鄭家駿 Chia-Chung Cheng is the Founding President of CCGKC in 1972. He passed away on December 2nd, 2016. We received the following photos, biography, and eulogy from his family.
Chia-Chung (C.C.) Cheng was born in Tianjin, China on May 5, 1925, and the only child of Chiu-Wan Chien and Ke-Liang Cheng. At the age of 13. he met the girl who would become the love of his life and wife of 56 years, Katherine. They attended. middle school, high school, and university, where they shared a common iove 0 music, chemistry and sports.
After graduating from Chekiang University in 1949, CC. left his homeland for graduate studies. At the end of a 17-dayjourney on the SS President Wilson, he arrived at Pier 41 in San Francisco and then made his way to Austin, Texas. Katherine arrived in 1953, and they were married in the small Texas town of Anderson. C.C. earned a PhD in Chemistry in 1954 from The University of Texas at Austin.
He completed post-doctoral work at New Mexico Highlands University where he helped to synthesize Allopurinol, used to combat gout. A second postdoctoral role at Princeton University led him to his first job directing a team of scientists at Midwest Research Institute (MRI) in Kansas City in 1959, where they lived for the next 40 years. Subsequent to the passing of his beloved mother in 1963, he dedicated his life’s work to finding a cure for cancer. Among his many accomplishments, one compound he synthesized, Mitoxantrone, is still used today for treatment of breast cancer and non-lymphoid leukemia. C.C. spent 20 years at MRI and finished his illustrious career in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he served as a professor and director of the cancer center for many years.
After retiring at the age of 74, CC. and Katherine moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where they enjoyed time with new and old friends at the Chinese American Community Center. He continued to pursue his life-long interests in photography and music. In 2004, they relocated back to Texas, where they spent many more happy years with children and grandchildren in Sugar Land.
C.C. was widely known by family and friends as someone with an unparalleled sense of humor and a penchant for storytelling. He was generous in spirit and service. Every holiday, he and Katherine opened their hearts and home to countless students from China and Taiwan.
C.C. symbolized love, strength and resilience, and conducted himself with grace and
gratitude. His reflections about the past and learnings from the present were built upon integrity and humility. He found a balance between his adopted country and his native one, appreciating the beauty and opportunity within America while remaining passionate about Chinese history, literature, poetry and culture.
He is preceded in death by his parents and his wife, Katherine. He is survived by his four daughters: Amy (Anthony Stella) Vollmer of Wilmington, DE; Anna (Joel) Catalano of Sugar Land, TX; Alice (Christopher) Beukers of Singapore; Audrey (Robert) Trevino of Sugar Land, TX, and eight grandchildren: Jeffrey (Brooke Stevens) Vollmer, Katherine Vollmer, Carson (Michael) De Fries, David Catalano, Alexandra Beukers, William Beukers, Maya Trevino and Sofia Trevino.
Summarizing 91 years in 10 minutes seems impossible. Our father, to us, was larger than life, and it’s hard to find words that even come close to how I feel. But I’ll try.
As I began to wn‘te this eulogy, i realized that many of you here didn’t know our father until he moved to Houston. In fact, many of you never saw him without his wheelchair. Certainly most of you didn‘t know him before the age of 60.
You can read about his life and professional accomplishments in his obituary. You can read that he came to the US in 1949 at the age of 24 from China. He was a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin, where he earned a PhD in Chemistry. You can read that he married our mom in 1953, and after living briefly in Las Vegas, NM, and Princeton, NJ, they moved to Kansas City, where they lived for over 40 years and where the four of us grew up. Professionally, you can read that Daddy was a chemist, and designed drugs. Two of his greatest accomplishments were contn’buting to the creation of Allopurinol and synthesizing Mitoxantrone, drugs that are used for the treatment of gout and cancer. Yes, he was a rock star in his field, and with our mother, built an incredible life for themselves. for us, and for generations to come.
What you can’t glean from reading the obituary is his character and personality — what made him, him. So let me fill in some details and tell you just a little about the Daddy we knew as we were growing up.
There was a lot of fun. The stuff that made us laugh and appreciate everything we had in our childhood, and now in adulthood.
