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Johnson C. Sue

Johnson Chee Sue, 90, of Honolulu, Hawai’i passed away peacefully in Honolulu on Saturday, October 7, 2023. He was born in Oakland, CA, on June 22, 1933.  

He graduated from Oakland Technical High School, Oakland, CA in 1952 and from UC Berkeley with a BA in Landscape Architecture in 1956. As a landscape architect, he designed many award-winning parks and municipal facilities in California, including the Kaiser Building rooftop garden and Lincoln Park, both in Oakland; Las Palmas Park and De Anza Park in Sunnyvale, and the City of Fairfield (California) Civic Center grounds. In the 1980s, he designed and built single family homes for sale in the Oakland Hills and owned rental apartments and commercial real estate.  

In retirement, he and his first love of 52 years, Darlene, traveled to many places, motoring around the Lower-48 in their 1977 GMC Eleganza RV and camping in many of the National Parks. They were members of the GMC-49ers RV Club for many years, and enjoyed going to many of the Club’s rallies around the country. Many friends remember the joy of watching him and Darlene dance to the waltzes, polkas and swing. They also traveled internationally, visiting 6 of the 7 continents.

After Darlene’s passing, Johnson moved to Hawai’i where he met his second love, Marian L. Chun, at a dinner party put on by a mutual friend. They attended and were married at the United Church of Christ on South Judd Street in Honolulu, HI. On most Fridays, they visited I’olani Palace to listen to the Royal Hawaiian Band. John and Marian once went on a cruise from Honolulu to Victoria, BC, to visit their good friend, Rose Woo.

Johnson will be deeply missed by his family and friends. He is fondly remembered for his generosity, deep conversations, adventurous spirit, hard work ethic, photography, and helpful guidance in the use of such things as power tools, construction, architecture and landscape design.  

Johnson is predeceased by spouse Darlene Yim Tom; sister Gladys Lee (Murray); brother Ed Sue (Amy); and brother-in-law Dennis Tom and wife Eleanor. Survived by spouse Marian Lum Chun; son Larry (Carla) of MI, son Steve (Karen) of HI, daughter Linda of HI, and son Alan “AJ” of WI; grandchildren Gregory “JC” Sue, Hayley Sue, and Charlotte Sue; and siblings Helen Owyoung and Edith Sheu (George), and brother-in-law Duane Tom (Sandra).

Johnsonʻs wishes were to be cremated and scattered with no services. The family will honor his wishes. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests donations be made to Project Shaka, a nonprofit program dedicated to sharing Aloha through Hawaii’s Shaka gesture. 

Tax deductible donations can be made online at ID8.org or by check payable to “ID8” and mailed to 1012 18th Ave. Honolulu, HI. 96816. 

Remembering Dennis Tom

Dennis Tom New Year 1980

Dennis Tom, New Year’s 1980

Last month, my uncle Dennis Tom passed. As I reflect upon who he was and how he lived, I realize that he was a uniquely humble, happy and unassuming person. He lived life effortlessly and with grace despite years of difficult health conditions for both himself and wife Elinor.

Where many would have been down-trodden, he was always positive and good natured. No matter what the current circumstance, he would always greet me with a big grin asking, “Hey Stevereeno, been fishing lately?” In later years as his short-term memory failed, he’d ask me that question time and time again, sometimes only minutes apart. But every time, it was music to my ears. It was a throwback to all the good times we shared as family.

Our families always spent holidays, birthdays and other monumental events together. And our parents traded kids whenever they traveled. Imagine Uncle Den and Aunty Ellie followed by 6 boys and a girl. I’m sure that was quite a sight, especially given how petite and young Aunty looked. Ditto when my Mom took all the kids.

When I reached driving age, I was invited to go on vacations with the Toms. I fondly recall the time I met them at Don Pedro Reservoir for a week of white bass fishing. It amazed me how Uncle Den could simply drop his boat into a never seen lake and slay a mess of fish. I also remember what a trooper Aunty was as she huddled under the boat deck by day (trying to keep warm) and cleaned up after 5 men/boys by night. Meanwhile, Uncle Den was equally busy teaching us to fish by day and frog by night. To this day, I’ve never had a frog leg I liked as much as Aunty Ellie’s.

