Chinese Center on Long Island 長島中華協會

 The Arthur Lem Story

Arthur Lem came to the U.S. in 1926 when he was 12 years old using a paper slot from a Mr. Lem who had a child of Arthur‘s age. Arthur’s real name was Chin Doong Ott. His assumed name was Lem Bow Quon. This required him to memorize his assumed family history to answer the INS officer’s interrogation. He passed with flying colors and was admitted into San Francisco after several weeks of detention.

Like most first generation Chinese immigrants who either worked in a Chinese laundry, grocery store or restaurant, Arthur worked in a Chinese hand laundry owned by his father and uncle located in Floral Park. At the same time, he enrolled in 1st grade in Floral Park public school to learn English. It wasn’t long before his father became sick and returned to China leaving Arthur under the care of his Chin cousins and uncles who had a laundry in Hempstead. Arthur helped with the housework and business by ironing and delivering clean laundry to nearby customers. One of the customers was Captain Morse of Nassau County Police Dept. Captain Morse took a liking of Arthur and gave him a job as an interpreter on a “call as needed” basis. He was also given an “Official Interpreter” badge.

During the depressions in the 30’s, Arthur quit school after finishing 7th grade and went to work in a Chinese restaurant on Fulton Avenue in Hempstead. He washed dishes, prepared vegetables, cleaned and washed floors. His salary was $3.00 per week plus meals and a place to stay. Arthur worked very hard, helped his brother Harry and his cousin Norman Chin come to America. Unlike Arthur, they were both able to finish High School in Hempstead while working part time in the restaurant.

Arthur married Rose in 1940 and eventually owned his own restaurant to raise his family. They realized that their sons needed to learn the Chinese language and heritage, and so they joined the newly founded CCLI by John Hwang, Dun Li, George Lee and Peter Louie. At that time, each founder took turns to host meetings in their homes. By 1960, CCLI had outgrown their meeting venues. They needed a school for their children to learn Chinese, their heritage and a central meeting place for Chinese Americans. Arthur Lem, Dun Li, John Huang, Arthur Jong, Lucy Lee and Li Louie were searching a home when a generous Mr. Callen donated a mansion in Old Westbury to CCLI. Almost immediately CCLI’s membership jumped 100 percent. Arthur obtained a charter and a tax-exempt status for CCLI through his friend Judge Frank Gulotta. However, the mansion was too expensive to operate and CCLI could not get zoning variance. Later, John Hwang found the present location in West Hempstead. Arthur was instrumental in buying this property and getting a mortgage using proceeds from selling the Old Westbury mansion.

As a businessman, Arthur belonged to many organizations such as the Rotary Club, Business Men’s Club and YMCA.  The involvement in these organizations helped Arthur apply the knowledge he learned to raise money for CCLI. Arthur served in many capacities in CCLI, organized many fund-raisers including the Chinese New Year banquets. He was the first to recommend printing the journal as a means of fund-raising. As a result of the hard work from many early members of CCLI, the funds raised from these activities enabled them to pay off the mortgage.

Over the years, Arthur and Rose donated stocks and savings to help CCLI. When Arthur passed away in 1997, his wish was to have donations made to CCLI in his name. Arthur realized the importance of education and did not want others to endure his hardship. The Arthur Lem Memorial Scholarship was established since 1998 to fulfill his dream. Because of Rose, her families and friends, the money is still coming in today in his memory.

Again this year, CCLI is accepting applications for the Arthur Lem Memorial Scholarship, which was created to honor his legacy. This scholarship is available to children of CCLI members. The goal is to encourage young people to pursue higher education, promote Chinese heritage, humanitarianism and community services, and pursue their dreams. It is CCLI’s hope that one day they will return to help pass on their knowledge to the many generations to come.

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