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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

'Winkie' Chong, Hilo mainstay, dead at 89

 •  Obituaries

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Educator, businessman and politician Winkie Chong, who died April 25 at age 89, was never idle, said his son, Curtis.

Photo courtesy Chong family

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Wing Kong "Winkie" Chong, a retired educator, businessman and former state representative who was also active in county politics, died April 25 at Hilo Medical Center. He was 89.

Chong was one of 10 children of Charles Man Chong, an immigrant who left plantation work to start successful businesses that included a meat market and Chinese restaurant in downtown Hilo. Chong Street in Hilo was named for the elder Chong.

Winkie Chong was born in 1916, and grew up on Mamo Street working in his father's businesses including the family farm.

"Since young days, he was always working very hard," said Chong's son, Curtis. Winkie Chong graduated from Hilo High School in 1936, and attended Miami University of Ohio.

Curtis Chong said his father originally hoped to become a doctor, but the cost of a medical education was too high, so Winkie Chong selected teaching instead.

He obtained a master's degree in education from Columbia University, and returned to the Big Island to teach at Mountain View Elementary School, Kalaniana'ole Intermediate and Hilo High School.

Chong married Ethel R. Ishii in 1948, and over the years Chong was also a businessman, insurance agent and a farmer raising watercress in the Kaumana area. He was a Boy Scout leader for more than 30 years.

In 1960, Chong was elected as a Republican to the Big Island's county Board of Supervisors and served temporarily as chairman, which at that time was the equivalent of Big Island mayor. He was elected in 1970 to represent Hilo in the Legislature, where he served until 1974.

"He cared for the businesses as well as the small person, and once he was in office, he wasn't jaded by Democrats or Republican" labels, Curtis Chong said. "We was well liked because he was honest. He was a people person."

Winkie Chong was also a lifetime educator who "believes in hard work and never being idle," Curtis Chong said. "He was a very outgoing, warm-hearted person. A handshake was as good as a contract."

Flags in Hawai'i will be flown at half-staff the day of his visitation service, which will be at 8:30 a.m. May 27 at United Community Church. The service will begin at 10, with inurnment to follow at Homelani Cemetery.

Winkie Chong is survived by his wife, Ethel I. Chong; sons Clayton E. Chong and Curtis E. Chong; daughter Elisa Lei Chong; hanai son Ralph Toyofuku; and five grandchildren.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.