To make things ethnically fair, we also slayed countless black bass up in Sacramento (sorry, bad joke… but if there were yellow bass, we surely would have fished them too… actually, one time Randy, Cherri, Karen and I fished peacock bass, a rainbow kind of bass in Hawaii… but that’s another story…). Anyways, plugging for bass is all about skill and Uncle Den was the master of it: he always knew where the fish were and could whack them on the head with his lure every time. There was no mystery as to why he always got the most and the biggest fish. One time, on his last, last, last, last, last cast, he hooked up. It was big. And it ran deep. So there we were, heading out into the main channel at dusk following the fish downstream. Other boats took notice and followed, witnessing a 20-minute battle that ended in a triumphant boating of a 12lb striped bass ~ a nice bonus to two limits of black bass that were already in the live well. Vintage Uncle Den.

On the subject of striped bass, we also spent years of party boat fishing in the San Francisco Bay. From the beaches outside the bay to California City to the South Tower under the Golden Gate Bridge, Uncle Den knew exactly how to work each and every patch of water. For example, when I was a young teen, he taught me the exact location of the South Tower anti-submarine cables. His secret was to drop his line to a certain depth as the boat floated past the tower, hold that depth until a certain marker was passed, then let the line down as fast as possible to hit a sweet spot that was always loaded with fish. When the fish were in, a boat would only take a few passes through the area before making limits, so you needed to hook up fast or else you’d receive someone else’s smaller fish after they limited out. Uncle Den was always hooked up and always culling fish to others.

Left to Right: Dennis Tom, Darlene Sue, Sandy Tom, Elinor Tom (back to camera). Stanislaus River, CA 1973

Left to Right: Dennis Tom, Darlene Sue, Sandy Tom, Elinor Tom (back to camera). Stanislaus River, CA 1973

He even hooked up when there were supposedly no fish. Once, on a two-day trip down the Stanislaus River, he asked if there were any fish in the river. With strong conviction, the river guides said, “No. We’ve never seen a fish caught out of this river.” So of course on the overnight stop, he whipped out his rod, stalked a large pool and landed a 4lb brown trout an hour later. I remember when he hooked up. He thought it was a snag and was walking down river to pull his line free. Then it moved. The next year when we went on the same trip, a different set of guides were boasting about some guy who caught a monster the year before. LOL. That became even funnier when he landed a 3lb rainbow trout at the same spot then fessed up that he was the guy from the year before. If you don’t know about trout, those would be considered trophy size, suitable for stuffing and hanging on a wall to signify a great conquest. Being Chinese, we of course ate them instead.

Yes, fishing was so much of our upbringing. And Uncle Den was always at the center of it. We also spent years fishing for shad in Sacramento at the “Minnow Hole.” For years, we took sacks of those boney fish from that river… all smoked later for eating. I also remember when I was quite young, our families went to San Diego on vacation. He and my Dad went out on a charter fishing boat. My Dad got sea sick and Uncle Den caught a huge barracuda. No surprise. What was surprising was that they came back and put it in our motel bathtub. Even more surprising, we brought the fish to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and asked them to cook it for us. But I guess they weren’t that Chinese as they refused to cook it. So we walked out leaving the fish there. I remember thinking in my little child head that the circumstance was truly tragic. A fish caught the you couldn’t eat. I wanted to cry. May be bringing raw fish to Chinese restaurants is a Northern California thing.

Back in Northern California, I remember he always had black bass for restaurants to cook for our family dinners. There could be 10 tables at a banquet and he was always able to produce fish to go around. I remember heading to Sacramento with him several times with the mission of catching that elusive gamefish for a family event. Restaurant staffs would always admire the size of his fish, noting that black bass were hard to get and the most sought after kind of fish by Chinese. They even nicknamed him “Black Bass” in Chinese.

But his sportsmanship wasn’t just about fishing. He was an ardent Cal Football fan. Go Cal! And he was a great tennis player. For years, he and I had an on-going tennis match. We were really close in skill level so we always had knock-down, drag-outs at his tennis club. Our tradition was that I’d head to his house, we’d roll to his club from there, play a few sets and roll back to his place for dinner with the family, then watch sports on TV.

Sports like tennis can be quite telling of a person’s demeanor and personality. In the heat of the moment, pride, humility, anger and other emotions/traits, mostly negative, become transparent. If you suck but you’re trying to puff that you’re better than your current performance, everyone still sees that you suck. If you’re really good, but are merciful, everyone sees that too. Our match went on for years and never once did I see him angry, posturing, unrealistic or with excuses. He just loved playing and enjoyed the beauty of a good shot whether he or his opponent made the shot.