Sports. I think the reason that my sisters and l are such avid sports fans is because of Daddy. He never had a son — but that never stopped him from having people he could do “guy things” with. One of the first things Daddy learned when he came to the US (probably because he went to UT when they had a good football program) was American football. He taught Mama the rules of the game as soon as the season started in 1953, and made it a point to teach us all the rules of football when we were old enough to watch TV. He was a Longhorn and Chiefs fan until the very end, and although he grew up playing soccer, he always felt like Amen’can football was far more interesting. But his love for sports didn’t end with football. He played baseball, basketball, and volleyball, and of course there was Ping-Pong. Hours spent in the basement of our homes at the Ping-Pong table, playing singles, doubles, trying to return his killer serves and the spin balls that made you dizzy. Yes, he was an awesome Ping-Pong player. In addition to table tennis, there was real tennis. Sunday momings when the weather was warm enough, you could find us on the tennis courts. He had us out there as soon as we could hold a racket. I think he still played regularly with Audrey well into his 60’s.
If it wasn’t active sports, it was board games. His favorite was Chinese checkers — an absolute requirement if’ you wanted to be let into the inner circle of our family. And you had to play the Chinese way – none of these short hops that Americans play when you just barely jump over a marble. No…you played the advanced C.C. Cheng method of Chinese checkers — multiple jumps and long, multi-spaced hops. He rarely lost — and even if he did, you always wondered if he just merely let you win one to get you to play another game.
Movies and TV. I think all of us saw most of our favorite childhood movies with Daddy. I can pretty much guarantee that we saw EVERY James Bond movie that came out with him, EVERY installment of the Planet of the Apes, and certainly EVERY Bruce Lee Kung-Fu film. Mama hated those movies. She was more a musical, GWTW, and Love Story type of movie fan… As for TV, we didn’t get to watch much growing up. Non-school time was usually filled with piano lessons, dance lessons, and Chinese studies. BUT…there was always an exception made — if ANYTHING having to do with science came on TV. Daddy was a sucker for National Geographic specials, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, ANYTHING science fiction (when l was little I used to hide behind the couch when the theme of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea came on, and I’m still a little creeped out by Twilight Zone). Throughout his life, he loved any documentary about planet earth, the planets, or the universe. Made Christmas presents easy for us all!
Classical Music. Daddy is the reason we love classical music. It’s the only music he really ever listened to. Rock-and-roll was for people who did drugs. Mama would listen to some pop from time to time 一 John Denver, Carpenters, etc. but Daddy really only enjoyed symphonies, opera, and choral music. The farthest he ever got away from classical was Stephen Foster from time to time, but mostly it” was hard-core classical music. If you ever had a chance to ride in the car with Daddy for longer than 10 minutes, you got to play one of his favorite games, “Guess the composer”. You’d listen to a piece of music for just a few minutes, and then guess who the composer was – Bach, Beethoven, Hayden, Mozart, Mendelssohn, or Ravel. if it was an obscure ania, he’d be able to call out the name of the composer and the opera (whether he had seen it in its entirety or not). His appreciation for music went beyond listening, however. He never learned to play an instrument, but he could conduct an orchestra and chorus (and did so in college). He never took a pn’vate music lesson, but had an amazing singing voice. He sang in choirs in China, and then was a member of the University Singers at UT when he was a graduate student in Austin. Newspaper clippings I’ve come across in the last few weeks in family photo albums document church and community music programs he sang in around Austin when he was a student. His favon’te composer was Franz Schubert, and he particularly loved his art songs — which is why David honored him with one today. Yes, we all started taking piano lessons when we were five or six. Some might think it’s because it’s what Asian kids do, but WE all know it‘s because Daddy enjoyed having in-house accompanists.
Story-teller. Daddy was a story-teller, and joke-teller. Growing up in our household on the weekends meant that we’d often have people over for dinner. So here is how the routine would work. Mama, who was known as a great cook…authentic Chinese food that you couldn’t get in any restaurants in Kansas City, would make dinner and invite a bunch of people. The adults would eat in the dining room, and the kids would eat in the kitchen. After dinner, we daughters would clear the table, and our job was to do the dishes (including all the pots and pans). We never did dishes during the week —- only for their dinner parties, because after dinner was when our parents would have their fun…because the theater would begin. Daddy would hold court around the dining room table, and within five minutes would have people rolling in laughter with his stones and jokes. Sometimes it would be stories about growing up in China; sometimes he’d do impressions of immigrant Chinese learning to speak English, or impressions of Americans trying to speak Chinese. For us, we’d hear all this in the kitchen — as we did the dishes — hean’ng these family friends laugh and joke for hours at Daddy’s stories and jokes. Anyone trying to make him the butt of the jokes never won. When a colleague asked him, “Hey C.C! When does a Chinaman go to the dentist?” “When?” “At TOOTH-HURTY! Hahaha’, Daddy would reply, “Hey…when does an American-Man go to the dentist?” “When?” “Two minutes later”, he’d reply. In fact in the last few weeks I’ve heard from quite a few of their close friends who used to come to our house regularly, and remembered all these wonderful times.
