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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
May 10, 2004
Volume 39, Number 15

Staff Spotlight
~ Elaine Chew

World traveler finds home at Alumni

By Carolyn Gonzales

Elaine in Shanghai, ChinaElaine Chew, part-time accounting tech for the Alumni Relations office, grew up in and around the largely Hispanic, agricultural community of Yuma, Ariz. Her husband Wayne, also of Chinese descent, had a similar upbringing in El Paso. After living in the Bay Area and in Baltimore, Albuquerque was an easy compromise for the couple who settled here some 20 years ago.

Originally from Canton, Guangdong province of China, Chew has lived in both countries since her grandfather made the trek to Gum Shan, or “Gold Mountain,” as the Chinese referred to California after the 1848 gold discovery. Grandfather Ollie Sam Wong eventually settled in Yuma after working as a cook for the crew building the first transcontinental railroad.

As a young man, Chew’s father, Matthew Wong, joined his father in Yuma.

“He excelled scholastically and especially enjoyed playing football for the Yuma High School Criminals,” so named because the first territorial prison was built there.
Wong went on to medical school, graduating in 1934. During this period the Japanese seized Manchuria and invaded Shanghai. Dr. Wong returned to China, set up a hospital in Canton and assisted with the injured in Shanghai. “He wanted to help his own people during this tumultuous period in China,” Chew said.

Wong met and married Chew’s mother, Ellen, and they had four children born in Canton during the World War II era. The family fled to the U.S. during the Communist takeover of China in 1948-49 and Wong set up private practice as a general surgeon-physician in Yuma. Although he died 10 years ago, Chew’s mother still lives in Yuma.

“When I entered kindergarten, I knew no English. Our parents wanted us to retain our Chinese heritage,” Chew said. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology and teaching credentials from Mills College in Oakland. She met husband Wayne at a Stanford mixer. To help her husband through law school, Chew taught third grade in an economically disadvantaged area of Oakland.

Prior to coming to Alumni Relations, Chew did not spend more than a year or two in any one job or locale. “I told Karen [Abraham, director] that I had a very checkered employment record,” she said with a laugh.

Chew points to co-workers and interesting UNM alumni as the reason she has stayed at UNM for nearly 13 years. “Accounting is not particularly exciting work although new accounting regulations make the work more challenging. Karen and the staff make the difference in my job satisfaction.

“Karen has a strong philosophical belief in providing the staff with the skills and opportunity to get the job done independently. I have always respected her style,” she said.

Chew also likes the office location. “I fell in love with Hodgin Hall on my first day. The heritage of the university resides here; it is the link to UNM’s past,” she said.

Chew, Wayne and pets Kat Chew II and wild-woolly Hungarian Puli, George, live downtown where they count many UNM alums as neighbors. Formerly owned by Judge Danny MacPherson, their house is undergoing its third renovation.

“We’ve added a second story, updated plumbing and electrical, built a new garage and ‘Wayne’s wing.’ And we are now working to update the kitchen and bathrooms,” she said, adding that the work is a labor of love – and never-ending.

She and Wayne travel regularly and are known for taking long weekends to visit Hawaii or Shanghai. “It is the Paris of the East. We loved exploring the old sections of Shanghai, which are rapidly disappearing through development,” she said.

Homecoming is one of Chew’s favorite Alumni events. She enjoys welcoming those who return to campus, an easy task for one who regularly comes home to Albuquerque and UNM.