I came to know Mr. Wendell Funk in the 1960s. My father passed away when I was still young, studying in primary school. My mother had to look after six children by herself. She worked as a workman in the government, earning very little. Luckily we lived in public housing and her small salary was just barely enough to get by. Cost of children’s education was a problem. There was no free education in Hong Kong at that time.
Children were trouble free. We did not actually feel the difficulties. My mother looked after all of us well, and we truly enjoyed ourselves among siblings. While in junior secondary school, someone introduced my family to the Foster Parents Plan. I really could not remember the details as my mother took care of all the arrangements. All I could recall was that Mr. Wendell Funk was my foster father and there was a monthly subsidy of about forty dollars a month. It was a substantial sum as the average monthly salary of a normal worker was only about two hundred dollars a month at that time.
What I could really remember was the regular exchange of letters between us. It was not easy for a secondary school student to write letters in English. He was very kind and told a lot about himself. I knew he was working in the Colorado Mountains, owned a shop selling supplies to skiers. The Foster Parents Plan subsidy stopped when I finished secondary school. Shortly after, our correspondence also stopped. I thought he no longer run the shop in Colorado.
More than forty years passed. My mother passed away in 2005. In sorting through the things she kept, I found several letters from Mr. Wendell Funk, probably unknowingly kept by her at the bottom of the drawer. It brought back some memories. So I started looking for a way to make contact. However, the old address which was only a postal box number was no longer reachable. Furthermore, after so many years, I figured that he should be over eighty by then.
In 2012, I came across an American company on the Internet specialized in selling personal information. I did not know how this company could collect personal information and organize a database. However, as the personal information were open to the public for search at a price, I thought they must have been collected through public sources. The first search was free of charge. So I typed in Wendell Funk for a trial. There were over twenty persons of such name in USA, and the first search could only yield very limited information, including age and the city they lived in. Contact information could be provided paying only a few dollars per name. I therefore chose two names whom were over sixty and were living in the central states near Colorado.
I sent them both a letter explaining the background and my intention. In about a month, a reply arrived from Quincy, Illinois. Mr. Wendell Funk could not remember me, but he did recall sponsoring a child many years ago. But I was sure that I found the right person. I could recognise his handwriting which was the same as the letters he wrote forty years ago. So I sent him a copy of the letter he wrote in 1969. He was very glad in seeing that. It brought back a part of history of him.
We then resumed our regular letter exchange, and I came to know much more about him and his life. First I checked on his address from Google Map and tried to find out his exact location. To my surprise, the address on Google showed that it was the Illinois Veteran Home. He was a ninety years old veteran living there. That was the first time I came to know that he was a soldier in the Second World War.
We talked about religion. I thought Americans before World War II were faithful people. He confessed that his faith cracked at an early age. He studied at a Methodist school. The pastor told him that they were better people than the other students at the Baptist school and Christian school. But his best friend was at the Baptist school and he knew himself was not a better person than him. As he grew up and became more rational, he considered religion was only a delusion. In the 1940s, racial discrimination was rampant in the United States. When he was a young soldier, once he took a bus and went to sit down at the back with black people. The bus driver stopped the bus and ordered him to sit in the front with other white people. He had to reluctantly comply, but he regreted the incident for the rest of his life.
I was curious about his participation in the war. He belonged to the Air Corp of the US Army, a mechanic supporting the air force. His special skill was the maintenance of the dynamo in the engine of aircraft. He said he did not participate in combat duties. His closest experience with the war was a tour at an US air field in Europe behind the front line. His assigned duty was to exchange the batteries of aircrafts. When I browsed Youtube, I accidentally found a video recording of him being interviewed at the Veteran Home. The interview was part of the Hans Holdiman Project recording the comments of veterans on the war. It was prepared for submission to the Library of Congress. The video recordings were the collection of the Quincy University, subsequently uploaded to Youtube. It can still be viewed at http://youtu.be/RDG0FaKxKYU. During the interview, Wendell Funk expressed great regret on the war, which inflicted great misery to mankind. A war should not be started by any country for whatever reason.
In the 1960s, both his parents passed away. Having fallen in love with the outdoor, he moved to Colorado and lived in the mountains. There he started a small retail shop serving the mountain recreationists. It was during this period when he assisted me across the Pacific through the Foster Parents Plan. In our correspondence then, I only learned about his life in the mountains. He seemed to enjoy himself very much in this life style.
Our correspondence broke off thereafter. It turned out that he sold off his shop after ten years in the business and moved to Alaska. He was a bush lodge caretaker there for three years. Alaska was an ever colder place than Colorado. But I think the wilderness would better suit his taste. However, the job folded when the price of crude oil went down in the early eighties.
In 1984, he went for a trip across the Soviet Union. At that time, Soviet Union was still under communist rule and travelling was not easy for an American. He joined a 17-member group with a Russian handler and went to Moscow and Leningrad. We discussed the scenery in Russia. Many communist constructions including the underground were visited, but not surprisingly not many Orthodox churches. He had a good impression of the GUM department store where he spent a few hours. The department store was adjacent to the Red Square, but he could not find it until a young policeman who could speak a little English came to the rescue.
Back from the Soviet Union, he joined the US Peace Corp and went on a two-year tour in Botswana. The Peace Corp was a volunteering service representing USA in developing countries. Volunteers lived and worked in that country and contributed in education, technology transfer and emergency relief. His work in Botswana was the teaching of agriculture at junior secondary level.
After the Botswana tour, he returned to Colorado and undertook a wide variety of jobs. Then he decided to settle down in Illinois in 1996 to be near to his younger brother. In 1998, at the age of 75, he went on a German container ship as the only passenger on a six-month journey around the world.
Finally, in 2004, he went to live in the Illinois Veteran Home. At such old age, he was still considered healthy. There were three grades of care at the Home: self-care, intermediate and intensive. He was at the self-care grade and was assigned a small single room of 9.5 ft by 10 ft, with wash basin and basic furniture. Bath room was just down the hall and the dining hall was two blocks away. He resisted a hip replacement and had to use a cane. Otherwise, he did not have problem walking.
He was a keen writer, and wrote to the local newspapers for a number of times. For his love of nature, he wrote extensively on conservation. His other focus was freedom, and he had great sympathy on the American indians. His 90th birthday was 8 March 2013. I sent him the peotry of Auden as a birthday present. He seemed to be very delighted about it.
Since we resumed correspondence in 2012, he was very deligent in replying. Whenever I sent a letter, a reply from him would arrive in two weeks. Taking into account the postal delivery time, he should have replied it within a few days. However, after April 2013, there was a long pause and I did not receive any reply. In that Summer, there was serious flooding in the middle and southern states of USA. Illinois was in upper Mississippi basin and I thought the flooding could affect that area. Then one day in June, I browsed the Internet and searched for the Herald-Whig, a local newspaper of Quincy, looking for news of flooding there. The river bank was flooded but the city was not affected. Then, to my surprise, I browsed the obituaries and found that Mr Wendell Funk passed away just a week before. May he rest in peace.