Our house was a haven for a lot of Chinese students. Because we didn’t grow up wrth’ large extended family like many of you have, our parents opened their house to students – not unlike them when they first came to the US – over the holidays. Many students, who were single when they arrived, got married in the US – and quite a few met their future partners at our home. in fact Daddy walked more brides down the aisle than he had daughters, because many Chinese parents couldn’t afford to come to the US when their daughters got marn’ed, and asked my parents to stand in as host families. Daddy usually walked them down the aisle, one of us would be flower girl, and Daddy would sing — his favorites were Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, “The Lord’s Prayer”, and “Because” (Guy d’Hardelot).
But there was also a serious side of Daddy — beyond the fun and games that made you realize he knew he had an even bigger purpose as a parent. In addition to bringing joy and laughter into our lives, he taught us so many important things that make US who WE are today.
Daddy was all about doing the right thing.
He was kind of scary. Not because he was mean, but because he was pretty serious with us. Daddy definitely had an idea of how kids should act and behave – what was proper behavior for kids ar0und kids. around adults. around friends, around strangers. He didn’t tolerate bad or disrespectful behavior, was very stern around misbehaving kids (to the point of embarrassing our mom from time to time because he‘d reprimand kids of friends). Yes. Daddy is probably the reason we were straight-laced kids. This “hall of justice” perspective, as we call it, never left him. Even in latter years, when he came across people behaving badly – whether it was fast food cashiers, at the Houston Rockets game when people in front of him wouldn’t sit down, or at the Sugar Land senior community center, he was always the first to let people know when their behavior was unacceptable — especially if he saw others being treated badly. Yes, it’s really the only time Daddy was really scary.
Daddy taught us the importance of humility.
One of my lingen’ng recollections was what would happen when we came home from school with great news. As most kids experience, there are moments you have in school that are just terrific. You come home excited and anxious to tell your parents about something great that happened: You won an election for student council, you got the lead in the musical, or you set the curve on a test. Mama would be thn’lled for us, give us a hug, shower us with compliments, and then get on the phone to call her friends. Daddy’s response was totally different. When you told him the good news, he’d always say, “Don’t let it go to your head”. Mama would get so mad at him, and ask, “Why can’t you congratulate them and tell how happy and proud you are? Why do you have to pour cold water over their heads?” Daddy would always respond, “First of all, they know I’m proud of them. But when things like this happen, they are always surrounded by people telling them how great they are. The more successful they are, the more it’s important that they remember not to let it go to their head, because no one else will ever tell them that”. True…no one ever did, but he hardwired humility into our heads, and always made us realize the importance of keeping our feet on the ground.
Daddy taught us about how to treat people.
My first lesson in leadership came from my dad. Many Saturday momings were spent with him at his office. When we entered the building, we always went in the back door — through the loading dock – because it was the closest walk from the parking lot to his office. One Saturday in December (I was about 9), we met up with a guy named Bob Hasley. Daddy introduced me to him and told me he was the custodian where he worked. I said hello and shook his hand. Daddy asked him about his family and what his plans were for the holidays. They had a nice chat, and we hurried along. As we walked down the corn’dor and rounded a corner, we ran into another man, who Daddy introduced to me as Dr. Kimball. I shook his hand as well. Daddy introduced him as the President of the company. He also asked Dr. Kimball about his family, and what his plans were for the holidays. After a few minutes, we said goodbye and headed for his office. What struck me most about that morning was that Daddy sounded the same when he spoke to both men. He was genuinely equally interested in both of them, used the same manner and tone of voice when he introduced me, and made each person’s job sound equally important. He always taught us that people were all the same -— how one becomes a custodian and another becomes a president only happens because of opportunities that happen during your life. They deserve to be treated equally well, and respected equally as much. He practiced this philosophy until the end of his life.