Left to Right: Duane Tom, Dennis Tom, Dorothy Tom, Yim Tom, Darlene Tom Sue at Duane & Sandy's wedding, June 1970

Left to Right: Duane Tom, Dennis Tom, Dorothy Tom, Yim Tom, Darlene Tom Sue at Duane & Sandy’s wedding, June 1970

What I saw on the tennis court was also brought home to his own backyard. One summer, he had my brother Alan (now “AJ”) and I build a deck with a redwood hot tub in his backyard. In retrospect, it’s a huge statement to let a couple of high school and middle school kids build a massive wood structure to hold thousands of gallons of water on your property. Thank God it never busted. But I think it turned out well. Besides, we had the backup of my Dad who looked over our shoulders and later while his guys did the landscaping, probably added a nail of two. After that, Uncle Den installed a sports court for paddle ball (a mini version of tennis). For decades, that backyard was the hit of family summer time events.

All those years, he provided, taught and supported all of us. He was always one with a kind smile. Never proud. Always humble. That despite having a huge house, in a fancy neighborhood, a beautiful family and a successful pharmaceutical practice.

In the really old days, I recall spending time at his pharmacy in Alameda. Pharmacies have a distinct smell. To me, it smelled like caring. But it wasn’t just the smell. It was the people. You could tell that he cared for his staff like another family. Also noteworthy was that he typed. Typing: as in a typewriter with an ink ribbon. In those days, the “delete” button didn’t exist so proficiency and accuracy was key. He would stand there in his white pharmacist coat and pound out prescription labels like there was no tomorrow. A man that could type. On a typewriter. With pure confidence. With no secretary. He was a modern man in an ancient era.

Dennis Tom Last Keeper

Last Keeper (With Randy Tom). June 1, 2013

But that era has passed. It was one marked by a true gentleman who lived large and with grace.

Uncle Den: I thank you for being such a huge part of my life. We did it all. And I look forward to the day when we can fish, play tennis and BBQ together again. Until then, please know that you’re one of my heroes. May you rest in peace.

Here’s a nice piece on some family history featuring stories on Bill King, 1916-2002 … thx Mike King, Gene Chan, Bill Chen & Linda Sue for sharing the article (see it online in China Insight Article » or Download 221K PDF »

Most interesting excerpts:

Bill King, Flying TigerBill King (1916 -2002), a third generation American-born Chinese, volunteered to y for the Chinese Air Force in World War II and was assigned to the Chinese American Composite Wing (CACW) of the 14th Air Force. He was a highly decorated Flying Tiger pilot.

Jim King‘Jim King’, Bill King’s grandfather, Jow Kee or Chow Yook Kee (1840-unk) came to San Francisco from Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, in 1855 when he was 16. He found a job with gold miners who liked him, taught him English, and gave him an American name – Jim King. Knowing English, he went to work as a foreman and labor contractor for the Central Pacific Railroad building the western end of the transcontinental railroad. The payroll records of the Central Pacific Railroad in January 1866 show the listing of Jim King, Contracting Co. After completion of the transcontinental railroad, King continued as a labor contractor, hiring former railroad workers and other workers from his home village, for the Sacramento River levee construction. After clamshell dredgers displaced the workers, they became agricultural workers in the region and King became a tenant farmer. He married Hel Shee, whom he met in San Francisco. They settled in a farmhouse in the Delta and had eight children.

Grandson Bill King graduated from Sacramento City College with an aeronautics degree and learned how to y at Solano County airport in 1938. He joined the Chinese American Volunteer Group in San Francisco; the group trained pilots for China with donations from local Chinese. At the time, the U. S. was not at war with Japan yet, so it was hush–hush. After about 50 hours of ight training, a group of 17 pilots and 17 mechanics shipped o to China in 1939.

King attended the Chinese Air Force Academy, graduated in February 1941, and flew for the Chinese Air Force. He was assigned to the 5th Fighter Group of the Chinese American Composite Wing (CACW), 14th Air Force (Flying Tigers).

He flew 109 combat missions in 16 months while with the CACW. Among his medals were the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded by the United States and the Presidential Unit Citation.

In August 1944, King and his commander, Colonel Frank Rouse, left for an early morning bombing mission over Hunan Province, and were intercepted by eight Japanese Zeroes.

