By Billy Lee，September 2018
April 2012, Women of China Magazine, a publication in English by ACWF – All China Women’s Federation, included an article I wrotetitled ‘HOME STAYS – Building Amazing Cross-cultural Friendship’. I mentioned in that article that Stanford Alumni Magazine revealed that my Menlo Park neighbors, Mr.and Mrs Robert King had made an amazing donation of 150 million US dollars to Stanford Business School to come up with ideas to assist poor developing countries. It also stated that the Kings were inspired by 4 decades of Homestays they had provided to some wonderful foreign students who came to study at Stanford.
I was greatly moved and was also surprised that the providers of Homestays could be so inspired while I, as a foreign student on the receiving end, could only understand the feeling of Gratefulness. Home Stays build amazing cross-cultural friendships, indeed.
In this article, I want to remember many encounters I had experienced with American Families and members who have become my most enduring friends. I decided that the title should be ‘ My More Than 65 Years of HomeStays in America.’
I was only 14 ½ years old when I was sent to America from Shanghai to pursue a Western education. My father entrusted my older brother and me to his Amherst room-mates, President Charles Cole of Amherst College and Kenneth Higgins, a successful Private Investment Banker in Worcester, Mass.. We were to stay with the Higgins Family – consisting of Uncle Kenneth, Aunt Poly, and their two sons Billy and Dickie – one year and two years younger than me.
I remember best the Winter holidays we spent at their hillside Colonial Style home at Drury Lane. Uncle Kenneth took us to practice football in a neighborhood park.Dickie in football gears tackled me with full speed and I was knocked almost unconscious. Another time we went skating at a pond, and the neighboring girls were screaming in delight when they saw me on skates my very first time.I actually stood up and started wiggling around but not knowing how to stop. One time we were playing pool in the basement, I missed an easy shoot and started to swear “Jesus“ which I learned from some friends at Andover. As Catholics, the Higgins taught me that was not a nice expression. So ever since I started yelling “Geewhiz” instead .
Uncle Kenneth and Aunt Polly were devote Catholics but they never pushed their religion on me and my brother. They did introduce us to Santa, however. Santa was a jolly old fellow who brought us each wonderful gifts on Christmas Eves.
I went to a summer camp in New Hampshire with Billy and against the Grey. Billy was captain one year as he excelled in swimming and riflery. Dickie excelled in swimming and baseball. To my surprise I was the fastest runner in Track and I won the seniors tennis tournament by my amazing defense. I hardly had any winning shots but won finally by the opponents’ own mistakes. The Higgins Brothers and the Lee Brothers enjoyed a very natural bond,indeed. We have shared both laughs and tears as we grew up together.
During the four years at Phillips Academy Andover, I remember special kindness from the following people. First, my freshman year housemaster, Harold Howe III, who became Secretary of Education in President Johnson’s administration. He and Mrs. Howe took us foreign students who were left on campus during holidays, to go climb Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire. Home Stay in the mountains with the Howes was my first and most exhilarating encounter with Big Nature.
The second very kind person was my Andover dorm mate, Gordon Hammond, who not only helped me in my studies, but also invited me to spend Thanksgiving with his family in New Hampshire. I believe that his mother, two younger sisters and younger brother had never shook hands with a Chinese before. Nevertheless, they all embraced me with much affection as well as curiosity. Gordon’s family was not well-to-do. Mrs. Hammond, a single mother with four young children, had to work as a nanny for a wealthy family, but the Hammonds extended me great warmth and joy instead of special materialistic treats. I especially enjoyed playing in the haystacks with the Hammond kids, and I even enjoyed the smell of fermenting apple cider in the jars covering almost half of their porch. I still correspond with Gordon and his sister Paula every now and then. We hope to have a reunion in the not too distant future.
The third person was none other than my roommate, Doug Adkins, during the final two years at PA. He had also invited me to his home in New Jersey several times. His brother Win was also in our class of PA’51. While I was the Captain of the Varsity Soccer Team, Doug served as the team’s Manager. We also worked together as student waiters at the Commons – another name for dinning hall. We were privileged to bring extra milk and buns back to our dorm. Doug always seemed to be hungry as he kept himself occupied with many self-invented extra-curricular activities.
The forth party was in fact two persons, Bill and John Wright. Bill was a year ahead of me and John one year behind. Their father was Governor Wright whose family owned a huge property in Deeth Nevada. For several years they had invited three to four Andover students each summer to go work on their Ranch and experience briefly a rough and tough Western Cowboy-style living. Steve Yamamoto from Tokyo, Japan and I from Shanghai, China were invited to share this Home Stay on The Ranch that summer just after our graduation. It was a hot summer with lots of Steaks for supper. Many co-workers were outlaws and escapees. I learned more variations of swear words and swearing expressions which I knew my Uncle Kenneth would not approve. They were uttered constantly by the Ranch Supervisor’s 12-year old son who was already allowed to drive a truck and to give tractor driving lessons to us foreign students from the East-coast private school. Most exciting was to hear about the sojourns to the brothels told by couple of these tough ranchers who could bend one-inch-diameter iron rods by their two bare hands.