Our parents were what you might call a perfect couple. They were always a unit — couldn’t think about one wrtho’ut the other, perfectly complementary. That’s why when Mama passed away almost seven years ago, we agonized over how Daddy would do. We weren’t sure he’d be able to imagine a life without her, having known her since he was 13. While he lived with us in our home, we tried to fill his days with love and purpose. After initial months of grieving, he found a new reality 一 never quite the same as it was before, but he was okay. He continued to make an impact in our lives. showing us the resilience that he drew upon all his life. He attended school performances, visited with old friends who came to see him, and enjoyed family meals, holidays, and get-togethers.
At this point, I’d like to say a few “thank you’s” before closing.
There were a few ‘regulars’ who Daddy always looked forward to seeing – people who brought routine and familiarrty‘ to his daily life. and who went out of their way to make him feel special and loved. Charles Mom’s, better known as Master CAM, who was his chair tat-chi instructor, rarely missed a week in the last 10 years to make sure Daddy (and before that, with Mama) had his weekly dose of deep breathing and quiet physical exercise. Jesse Garza, his hairstylist, who cut Daddy’s hair – first in his salon, and then visited Daddy at his assisted living home on his day off every month to make sure he always looked handsome and clean-shaven. Daddy always looked forward to your visits, and you have no idea how much that meant to us.
Special thanks go out to his caregiving team — JoAnn Jones and Ana Palencia – without whom Daddy’s life would have not been as happy, comfortable, or full of love. Their daily, diligent attention to his care first in our home and then in his assisted living facilities brought such joy and love into his life and ours. But as much as they touched his life in a positive way, the gift of him to them was perhaps equally special. Both of these women have become members of our family, and we hold very special places in our hearts for their love and care of our father. Monique Hunter, who joined the team in the last month of his life, we thank you as well for your love and kindness. To the folks at Altus Hospice, especially Michelle Albee, thank you so much for bn’nging comfort to Daddy and our family in his final days. Your visits, your counsel, and your incredible attention to our needs will never be forgotten.
The core family team consisted of the “away team” of Alice and Amy, and the “home team” of me and Audrey. The away team brought frequent visits and long-distance calls on a regular basis. Holidays with them, their husbands and kids were some of the best memories of the past 10 years. Thank you, guys, for the sustaining support we always have felt in spite of the miles and time zone drff’erences. Thank God for Facebook messaging and group texts that held us together over the last few months.
To my sister Audrey, I thank her and her wonderful family for everything they did over the years to bring joy to Daddy’s life. Nothing brightened up Daddy’s face more titan Sofie’s and Maya’s visits, and their laughter filled his life with joy and purpose. I cannot imagine having gone through the last 10 years without Audrey. We never dreamed growing up that this chapter would be the one that brought us the closest.
To Rob and Joel…our incredible husbands, who never signed up for the craziness of the last decade, Audrey and I know you now understand that term, “for better or for worse”. Our children have an incredible model for how families hang together, support one another, and demonstrate love because of you guys. In the last few years perhaps the small group that had the most joy with Daddy is my family. Joel, Carson, and David, thank you for everything. Words cannot express my gratitude to all of you.
Over the past two years, we have had some great family gatherings. Daddy’s 90m birthday party last year was well attended by friends and family, and this past summer, everyone was present at Carson and Michael’s wedding, which turned out to be his last outing with the family. He enjoyed the food, the wine and the champagne, but most of all, as always, seeing his family. Relatives came from all over the world, and although we were celebrating the beginning of a new life for a wonderful couple, it was really a celebration of his legacy. As he looked around the room, perhaps he realized that almost everyone present was there because of him.
Daddy’s life was one that was filled with challenge. In spite of all the difficulties he encountered as a young man, a father, and a senior confined to a wheelchair, Daddy never once complained or asked, “Why me?” He had a Zen-like attitude about life’s difficulties, never feeling like the world owed him anything, and probably said “thank you” more in a given day than most of us utter in a month. He epitomized grace and gratefulness in a way that is unparalleled, and something I aspire to every day. So that’s how it’s done, folks. A life truly well-lived, as measured by the people you touch. My sisters and I are grateful for the privilege of being his daughters, and the blessings bestowed on us all during an amazing life. We are comforted to know that he and our Mama are now once again together, forever.