According to U.S. Army Air Forces Captain James R. McCutchan, in a letter to King’s mother, “Bill, seeing the enemy rst made a pass on the entire (Japanese) formation and broke it up, enabling the colonel to make good his escape.” The letter continued by stating that King shot down one Zero and ed south. After his plane was hit by enemy re, he crashed it in a rice eld, crossed a river and hiked four days back to base.

King returned to Locke, Calif., in 1947 with two samurai swords given to him by a general he escorted after the Japanese surrender in Nanjing.

He met his wife Ruby Chann, who worked at the Yuen Chong general store in Locke. “My cousin bet me $1 I wouldn’t go out with him, so I did,” she said. “He’s one of those guys you meet and right away you like him.”

King managed a girl’s basketball team and worked as an inspector for General Mills in Lodi for 28 years. According to Ruby, he was the type who didn’t like to talk about the war because he had seen so much.

BiBill King Flying Tiger Awards & Decorationsll King was highly decorated…”

Jow Kee (aka Jim King), my great, great grandfather was a contractor who spoke Chinese and English. This intel from Uncle Duane Tom by way of Gene Chan in this article http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/community_ties/2015/june/chinese-150.shtml

“It wasn’t until Chan was in his 70s that he discovered his great grandfather, Jow Kee, played an integral part in constructing the Transcontinental Railroad…

…Chan discovered his great grandfather’s name listed on a Central Pacific Railroad payroll log. It was the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads that formed the Transcontinental Railroad.

“I learned that my great grandfather, Jow Kee, was born in Sun Chung Village, Heung Shan District, China, during a period of foreign invasions, economic recession and overpopulation,” Chan said. “In 1855 he arrived in California. He found work with some gold miners as a helper, and it was through that work that he learned English. He was only 15 or 16. It is assumed that the miners gave him the American name Jim King.”

Ten years after Kee’s arrival, gold mining slowed. At the same time, the Central Pacific Railroad faced a severe labor shortage. Like Kee, tens of thousands of young Chinese immigrants had traveled to California chasing the promise of gold. Central Pacific President Charles Crocker suggested the railroad hire these available workers. Central Pacific Superintendent James Harvey Strobridge resisted Crocker’s suggestion. He didn’t believe the Chinese men could handle the grueling labor. Despite his prejudice, 50 men were hired for one month to do the life-threatening work of blasting rock and laying ties over the treacherous terrain of the High Sierras.

By 1866 the laborers proved Strobridge wrong, and Central Pacific was looking to hire as many Chinese men as possible. At this time Chan’s great grandfather Jow Kee, now in his late 20s, formed the Jim King Company, a labor contracting business for Central Pacific Railroad. He became an important asset to Central Pacific because he was a contractor who could speak English and Chinese. “They needed him, he could communicate with the new Chinese workers,” Chan said…

Continuing Jow Kee’s Legacy

Gene O. Chan was born in 1932 in Locke, California, a city built in 1915 to be a fresh start for several Chinese families after a fire destroyed the Chinese section of nearby Walnut Grove, California. Locke catered to residents of the California delta region. Chan’s father and uncles managed a grocery store, where he worked throughout his childhood.

“I went to City College for two years before I volunteered to join the Air Force. I served during the Korean War, and when the war ended I was given an option to go to the Air Force Academy or I could sign out and go to college. I signed out and went to California Polytechnic State University with the G.I. Bill. So that’s how my life began.”

Chan believes a lot of his success in life has to do with the legacy of hard work Kee established for his family. “I feel elated that his genes must have been passed on to me,” Chan said. Chan earned a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University, which led to a 34-year career in Aerojet’s solid rocket propulsion division. He and his wife, Louise, have four children, three girls and one boy…”

6584 Saroni Drive

6584 Saroni Drive, Michael & JessicaHey 6584 fans! Our new friends Michael Rubin & Jessica Barksdale, the current owners of 6584 contacted us through NiceyRicey this week. Thx Michael and Jessica for stalking us! Michael and Jessica relatively newlyweds (5 years) who purchased 6584 a couple years ago and have done some really nice remodeling.

