A Historical Summary of the Gung Ho Club 1948-1958
Toon Wai Wong
December 25, 1998
Winter 1947 – Spring 1948
A group of active adolescent boys who knew each other from American and Chinese schools began drifting together to form a gang. At American school, we were quiet, well behaved, good students. At Chinese school, we found an outlet for our pent up adolescent energy. We were noisy, undisciplined and disturbing to the classroom. We were a group of young adolescents, who were in need of understanding and guidance to channel our excess energies.
As summer vacation rolled around, little did we realize that coming events would affect our future individual and social lives. The gang joined the Chinese “Y”, and participated in most of the “Y” activities, especially basketball and ping-pong. The “Y” also introduced us to scouting. A scout troop was formed and we became Boston’s Boy Scout Troop 34. The gang was having a great time in the scouting and sports programs. But youth being youth, it was not enough.
The gang wanted a place to hang out after the “Y” closed for the day. We found a place for rent on Oxford Place. A few weeks after renting and moving into the hangout, a few of the boys brought in a couple b.b. guns. Soon, some of the guys started using a building across the street for target practice. A short time later, one of the gang noticed a couple of private investigators looking around for the source of the property damage. (We learned later the damage was very extensive.) The b.b. guns disappeared and the gang stayed away from the clubhouse for a few days. We hoped the investigation would go away and be forgotten. It did not go away. Luckily, Mr. Frank Goon, Attorney for the On Leong Merchant’s Association, learned of our situation. He came to our aid, met with the proper authorities and quickly and quietly settled the matter. We had to move.
The next place we found was a basement apartment in a quiet neighborhood, near Quincy School on Hudson Street. While still in the process of cleaning and painting the apartment, we were raided by the Police Department. We believed a neighbor fearing the gang would be a noisy, disturbing influence in the neighborhood filed a complaint against us. We had to move.
Having no place to go in the evening, the gang hung around the streets of Chinatown. Seeing us on the streets, Mr. Leong Wai Foo, Chee Kong Tong elder and teacher, invited the gang to meet with him. At the meeting, Mr. Leong made us an offer we could not refuse. The offer, Chee Kong Tong would sponsor the gang and provide a free clubroom with no restrictions as to how we ran the club. They would also provide moral and financial support. Mr. Leong would be our advisor and contact with the Association. Also, he asked if we would strongly consider joining Chee Kong Tong, when we became of age. We agreed and accepted the offer.
The gang moved into the clubroom at 6 Tyler Street. The group soon developed a basic organizational form. The offices of President and Secretary came into existence. The club operated democratically, votes were taken on any issues that came up. Members would pay annual dues, be prompt for meetings and be responsible for club property. Everyone was assigned housekeeping duties on a scheduled rotating basis to keep the clubroom clean and in a good physical condition.
At this point, the membership decided it was time to name the club. It happened, a Marine Corps war movie, titled “Gung Ho” (meaning work together) was showing at a local theater. Most of the membership who saw the movie liked the title. After a unanimous vote favoring, “Gung Ho”, we became the Gung Ho Club.
The summer was over. We returned to school and continued in scouting, sports and club activities. One evening, some of the boys were rummaging a storeroom. They spotted some drums and bugles and asked the principal about them. He noted our interest in the equipment and offered us the opportunity to form a drum and bugle corps. We accepted. Volunteers, headed by Mr. Danny Jung, were enlisted to teach us the use of the equipment. To improve our musical and marching skills, we began parading around Chinatown. Because our energies were being expended in “Corps” and club activities things calmed down for the Chinese school year. The Drum and Bugle Corps lead by majorette, Mrs. Josephine (Lee) Chin, marched in many local, city and statewide parades.
Meanwhile, Mr. Leong added another activity to our busy schedule. He obtained the services of a Kung Fu Master to train us in the art of Kung Fu. Several members became proficient and skillful in Kung Fu. The master began to form us into a Lion Team. (Then known as Dragon Team.) The team learned and practiced the proper Lion dances for the forthcoming Chinese New Year. In the meantime, Chee Kong Tong supplied the group with uniforms, equipment and a Lion Head. The club’s Lion Team was well received and praised for its role in the 1949 New Year celebrations.
