Dr. Esther S. Lee Yao was a committed stay-home housewife and mother of two young girls in the early 1970s. She often jokingly graded her career as “B” but “A” for being a wife and a mother. Yet, her devotion to serve people in a broad spectrum never ceased throughout her life. In addition to the history of OCA and OCAW in a separate section, she also established, organized and participated in a number of non-political community organizations, events and activities. Consequently, she was honored by the University of Houston/Clear Lake with Distinguished Service Award for her accomplishes in both academic and non-academic sectors. The following section merely reflects her early services in the Houston area in addition to numerous governmental advisory boards, committees, and commissions at all levels listed in her vita.
In January 1998, Dr. Lee resumed her teaching career at Southern Arkansas University as a full professor of Education. The following fall, she accepted the position as the Department Chair of Education at DePauw University. She continued to pursue her career in Higher Education until she retired from Troy University/Montgomery as the Dean of the Graduate School in January 2006.
During Dr. Lee’s tenue at the three above mentioned universities, she remained to serve the public via her appointments. She was appointed by Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas to serve on the Early Childhood Education Commission. Later she was appointed to serve on the Teacher Education Committee of Indiana Professional Standards Board and the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women in the US Department of Justice.
Chinese Churches – 1972 to 1982
Religion has played a guiding role and always the major ingredient of Esther’s life since her baptism at age 12. She fully understood God’s sovereignty in her life. After she had her first daughter in the fall, 1971, she re-dedicated herself to Jesus Christ. From that point, two songs: Have Thine Own Way Lord and Living for Jesus, have dominated her life.
After moving to Houston with her late husband, Stanton in February 1972, she felt the calling to a vast land/opportunity to plant the seeds of the gospels/good tidings. To reach out to more than 200 Chinese American families in Clear Lake City (CLC), where the Johnson Space Center is located, she came up with the ideas of forming a Chinese class for American-born Chinese children and a Chinese American Family Discussion Group (on parenting skills). Both started in the Spring 1972, soon after their arrival in CLC. There were only two additional Chinese Christian families in the area: Peggy and Herbert King (been there for several years then), and Cynthia and Ronald Chen (shortly before Esther’s arrival). The Chinese class started in her 2-BR apartment in CLC in Spring, 1972. Since the Yaos bought their first house and moved to Sagemont, the Chinese class had to be relocated to local Nassau Bay Baptist Church. For three years prior to her part-time teaching appointment with University of Houston/Clear Lake (UHCL) in Spring 1975, she devoted herself to these two above mentioned projects.
Meanwhile, she and her husband joined a local Chinese Mission which later became Houston Chinese Church. She played the piano while her husband directed the choir. She directed the choir briefly and had the Cantata, No Greater Love, with slide presentation for an Easter celebration.
The Yaos moved back to Clear Lake City (CLC) soon after the University of Houston/Clear Lake (UHCL) offered Esther a full-time position as an assistant professor in August 1975. She had prayed for three years to return to Clear Lake City for God’s ministry. She requested God to increase their income by $100 so they could afford the housing in Clear Lake City. How could she know that God was greater and more generous than her expectation? HE GAVE HER A JOB! As a result, the Yaos were able to move back to Clear Lake City into a two-story home in a nice subdivision.
This new home with a large living room was purchased for their bi-weekly Christian fellowship. They invited the pastor from the Houston Chinese Church to CLC to preach regularly. To attract local Chinese Americans, Esther prepared the best Chinese “Dim Sums” that were not available at that time in Chinese restaurants. From this bi-weekly fellowship, the Clear Lake Chinese Church was later formed with the support of the Houston Chinese Church. Esther was active as a pianist, babysitter and cook for the Sunday lunches. Her involvement was diminished and eventually ended as a result of the church interpreter’s assault on Faith, her older daughter in the women’s room. Finally, Esther and her two girls went to the Clear Lake University Baptist Church around 1982. Stanton, her late husband, stayed at the Chinese Church.