Michael wrote seeking historical information in the home as he and Jessica liked the original theme that Pops John Sue designed with. Turns out that Michael is an architect who really got into what Dad was trying to accomplish. Says Michael,

Jessica and I met 5-1/2 years ago after our original marriages ended. We each have grown children (I have two girls, Jessica has two boys – you can imagine what goes through my mind from time to time). We bought 6584 Saroni Drive before we were married – in fact, before we were engaged. Jessica loved the house from the first moment; it took me a little longer. I had to start sketching, but once I came up with a few ideas, I, too, fell in love with the house. I remember telling Jessica “I can make this house fit us like a well-worn pair of jeans.” I’ve repeated that statement in so many stories now that I know she’s tired of hearing it, but I never tire of telling it.

This isn’t an interim location for us. We bought this house to spend the rest of our lives in, got married in the back yard 15 months later, and if things go as planned, will never leave.

We both feel far more connected with the house now that we know some of its history, and appreciate your generosity in sharing. Again, if you’re ever in the bay area and your curiously gets the best of you, drop us a line!


Please don’t go Chinese on them and descend all at once… 🙂 But Michael did offer his email in case anyone would like to touch base or contribute stories (michaelparallel @ gmail.com) For example, Alan Sue (youngest child of the Sue clan) wrote,

Dear Michael and Jessica,

It is so wonderful that our family home has found a new family who has passion and caring for the place we all grew up…I am sure you are filling every corner with love and memories just as my family did for those 30 or so years.

Your pictures were wonderful to see and brought many memories back for me as they did for Linda. I’ve included a few notes below that may offer an additional perspective or two for you both. Enjoy our home and make it your own.

Aj Sue

1. $25,000 ….In the basement in the southwest corner of the utility underground area. There is a support post that may still have a building permit on it that I always found fascinating as a kid. It said that the cost of building 6584 was $25,000. That sounded like a pretty good deal even in the 1970’s ☺

2. You can’t really ever go home…The southwest corner of the bedroom floor used to be my bedroom. During the renovation to build a master bedroom suite, my room was rather unceremoniously subsumed. While I was glad that my parents were able to make their bedroom more comfortable, it is interesting to understand the psychology of losing one’s childhood kingdom.

3. The Wisteria vine on the southwest corner… I love that plant…maybe my favorite plant (generally and specifically) of all time. It’s really pretty and all, but it also possesses an unseen beauty…from the backyard, the bulky trunk spirals form a nearly perfect ladder to the second story deck…great for theoretical sereptitous exits and entries…I have not comment as to when, why, or if any of these unreported departures/returns were made…

4. Redwood, Redwood, Redwood…in this case the lumber, not the tree in the yard. When my father built our home, he was limited in his budget, but unlimited in his vision. This conundrum was solved by a great deal of economy and thriftiness. The original living room, dining room and and office areas were all paneled in tongue-and-groove clear heart redwood that my father had somehow secured from mills (as I heard the story) as offcuts and short lots. It was very rich but also very dark. I have a great affinity for wood as a woodworking hobbiest, but I do like the brighter environment created by the painted finishes in these rooms.

5. The office in the Southwest corner behind the dining room was my mom’s sewing room and pantry. She did a lot of projects and made a lot of clothes for us over the years in that room. The entire south wall was sliding door closets that held enough rations for an army (we were very nearly an army too). There was also a kind of open attic space over the eastern end of this room under the roof peak that was always a source of great mystery to me as this was the place were early purchase Christmas gifts were stored…ah so close and yet so far.

6. The Pond. You should fill this up with water and fish. It was a source of great entertainment over the years as a kid. We had even put a couple of bluegills in it at one point…they did very well, and my cousins and I spent many enjoyable hours feeding them worms and/or fishing for them with stick and line set-ups…it was catch&release though ☺

7. The back yard…all the center area used to be lawn when we were young. I really like the stone paths and think the stone patio area must be a very lovely place to sit and contemplate the world.

8. The olive trees…The olive trees in the front of the house were champion specimens procured following some landscape architecture event in the early days. It looks like the largest one that sat at street level over the mailbox may be gone now…time moves on…

9. It’s all about me…I was 6 months old when we moved into the Saroni house…I like to think that it was really built just for me. But my dad really built for my mom because he would have done anything for her. We all loved the house, but I think my mom loved it the most. She even said that the birthday of the house was valentine’s day (better than some box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers I suppose) and she/we celebrated our home’s birthday every year with a giant chocolate chip pan cookie made in the shape of a heart with little red hots all along the edge and spelling out some happy message or other. It is a great house, it was and is a great home…

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