Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
There was a time when the Chinese people called the United States “the Golden Mountain,” Jack Lin Chew recalled in his memoir.
This country was the place many Chinese before World War II came to earn their fortunes and return home.
Chew found the reality of his second country a bit different.
“Instead, this was the Land of Opportunity,” wrote the man born in China on Dec. 13, 1920. Decades later, he became an influential and well-respected member of the Roswell business and civic community. “As long as people were willing to work hard, put all their effort into what they decided to do, and were good at it, then they could succeed.”
Chew passed away April 14 of natural causes at age 99. His survivors include his wife, Susie; their two children, Doug Chew and Glory Chew Misaki, who live in California with their spouses; four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
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On Wednesday, Chew was laid to rest at the Gen. Douglas L. McBride Veterans Cemetery, part of South Park Cemetery. As Glory Misaki said, her father chose to remain in the city that he loved.
One remembrance cannot do justice to a life that spanned continents and almost 10 decades, an experience that included life-and-death hardships during World War II, as well as the harsh cruelties of racism in the United States that meant he sometimes went without a meal because food establishments would not serve him.
His life also had what he said people come to learn make them better individuals, “Love, family and your belief in God.”
“What can you say about a true American hero and success story?” asked his friend of about 37 years, A.J. Olsen, a partner in the law firm of Henninghausen and Olsen LLP. “The many, many years I knew him, not one person said a disparaging word about Jack Chew.”
Chew’s 2001 self-published memoir, “Cook and Chat with Jack Chew,” includes some of his favorite recipes, but also a straightforward recounting of a remarkable life.
Chew was born in China to peasants who sold him because they could not afford to raise him. He was adopted by Duck “Charlie” Chew and Sum Shue Tscui and was raised by them and various family members. His early years were spent in China. By 1934 and age 13, he was living in the United States. He lived with his parents or other family members in San Francisco, California; Grand Junction, Colorado; Winslow, Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Although he struggled to learn English, he was adept at math and art and managed to succeed in school, all while working long hours in family businesses. He graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1939. United States involvement in World War II began a few years later, and he enlisted in 1942. Initially rejected as too thin, he wrote that he ate enough bananas in one sitting to qualify as sturdy enough, weighing in at 103 pounds on his 5-foot frame. He became known as Staff Sgt. Lin F. Chew, part of the Army Air Corps.
His size made him suited to be a tail-gunner on a B17 plane, a dangerous post. On his 13th mission in 1943, his plane was shot down by the Germans. He parachuted out, injured by shrapnel and losing consciousness as he fell. He was soon captured by the Germans and spent 21 months as a prisoner of war.
After the United States liberated German POWs, he received his numerous honors that included a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon. An Air Medal had previously been given to his father, when he was believed missing after his capture. Chew also learned of his new assignment after the war to the Roswell Army Air Base. His discharge came about a month after his arrival in September 1945.
He decided to stay in this small, mostly rural community, which he remembered for its orchards, snakes and boats that would float down along Cahoon Park after heavy rains. He worked for a man who owned a Chinese restaurant. Within a year or so, he started his first partnership, buying the restaurant where he worked, New China. Later, that became a drive-in known as Chew Den.
He had also become a husband in 1947. About a year after arriving in Roswell, he returned to China to visit family and learned that a marriage had been arranged for him. When he met Susie at their wedding, he wrote, he thought she was beautiful, and they began a union that lasted until his passing.
Glory Misaki and Doug Chew talk of a loving father who spent a great deal of their childhoods at work, a man proud of his military service and supportive of veteran causes, and a personable and generous man. Doug said his father would most want “people to be good to each other.” Glory called him a “cheerleader” for Roswell.
Many people in Roswell today who know their father met him because of the expanded Chew Den that he opened on South Main Street, which operated for 30 years until 2000. It became a gathering place for political leaders and the heads of business, as well as families looking for a good meal and diners wanting to eat after the movies.
“My brother and I used to run around the restaurant when we were kids,” said Tim Jennings, a former state senator who has remained friends with the Chew family. “His restaurants were known throughout New Mexico and Roswell. He had incredible onion rings. They were phenomenal.”
After Chew Den was sold, Chew operated a restaurant next to the city’s bowling alley on Southeast Main Street.
Chew also was known for his community service to such groups as the Eagles, the Elks, the Lions, the Masons and its affiliate, and the Shriners. His commitment to the city’s future included his willingness to contribute his own money to help recruit businesses and retirees to Roswell after the U.S. government closed Walker Air Force Base. Some also remember that he donated baseball uniforms with dragon designs on them to local teams.
“He gave a lot of money to people and the community,” Jennings said, “and he never asked for anything back.”
Olsen said he was well-known for his philanthropy. “He was generous beyond question.”
Brian Landreth moved with his mother and other family members near the Chews as a child. He remembers a kind neighbor who shared home-cooked food, lots of interesting stories and other gifts.
“One of my favorite memories would have to be from when I was about 9 years old. Jack and Susie went on a trip to California. Jack brought back a surprise gift for me,” Landreth said. “It was a beautiful, traditional Chinese kite. I was truly touched by the kindness of this gift and treasured it.”
Glory Misaki said her father was proud of his children and his great-grandchildren, who have all gone to college and entered professions. From him, she saw what it meant to pursue interests with great passion.
“The best description of my dad was whenever he found something he was interested in, he jumped in the water with both feet,” she said. “He went all in for whatever it was that he was interested in. I remember he loved to go fishing when we were younger, so he went fishing all the time. Then it was bowling, so then he was crazy about bowling. Everything he did, he did with gusto.”
One of his passions included collecting coins and currency. The last business he and Susie owned before selling it about 18 months ago was Chew’s Oriental Gifts, located next to the fourth restaurant he and Susie owned, Chew West, on West Second Street. Chew West had been sold a few years before the gift store. Chew’s Oriental Gifts included some coins and unique currency.
Jennings recalled that Chew told him the number “eight” is considered lucky in Chinese cultures, so he would look for currency that had the digit in the serial numbers, and was delighted when he once found a bill that had all eights.
“People who never had the chance to meet the man were deprived of the pleasure of knowing one of life’s great people,” Jennings said. “He was one of those people who would brighten your day every time you dealt with him.”
Amy McVay-Davis, executive director of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico, said the group has been honoring the Chew family for its service on its social media site and has found it amazing that thousands of people have been sending in their thoughts and comments.
She said some are sharing memories of their own and others are asking for a copy of his memoir and his recipes.
“Chew Den was comforting to them,” she said, “and, especially at this time, they are finding comfort in his food and in sharing their memories of him.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.