Mckinney Courier-gazette > News
Somewhere, beyond the Sea
By J.B. Blocker, First Jobs series
CPA Jennifer Fung has been the Executive Director of Finance for the City of McKinney for more than 12 years.
According to former Councilman and local businessman Thad Helsley, “Jennifer was a great hire for the city. She is forthcoming and accurate with her assessments and financial analysis. You can always count on her department to be clear and dependable with their handling of facts and figures. Her staff is efficient, and she has continually earned the respect of the council.”
Married to Chris Willis, a now retired businessman with a love for Ballroom Dancing, they raised two children in McKinney, and they now attend the University of North Texas.
When I met up with Jennifer, I asked her how much she made in China at her first job.
“Oh, I think it was about $3.”reflects the CPA.
Three dollars? That’s what I made per hour in the 1970s as a feedlot cowboy in North Texas.
“No, no, that’s $3 a day at a 5 to 1 conversion rate! That would be about 60 cents a day here,” she said.
What was life like for an aspiring young Chinese girl in the 1960s?
“That was such a different time and place. You see these pictures of little girls hauling 5 gallon tins of water? That was me and everyone else in our District.
“There were central watering pump for the public that were only available on certain days. Everyone had to have enough water on hand to last a few days. There was no running water, and therefore, no sanitary toilet facilities.
“Our family of six lived fairly well by those standards. Each day, my father would give my mother $1 to feed the family with. I remember that she allotted 30 cents for meat. Each day, she would shop to see what was the most meat she could buy that day for 30 cents. We had small garden to grow a few vegetables and fruit, and we had some chickens for eggs.
“My father, Fung Chow Kong worked in the kitchens of hotels preparing Haute Cuisine to the wealthy mostly British patrons, but we didn’t see much of that. I do remember the traditional Christmas pudding that he liked to make.
“Father did not want me to pursue a higher education. Even though he was educated and wanted to be a teacher. On the day he was waiting for a train to Nan King to begin a job, the war started and he ended up working in kitchens.
“School was six days a week and our summer vacations were for seven weeks. But the school sent us off with five weeks worth of homework to be turned in before starting the next grade. I loved education!
“The common feeling of my parents was that the more educated a woman was, the harder it would be to find a suitable husband! They were right about that, and I like to say that I ended up marrying a barbarian.”
to a goal
“I worked at a camera manufacturer for a very short time for about $3 a day. It was simple work.
“I glued a little button on one of the nobs of a camera all day. When I graduated from high school, I went to work for the Hong Kong Telephone company in customer service at $300 a month Hong Kong. I eventually had my pay increased to $1,400.
“Over those seven years, I dearly wanted to have a higher education, and so I saved. It’s kind of a miracle that I finally was able to follow my dream.
“I applied for scholarships to Universities in England and Canada but friends kept telling me about the low tuition for Pacific Rim students in Hawaii.
“The U.S. was my last choice. You see, in Hong Kong at the time, the United Kingdom was what we knew. I finally was accepted to the University of Hawaii in ’77. I finished my degree at Brigham Young U. Hawaii in ’80 and was the class Valedictorian. The tuition was $450 per year back then for students from the Orient.
“My hard work paid off because I received a fellowship and full scholarship to Washington State University where I completed my Masters in Mathematics.
“It is such a strong memory for me when my father finally congratulated me for my determination and told me of his pride at my accomplishment.”
“I went on to a professorship, and then on to becoming an Internal Bank Auditor.
“Now, McKinney is home, and I am very proud to be a part of this city. The people here have been very supportive and welcoming to me and my family.
“If I can share one lesson to the young people it is this, ‘It doesn’t matter where you begin your journey, it’s where you are going that counts.’ ”
Even though her parents did not support Jennifer’s desires to be educated, they came around. You must believe in yourself and never let obstacles get in the way.
Find a way!
It took Jennifer Fung Willis seven years to finally go to college. Look at her now.
J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Historic Downtown McKinney, Texas.