After the New Year Celebrations, the months went by quietly and were pretty uneventful. The Drum and Bugle Corps was integrated in the Scout Troop. In the fall of 1949, the membership voted, to have social event in the community. A planning committee was formed to explore and recommend the type of event the club would hold. The committee recommended a dance, but did not recommend a date. After much discussion, the members decided on Thanksgiving Night. This would give us something to do during the Thanksgiving holiday. The Committee planned the dance to be a Record Hop on Thanksgiving Night in the Chinese-American Legion Hall on Oxford Street. The event was advertised and tickets were sold at the door. As the night of the Hop approached, the Committee began to fret and worry. Will the dance be successful? Will we make enough money to pay the DJ, Bob Clayton, we hired?
The Record Hop was a small success. We collected enough money to pay the DJ. Many of the people who attended enjoyed the Hop and at the end of the evening, asked if we would continue having dances in the future. We did have several better-attended Thanksgiving Record Hops. At the 1950, Record Hop, Bob introduced his protégé, singer Ms. Joni James. The following year he introduced the up and coming singing star, Mr. Pat Boone.
The Thanksgiving night dance became a Chinatown social event. As the number of people attending the Dance grew, the committee recommended changing the dance format; from a Record Hop to a semi-formal hotel ballroom dance with live music. The first Semi-formal was held at a hotel on Mass Ave. Now, known as the Berklee School of Music. Much to our amazement, the annual dance was so well attended; it became a major social function in the Chinese community.
Early – Mid 1950s
Now as the months and years began rolling by, many of the older members were entering high school. Some were graduating, others were leaving Chinese school, the Drum and Bugle Corp was disbanding.
Basketball was another popular activity. The club team played in the Boston City League for several years. A memorable occasion occurred when the team was invited to play an exhibition game in the Boston Garden. The team practiced in the Garden, and played the game during halftime of a Boston Celtic game.
In the warm weather, softball was the main attraction. Games were played at the Kingston Street parking lot. The softball team played against many local teams and won more than they lost. For a few years, the softball team was invited to play in interstate tournaments.
By the late 1950s, the Gung Ho Club was recognized as a prominent social group in Boston. Now, many of the initial members were high school graduates either entering or going to college. Some were entering military service. On receiving their Honorable Discharges from the service, they took advantage of the GI Bill and went on for further education.
Also, around this time period, a number of us now of proper age joined Chee Kong Tong. Under Mr. Leong’s leadership, the new members helped to revitalize and reactivate the Association. He guided and pushed them into key leadership positions to strengthen and stabilize the organization. Mr. Leong’s vision of the Boston Chee Kong Tong, actively rejoining the ranks of the National Association was realized.
The Gung Ho Club was now in the hands of younger members who were managing club affairs in good fashion. Mr. Leong continued to serve as an efficient capable advisor.
(This seems to be a good time to stop. Let future writers fill in some of the missing pieces of the club history.)
The Lion Team was invited by Mr. Mark Yew to take part in Fall River’s 150th anniversary. We were informed that there would be no lighting of firecrackers in the parade. When we reached the Reviewing Stand, we set of a bunch of firecrackers and scared the hell out of the city officials. It was explained to them that this was a tradition to drive away evil spirits. They gave us a rousing round of applause.
The Gung Ho Club marched in several St. Patrick’s day parades.
The Drum and Bugle Corps reformed once to march in Mr. Frank Goon’s funeral processions and played “Taps” at his gravesite. Mr. Frank Goon was the On Leong Association lawyer, who bailed out the Club in 1948.
A strong friendship and bond formed between the Gung Ho Club and New York City’s Club around the mid 1950s.
I would like to conclude with one of Mr. Leong W. Foo’s favorite historical stories. Dr. Sun Yet-Sun (lodge brother), famous Chinese revolutionary managed to escape from arrest by the Chinese government in the 1920s. He fled to the United States and began a fundraising tour to raise money for the revolutionary cause. He toured Chinese communities from West to East. Upon reaching the East Coast, he stayed and hid in Boston for several days. Dr. Sun stayed in the Masonic Building at 6 Tyler Street, the first Gung Ho Clubhouse. After his short stay here, Dr. Sun went to Canada, continued his fundraising and eventually returned to China, to continue the Revolutionary Movement.