Wong continues giving back even in retirement

Published 7:53 pm Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thirty-five years ago, Ed Wong, then a young and still new teacher at Vicksburg High School, was given an additional duty — he became the faculty sponsor for Vicksburg High’s Key Club.

“The principal asked me,” Wong said. “They needed a sponsor, and so I accepted, being young as I was. I took the job on and it became part of my life. It was good for me. It’s sponsored by the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club and as far as community service goes, they were the ones who got me involved in community service because of the Vicksburg Kiwanis is such an active club in itself.”

Wong recently retired from teaching after 37 years, but the Key Club is still a part of his life — and he’s still its sponsor.

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“I was going to give it all up when Mrs. Farrish (teacher Cassandra Farrish) asked me to stay on, because her son, Chris, was in the Key Club,” Wong said. “Education is one of those things I’ve been in for all these years, and it’s almost like an addiction. I have to be weaned off it progressively, and I just take on the things that I like to do and that I still enjoy.

“All the things that I used to do for free are some of the things I still do.”

When he took on the assignment, Wong said he had no idea what he was getting into, “But it kind of grew on me once I familiarized myself with the Kiwanis Club. Two things come out when people asked me what the Key Club does. I said it’s just like Kiwanis in that it’s leadership training, but it’s also community service. They go hand-in-hand.”

He said the Key Clubbers work with the Kiwanis Club, but also do some things on their own.

“Kiwanis has their main projects that we help them with — the K Family Workday, and there’s the Chili Feast and we help sell tickets, and also work with Area 10 Special Olympics, but some of the things we have branched off and done on our own,” Wong said.

“We have the Equi-Able riding program with Mary Hopkins. It’s a therapeutic riding program for disabled and disadvantaged kids.

“We do Challenger League. It’s softball for local special needs athletes. One of the things we’ve added to our list is a Halloween Safety program at local elementary schools.”

He said the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club was responsible for getting him interested in Area 10 Special Olympics.

“It’s been eye opening and enlightening to work with special needs kids,” Wong said. He said the Key Club members work with the Area 10 competitions, such as bowling and track and field.

“The kids do it all. The Key Clubbers do the times and the measurements. And we tear down (dismantle equipment).”

Wong’s work at Vicksburg High doesn’t stop with Key Club. He helps with homecoming and the school’s prom, and handles the public address system for softball, baseball and basketball. He is also a member of the Randy Naylor Foundation Board. Randy Naylor Jr., he said, was one of his students and Key Clubbers.

But Key Club is closest to his heart.

“It was important for me to see the kids outside the classroom,” he said.

“I’ve encountered some really, really great kids over the years, and they’re the kids I teach, but again it’s a different situation.

“We need to get to know each other outside the classroom environment. I think it makes a huge difference; we get to see the human side of each other. Sometimes, they don’t get to see the teachers as human, and sometimes we don’t get to see the students as humans.”

He said he is always looking for projects for the Key Club.

“I think community service is good for them; it’s good for the soul. College is also looking for that, too. Colleges are looking for grades, but they’re also looking for community service and leadership opportunities, and these community service projects give us a chance to do that.

“I always tell people, I don’t mind them calling asking if Key Club can do this or that, because at least it gives us an opportunity to address it or turn it down.”

He has three criteria for a project: is it a worthy project? Is it something educational where they will get something out of it? Can they do it together, and can they have fun?

“If it just meets two of the three criteria, we’ll probably accept it.”

A native of Rolling Fork, Wong came to Vicksburg when his family moved here in 1960. He graduated from what was then H.V. Cooper High School, the forerunner to VHS.

He said there was some concern returning to Vicksburg to teach.

“It was eye opening. I’m a child of the 60s, so there was a lot more rebellion, a lot more questioning of authority, and I thought, ‘Oh lord, am I going to go back to that?’ So it was different.

“I was in my second year when I became sponsor. I was young; I was starting out. I used to tell young teachers, ‘You need to make yourself indispensible; you need to make yourself too valuable to fire or let you go.’”

He said there are things he misses in his retirement.

“I miss the classroom, I miss those teachable moments, and I miss when I read something that you can bring up in the classroom.”

But community service is something that has stayed with him.

“The community service is something I think its habit forming,” he said. “Whatever I do it’s on me, there’s no burden or pressure on me.”

He said it took time to get used to Key Club.“It’s like teaching. I had somebody tell me you never get comfortable at teaching something new until you’ve done it probably three years. Once I did it for as couple years, I became comfortable with it and I learned to enjoy it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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