Flora Wong hopes to inspire others to write their stories

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Flora Wong took up competitive swimming and running when she retired. At 85 she still runs competitively.Montana author Flora Wong will discuss her book “Long Way Home” and hold a memoir writing workshop Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

The event is jointly sponsored by the LOACC and the Lake Oswego Public Library.

“Long Way Home” carries readers from Boston to China to Montana in a span of eight decades of turmoil, change and personal growth.

“It’s a pretty interesting story,” said Tom Decker, who is Wong’s son-in-law and wrote the book with her. “Once she got started she recognized that it would be interesting to her grandchildren and important for them to know what a strong and resourceful woman their great-grandmother was. It turned out to be fun and inspiring.”

Flora Wongs book, Long Way Home, earned her a Helena History Preservation Award in 2012.

He said the book started out as an informal account of Wong’s athletic achievements. She took up competitive swimming and running in her retirement and has won more than 600 medals in athletic events. At age 85 she still runs competitively.

The narrative begins in 1936 as Flora Wong’s family of 10, at the direction of her parents, set out on a cross-country trip from Boston to Seattle. There, they boarded a ship for a 21-day voyage to China. The parents expected to establish a quiet life in an isolated corner of Southern China’s Pearl River delta.

As events unfolded in China, the family saw the frightful timing of their move.

By 1937, the Japanese invaded China, part of a conflict that would set a course for World War II in the region. China’s internal disputes between the Communist and Nationalist parties festered during the worldwide conflict. After the world declared victory over Japan, a civil war broke out between Nationalist forces and Communist troops.

“Flora’s mother wasn’t educated but she had practical smarts,” said Decker. She turned to the local matchmaker and arranged marriages for passage back to the United States for her children. “Flora and her mother met Charlie Wong for the first time in Hong Kong, the day before their wedding. She was 18. Charlie, a grocer from Helena, Mont., was 41. Her comment was, ‘He’s pretty handsome.’”

Flora neither read nor wrote in English when she arrived in Helena, and so at the end of the long day working in a grocery store, Decker said, Charlie Wong would teach her English by reading labels of packages on the shelves.

“She doesn’t consider her life extraordinary,” said Decker. “It’s just what it was. But what was expected (in that age) is far from normal for us today.”

At the event next week, Flora Wong and Decker will share portions of the book as well as techniques they used to get Wong’s life down on paper. They hope to encourage others to write their own stories.

“Don’t think of it as writing a book,” said Decker. “Work at it steadily and bit by bit it comes together. It might be an informal booklet or an oral history or a book. Whatever you end up with you will find an interested audience for it.”

In recognition of her memoir, Wong received a Helena History Preservation Award in 2012.

Wong and Decker will also make appearances at Mary’s Woods and at a private book club.

To purchase “Long Way Home,” visit or Graham’s Book and Stationery in Lake Oswego.

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