Young teacher with Chinese heritage drawn to Madras
- Susan Matheny
- Madras Pioneer - News
Joyce Edgmon has a green thumb, which probably came from growing up on her parents' truck farm in Pendleton. This December, Edgmon, 64, had a roomful of bright blooming Christmas cactuses in her Madras greenhouse.
She was born Sept. 16, 1940, in Pendleton to Frank and Loy Kay, and grew up with an older brother, Bob, and two younger siblings, sister Francis and brother Dick (who was born two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor).
Growing up in Pendleton during World War II was not a problem, she said, because everyone in town knew they were Chinese, not Japanese, and her family was well-established.
Her father, Frank, had come to the U.S. when he was 12 years old and lived in Idaho, and later in Pendleton, where he owned a truck garden which he farmed with horses. When the produce was harvested, he would make deliveries with his horse cart and also sold to area warehouses.
Her mother, Loy, was a "picture bride," in the 1930s which meant the marriage had been arranged by their families and her picture was sent to Frank until he could afford to send for her. Both Frank and Loy were from the Canton area of China.
Loy's own father had immigrated to New York and sent money home to support his family in China, but after he left China she never saw him again.
After Frank had saved enough money, he paid her passage to join him in the U.S. "It was a month-long trip by ship and after she got here they had to be quarantined for 20 days in Seattle. They were kept in steerage down below on the ship and never saw the sky for weeks," Edgmon related.
Her mother came at a time of turmoil and fear, during the Japanese invasion of China, and escaped a lot of the war as a result. Edgmon said later most of her relatives in China were killed by Communists when that regime took over the country.
While Edgmon's father learned to speak English and was the progressive one, her mother never did learn English and kept up the Chinese traditions. At home they all spoke Chinese, Edgmon noted.
"She always thought she was going back to China, and lived by all the old Chinese superstitions -- like you can't wash your feet on the day before your birthday or you'll wash off the good luck. Her life was ruled by superstitions," Edgmon said.
Both her parents were caring people and they readily accepted the American holidays, along with their Chinese ones. "We'd celebrate Chinese Christmas on Dec. 21, with traditional foods, and then American Christmas on Dec. 25," Edgmon recalled.
Edgmon and her siblings helped pull weeds on the farm and she remembers the fun they had riding along with their dad when he delivered produce, especially when customers would offer them little dishes of ice cream. There was an air base in Pendleton and as a child Edgmon remembers the excitement of watching the planes fly over.
Before the war, the Kays were about the only Chinese in Pendleton. But after the war, the community expanded with three Chinese restaurants.
"Our farming family was the odd-ball because all the other families had Chinese restaurants," she said. But after more Chinese families arrived they would all get together to celebrate special holidays and occasions.
Edgmon went through school in Pendleton, graduating from Pendleton High School in 1958. Her class of 170 students was very close and she still keeps in contact with friends from first grade.
After high school, she attended Eastern Oregon College for two years, then graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor of arts degree in education, and master's degree in library science.
Her first teaching job was as a third grade teacher in Warm Springs in 1962. There are still former students around town who call her "Miss Kay" when they see her, she laughed.
"At that time, the 509-C School District paid teachers $5,000 a year, which was one of the best salaries around, better than Seattle or California," she said, explaining why she decided to move to a small rural area. At first, she lived in a trailer park owned by Dan Macy in Warm Springs, because, being single, she didn't qualify for one of the teacher's houses.
On a blind date at the Townhouse Restaurant in Madras she met Ken Edgmon in September, they were engaged by December and married in June. (This summer the Edgmons celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary).
Ken's father owned the Shell Oil distributorship in Madras, but he passed away just a year after they were married and Ken took over the business. Eventually it became a Union 76 distributorship.
After a year of teaching in Warm Springs, Mrs. Edgmon became a third grade teacher at Madras Elementary for the newly consolidated 509-J School District (the "J" stood for "joined").
In 1965, when Buff School changed from a junior high to a fifth and sixth grade school, Edgmon transferred there and taught until she became the school librarian.
"It was hard to give up classroom teaching because I had my `own' children. Those were fun years of teaching. I had 38 kids one year and on Valentine's Day I'd make them each a cookie with their name on it," she remembered.
For 10 years she was also the library coordinator for all the 509-J District libraries and estimates she cataloged and processed over 50,000 books and publications. After spending 30 years at Buff, she retired in 1996.
Meanwhile, in 1975 the Edgmons had adopted a Korean daughter, Essi, who now is married to Lance Wentz and living in Klamath Falls. In 1980, the Edgmon's son, Matt, was born and currently is a reserve officer with the Culver Police Department and is studying health education at EOU, through the COCC campus. The Edgmons have two grandsons, Max, 10, and Aaron, 6, Wentz.
In the community, Edgmon has been a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church for 40 years, and made donuts for its annual Christmas bazaar for at least 20 years.
She inherited a green thumb from her father and enjoys raising hibiscus, flowering cactuses, and other plants in her greenhouse, as well as a vegetable garden with corn, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes each year. Her parents moved to Madras in the 1970s and her dad used to come every day to work in their yard and garden. Both her parents passed away last year.
"I have too many interests," Edgmon said, noting she is always busy. She knits and crochets around 15 baby afghans a year, and makes up all her own patterns. She also does cross stitch, embroidery, latch hook rugs and other handcrafts.
Having been a librarian, she naturally enjoys reading and said Amy Tan is a favorite author because the characters in her books are so much like Edgmon's parents.
She also keeps busy with cooking, calligraphy, doing stained-glass work, and volunteering at Art Adventure Gallery.
For nine years, she and Ken couldn't take vacation because of his oil business. But after he sold the business last year, they hit the road and racked up 20,000 miles in one year traveling to an Edgmon family reunion in Tennessee in August and Joyce's niece's wedding in South Carolina on another trip.
Along the way they took in the sights, including Chimney Rock in Nebraska, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, hurricane damage in Pensacola, Fla., and the huge motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. Next, the Edgmons are planning a month-long trip to Hawaii.
Joyce said her motto is to do all the good you can, wherever you can, whenever you can. "Doing things that are helpful to people is something I enjoy and that's probably what put me into teaching. So much potential is lost if students are not worked with," she said.