Three families stood out during my years at Yale. Art Kramer who was my Freshman Counselor had a truly kind and caring heart. As did Mr. Arthur Howe III at Andover, Art – not yet married at that time – invited me to visit his home in Washington D.C. where I met his parents and his younger brother Larry who is now well known for championing Lesbian and Gay causes. Many years later Art and his wife Alice had a beautiful house built near New Cannon Connecticut. He again invited me to have HomeStay with them. The weekend included a friendly tennis game on their private tennis court.
The second family who embraced me most warmly in New Haven was the John Q. Tilsons. Indeed, Congressman Tilson and Mrs. Tilson were god parents to my Uncle Smilie Chang who studied at Yale College and later married my father’s no. one younger sister when he returned to Shanghai. I was to address the elder Tilsons Grand Pa and Grand Ma Tilson. They invited me to their home for dinner or Sunday Family gatherings many times.In fact thru the Tilsons, Senator Prescott Bush from Connecticut helped me obtain my immigration status via the special Refugee Relief Act. I am deeply indebted to the Tilsons and the Bushes, and I have voted for the Bushes for Presidents mostly out of gratitude. Indeed, my number- one-son Prescott was named after Senator Prescott Bush – George Herbert Bush’s father, George W. Bush’s Grandpa.
The third family I hold most dearly in my heart is the Gregg Family from Darien, Connecticut. David Gregg III seeked me out among others to be his future roommate at Pierson College after our Freshman Year. We were both on the Yale Varsity Soccer Team and David already knew that he wanted to study International Business and Diplomacy. Mrs. Gregg, whom I later addressed as Virginia, seemed to care for me more than my own mother. She had David invite me to the Debutant Balls at Plaza Hotel in New York City couple of times. They got a tux for me, fixed me up with cheerful blind dates and taught me all the Etiquettes. Knowing that I was going to study Architecture, they invited me to stay with them in Darien during the summer and arranged for me to work for a local building contractor to gain actual experience. Years later when I started my professional architecture practice, I got my fist commission to design a vacation complex on St. John’s Island in the Caribbean where several of Mr. and Mrs. Gregg’s friends from Darien and New Cannon had just purchased a beautiful piece of property. Mr. David Gregg II, Virginia, and David III are all in Heaven now. I still connect with David’s Wife Sarah, his brother Arthur, and his daughter Tina regularly.
Home Stay Invitations were offered most frequently when I did not have a home of my own. After marriage I had only occasional HomeStays when I traveled to far away cities. I remember staying over at Pete Acker’s home in Akron, Ohio when I was going to make an architectural presentation to the Higbee Co. Chairman in Cleveland for Lawrence Halprins’ Environmental Planning Firm. Pete and I hadn’t seen each other for years after we graduated from Andover. We both remembered fondly Mr. Harold Howe III’s European History Course. Pete got an A, and I a C-. We both laughed when he remembered that I received the ‘Most Improvement Prize’ at graduation.
I was offered HomeStay by George Webb in Darien Connecticut when I told him about the ‘ Chinese Children’s Art on The Environment’ exhibit which I persuaded the New Cannan Library and The Nature Center to co-sponsor in New Cannan. George was a year ahead of me at Andover, and he later became a Founder of a top executive recruit firm in N.Y. City, after his graduation from Princeton. George and his wife Jean treated me royally, but most importantly we were really grateful for the opportunity to get together and to chat about old times. Again we got acquainted thru soccer. George was a fantastic and amazingly courageous goal-tender. On this occasion, however, I tried to learn from him the art in evaluating potential executives.
One of my most trusted friends was indeed John Howson, Captain of our Yale 1955 soccer team. He played right half-back, while I played left wing, so we were always testing each other during practice. John was a methodical person, and in fact became a highly respected patent lawyer. He was very thoughtful and meticulous, and soon after he and Mary got married, he asked me to design their home in Chappaqua New York, a suburb of New York City. If was truly laborious working for me as he wanted me to explain every minute detail in the design, and then he would translate every bit to Mary, his most gentle and attentive wife.
But after the house was constructed, he loved it so much he stayed in that same house until he passed away last year. I can not forget that three years ago, when he learned that I was going to pass by N.Y.C. on my way to my 60th Andover Reunion, he offered me Home Stay for a few days in his house which I designed for his family almost 50 year ago. They thanked me profusely for the joy their family including three grown children shared in that modern-colonial house. They told me that all the rooms had experienced no changes except paint colors or decorative wall papers. Only the kitchen was refurbished with more modern cooking stoves and a more energy saving refrigerator. Mary was so proud that John had taken up culinary art and wine savoring. In fact John put on his puffed-up white cooking hat and prepared a fantastic sirloin steak for us. It was the best I have ever had. I was treated as a special guest but then they also treated me as their own brother. Such are the feelings only Home Stays can generate. I feel grateful that I have so many wonderful American Friends who generously offer me HomeStays everywhere I travel.
I feel my entire – more than 65 years – life in America can be defined by this series Of Beautiful HomeStays. I am so grateful for having so many wonderful friends. I am 100% convinced that HomeStay Is A Beautiful Way To Build Amazing Cross-cultural Friendships.