. Quite a few more people who had not attended the earlier two events stopped by to say hello. Although rain had threatened to hamper the festivities, the reunion was not to be deterred and actually enjoyed gorgeous weather that enabled the reunion to close on a grand note.
Since Labor Day was the next day, many of the out-of-towners made plans to visit the cemetery to pay their respects to family members. I attended a picnic hosted by my niece for most of our family members and a few close friends.
While we had our choice of eating at an all-you-can-eat Chinese or Polish buffet on Tuesday, Linda and I had had enough eating and opted for a simple lunch before heading to the airport for our return trip. Although it was an exhausting trip, it also was great to visit with many old friends, some of whom we had not seen in more than 50 years! Hope we can do it again in five years!