Space City Chinese School Founded in March, 1972
(later named Clear Lake Chinese School)
Shortly after Esther and her late husband, Stanton’s arrival in Houston from W. Lafayette, IN she started the weekend Chinese School at their two-bedroom apartment in Clear Lake City, Houston. At that time, her first daughter, Faith, was only three-month old. Esther was convinced that American born Chinese (ABC) should be able speak Chinese. At that time, daily Chinese classes were only available after regular American school, in Cantonese in Chinatown. They were designed for those early Cantonese speaking immigrants’ descendants. Later Chinese immigrants who arrived after WW II, especially after the open immigration policy effective in 1967, were highly educated and lived in an integrated community. Their children could not attend the Chinese classes/schools held in Chinatown. In addition, back to early 1970s, Chinatowns could only be found in major cities in the East and West coasts. Thus, Esther started a weekend Chinese class named Space City Chinese School, for those new immigrants’ children. The classes were staffed by volunteer mothers initially. With the support of Cynthia Chan and Peggy King, this new concept of Chinese class was formally established and held at Esther’s King’s Park Apartment in Clear Lake for a few months. Cynthia was responsible for “operation”; Esther was responsible for teaching the Bible stories in Chinese and Peggy was in charge of the singing in Chinese. All three were Christians and committed to Jesus. Once the Yaos relocated to the Sagemont area, the class had to be moved to the Nassau Bay Baptist Church in fall 1972.
This Space City Chinese School was growing so rapidly that it caught the attention of the Ministry of Overseas Chinese (MOC) of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The minister of MOC and some legislators even came to Nassau Bay Baptist Church to visit the school. Their visits were reported by Peggy King on Central Daily News published in Taiwan. Some interested parents from other parts of the greater Houston areas also came to learn about it so they could establish their own locally, including the well-known Evergreen Chinese School in Houston. There were some articles written about the growth of the school and can be found in a separate file/section of this website.
Space City Chinese Family Discussion Group in 1972
In addition to the Chinese School which was considered a ministry for Esther, she also formed the Space City Chinese Family Discussion Group at the same time, spring 1972. This group met monthly to share their parenting skills and experiences. A majority of the Chinese American families had young children. Esther at times was the speaker but most of the time acted as a moderator. She applied her minor in Child Development and Family Life (CDFL) to this group. A majority of the participants were professionally related to the Johnson Space Center. They also met for dinners on Chinese holidays or special events.
Chinese Amateur Musicians Association in 1972
Some time in 1972 or so, Peggy King and Esther started the Chinese Amateur Musicians Association. For several years, recitals were held and later even a chorus was formed under the leadership of Peggy King and other Chinese musicians.
Women Voters’ League in 1975
In order to get into the mainstream society, Esther chose to join the local Women Voters’ League in 1975. She was not very active but learned a lot from non-partisan civic groups. However, the recognition of the People’s Republic China by President Jimmy Carter’s administration prompted Esther to switch her focus from non-political to a political concern for Chinese Americans in 1979.
Young Musical Festival in 1979
In viewing so many musically talented Chinese American children in the Greater Houston area, Esther initiated the first and only Young Musical Festival with the support of Wing Eng, a piano teacher. It was held at Houston Room, Houston Center, University of Houston with two sessions based on participants’ age on June 16, 1979.
Esther basically concluded her non-political community activities after she became involved in the Republican Party even though she still played a key role in Chinese Church and Chinese School until mid-1980s.
Kuang Jen Children’s Symphony from Taiwan in 1981
Esther led a group of American graduate students, who were school administrators, to Taiwan and Korea in June 1981 for a study tour as invited by the Korean UNESCO. During their visit in Taipei, they were all very impressed with the Kuang Jen Children’s Symphony’s performance. As a result, within less than two months, two of the US school administrators extended an invitation to them and arranged two concerts in Galveston (August14, 1981) and Alvin, TX (August 15, 1981). Esther was one of the key organizers for these two events. The details of their visit to Houston can be found in separate MGI file/section under Esther’s community involvement.
Minority Businesswomen Workshop Held on August 22, 1981
Esther was a speaker addressing the issues related to minority women. She was paid tribute in the following years’ conference as a result of her community involvement.
Annual Chinese Lunar New Year Festival at UHCL launched on Feb. 8, 1982
Dr. Esther Lee recognized the increasing number of Chinese students attending at UHCL. Later she became the faculty advisor to the Chinese Student Organization. For the Lunar New Year of 1982, Dr. Lee, with support from Chinese students and community supporters, launched an annual New Year Festival on February 8, 1982. The purpose of the event was to introduce Chinese culture to local Clear Lake residents. The program consisted of Chinese food stands, displays and sale of Chinese artifacts, Chinese traditional costume show and demonstration of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Esther wrapped and deep fried several hundred thin skinned/wrapped egg rolls for sale to raise money for the Chinese Student Organization of UHCL. She deep fried the homemade egg rolls and delivered to campus via several trips. This annual event lasted for many years and generated great public interests in Chinese culture and traditions.
Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) and OCAW beginning in 1978 - 84
This is the story about Dr. Esther Lee’s involvement in the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) and Organization of Chinese American Women (OCAW).
Many right-wing Chinese Americans including Esther’s ex-husband, in Houston went to the street in 1979, to protest President Jimmy Carter’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a communist regime. Esther did not go because she believed that President Carter’s failure to consult Chinese American leaders in advance was due to their non-existing political muscle in the White House. It’s the fault of the Chinese Americans who were not actively involved in the mainstream political arena. On the contrary, they tried to stay away from politics as a result of their past experiences. Traditionally, politics was a risky business in China and could easily lead to the annihilation of an entire clan. Yet, Esther learned of the successful political involvement of the Jewish Americans; any US president would not take any major diplomatic move without consulting the Jewish leaders or input from the Jewish community. Thus, Esther started searching for a nationwide Chinese American civil and non-partisan organization. After finding the OCA with its HQ in Washington, DC Esther discontinued her involvement in the Women Voters' League in 1975.
She received the reply from Hayden Lee, Executive Director of OCA in Washington, DC on February 26, 1979 and started forming the Houston Chapter. The first meeting of the local chapter was held on July 4th, 1979. Normally, it’s more comfortable to speak one’s native tongue with fellow countrymen. This was the first time that Esther had to conduct meetings in English with Chinese American attendees since some of them were American born and only spoke English. All the events/activities, correspondence, meeting minutes, financial information and newspaper clippings were recorded and stored in a CD. Esther asked Mr. William Derbing, an American born Chinese, to serve as the first chapter president (1979-80) due to his prior knowledge of OCA. Esther was the president for 1980-81 and Laura Chiu became president for 1981-82.
Because of Esther’s leadership shown as an OCA’s national board member she was recruited by the national Organization of Chinese American Women (OCAW) and elected as the national VP for Communication and Public Relations in October, 1980. She was responsible for mass media and publication. She wrote articles about OCAW and OCAW used to be part of the OCA for its female members. As a result of federal grants from WEEA (Women’s Educational Equity Act Program, U.S. Department of Education), OCAW became independent in terms of organization and financial matters from OCA in late 1979. OCAW had several projects including Chinese American Women Educational Equity Program with several conferences and workshops at different major cities, such as “Emerging Chinese and Asian American Women: Self-Realization and Career Fulfillment” presented at two or three locations.
OCAW had its own officers and board members. The leadership was very strong and committed to supporting women to effectively play the dual role as both homemakers and wage earners. It published a newsletter entitled, “SPEAKS.” Esther was greatly inspired and empowered by their conviction. She first learned the word “networking” from its executive director, Pauline W. Tsui. Her experiences with OCAW benefited her career development tremendously. She learned to be assertive and became more confident than before. Later, Esther encouraged other emerging women leaders to found a San Jose Chapter of OCAW that is still active up to date.
Esther attended one OCAW national conference entitled: Emerging Chinese and Asian American Women: Self Realization and Career Fulfillment at the American University, Washington, DC on June 6-7 in 1981 and organized several events for Chinese and Asian women in Houston including one seminar held on March 6, 1982 at Houston Chinese Church, 10305 Main St. “Self-Realization and Career Management.” Over hundred people attended. It was required to have the same title under the federal grant received by the OCAW.
The letter to Esther dated September 14, 1982 from the National OCAW summarized the background and progress of the organization. (file: xfrOCAWHQ140982). Esther was a speaker at the OCAW conference in Los Angeles in July 10-11, 1982. She was re-elected as the VP for Communications and Public Relations of the National OCAW in February, 1983 (file:xfrOCAWHQ280283). Esther also attended the National Conference in Washington, DC, June 19-20, 1983. The programs and activities of the OCAW could be identified in the correspondences, i.e., file: xfrOCAWHQ160283.
Since Esther was the founder of both Houston OCA and OCAW chapters she tried to involve both groups for commons goals and interests including a joint workshop “Career Advancement Conference” on April 16, 1983 (file: MunitesjointmeetingOCA&OCAW290183). The first Asian councilwoman and Deputy Mayor of Monterey Park, CA, Lilly Lee Chen – later became mayor – was invited to be the keynote speaker. She was elected to be the president at the National conference in June 1983. Later, Laura Chiu and Grace Hsu succeeded Esther as the local chapter presidents.
All the details could be found in the CD in OCAW files.
Esther basically concluded her non-political community activities after she became involved in the Republican Party even though she still played key role in Chinese Church and Chinese School until mid-1980s.