By Susan Cheever
Oct 17, 2016

Legacy of Scouting Spans Three Generations for Chinese-American Family

Ephraim Ong passed his Eagle Board of Review in April this year. His innovative project prompted the Scout Council to ask for more details. He shared a story of a strong legacy of Scouting in his Chinese-American family.

3generations of eagle scouts

Ted, Jacob, and Ephraim Ong, 3 generations of Eagles.

The legacy began with Ted H. Ong, grandfather of Ephraim Ong and father of Jacob. Ted’s grandfather first came to the United States, but because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, he was the first generation born in the United States. He grew up in Holbrook, Arizona where his father, a WWII veteran and an Arizona Senior Citizen of the year for his role in helping the Chinese community, and his mother owned a restaurant and two motels. Ted said, “The neighbors were LDS, so we wanted to join Cub Scouts, but there was no space, so I joined Boy Scouts at age twelve.”

Beginning the Legacy

Ted loved Scouts. He said, “My favorite merit badge was camping because Boy Scouts was my first experience camping.” He had an exceptional Scoutmaster, Phil Gardner, who served as Scoutmaster for decades. He taught them the patrol method, which Ted said “allowed leadership opportunities and promoted healthy competition.” Ted loved being with friends, learning about the outdoors, leading, and serving. He is so grateful for the examples of honorable men who helped guide his life. They all became a part of his family legacy. It was through Scouting that he was exposed to Christianity. In Scouts he embraced the principles of the Scout Law and the Scout Oath. His friends in his troop, which was sponsored by the LDS Church, began inviting him to seminary and to Church. Right before he went to college he joined that church, and has received many blessings as a result.

Scouting Forward

Ted was able to attend Stanford University, where Henry B. Eyring was his Bishop. Many years later he was called as a mission President in Hong Kong. He describes that experience as being a little like taking 150 Boy Scouts on a campout through an entire country for a year.

He notes that parental support, particularly the support of mothers, is very important to the success of Scouts. His own parents were very good parents and also very busy, working long hours seven days a week to build a bright future for him and his four siblings, including his older brother Luke Ong, an Eagle Scout. He likens his experience to being “nurtured by nursing mothers,” a reference to a sacred title used in the Book of Mormon to refer to women who bear or adopt children and care for them. He said the mothers of his friends supported him right along with their own sons. Below see the talk and challenge Ted gave at his grandson’s Eagle Court of Honor.

Ted said, “I loved Scouting, being with friends, learning about the outdoors, learning leadership, serving others, and seeing the example of exemplary men who helped guide my life.” He elaborated, “As a troop we had each other’s backs, so bullying was not an issue because you had the support of friends in the troop that prevented being the victim of bullies.”

A Mother’s Influence

Ted’s son Jacob gives his mother and wife a lot of credit for supporting their Scouts and knowing how to encourage them with love, persistence, and diligence. Those supportive women are central to the Scouting legacy their family enjoys. Jacob’s mother has passed away and his father has since married Wai-Ching, the mother of two Eagle Scouts. Her son Ken has served as a Cubmaster and her son Ian is a professor of history and has published a paper on Chinese-American Boy Scouts. She said she came to this country from China as a single mother of two sons, and she wanted them to have strong role models and meaningful activities. She loved Scouting’s emphasis on service and leadership. In Scouts her boys learned to organize their time so they could do all that they needed to do. They also learned to be kind and help other people. They learned on campouts that sometimes you have to get by with what you have. Both of her boys recognize the lifelong impact Scouting has had on them. She said, “Academics is very important in Asian culture. Grades are important and developing musical talents; they practice long hours. Scouts helped them become more well-rounded. I wish more Asians recognized how valuable and meaningful Scouting could be for the boys.” It helped her boys have experiences that they would not have chosen on their own that helped them to have more complete character development.

The Legacy Continues

When Jacob was young his family lived in Burbank, California. His father was the branch president of a Los Angeles Chinese branch that did not have a Scouting program. He was very excited to move to Carlsbad, CA when he was 8 1/2 because he could be a Cub Scout. He has happy memories of making a pinewood derby car with his dad, getting beads from Sister Kit McDermed for coming on time and participating, and earning his Arrow of Light. Cub Scouting gave great opportunities for meaningful interaction with adults who cared about him: leaders and his parents.

At Mataguay Scout Camp in San Diego Jacob overcame uncertainty to participate in a triathlon which he ended up winning. That taught him how much fears can limit us from reaching the great potential we have. He was touched that Bob Ek presented him an old shoe spray-painted with gold paint. He remembers stories from his father about receiving encouragement from his leaders to achieve a seemingly impossible physical challenge for a required merit badge. Jacob shared an experience of having his father go to Scout Camp with him. At a campfire program a leader made a derogatory joke about Native Americans and Ted told the camp director he felt like the joke was inappropriate. Jacob was touched by his father’s courage to stand up for morality, and that legacy has inspired him to take a stand and share his opinion about issues that are important to him like the need to avoid filthy media. Jacob’s courage grew as he did hard things.

Jacob says, “I remember how scared I was to call up a fireman and ask him to come talk to our Scout troop for my Eagle project. The Eagle project was one of the hardest things I had accomplished as a teenager because my mom and my Scout leaders wouldn’t do the project for me but knew that the experience of learning to communicate at an adult level would be a useful lifelong skill. I used to be extremely shy, but Scouting prepared me for a mission, and both Scouting and my mission prepared me for the difficult task of opening my own law firm and finding clients. My friends now comment that I have a talent for networking.”

As he was learning to rappel off a hellhole, his Scoutmaster didn’t dictate every detail of hand and body positioning but gave him the right combination of instructions and hints to allow him to figure it out. He had a huge sense of accomplishment when he succeeded. The boys were annoyed when that same Scoutmaster, Duane Neyens, cut off any buttons on their uniforms that were unbuttoned. They won an award at Scout Camp for being an exemplary troop.

Another Scoutmaster, Abelardo Cabacungan, taught him to use creativity to solve problems when strength alone was not sufficient. He taught him to be prepared and showed he really cared about those he served. On one desert campout they slept under a rock ledge and hiked through desert brush in the darkness to get to their campsite. Jacob said, “After the campout, I learned from my mom that Brother Cabacungan had been prepared with extra jugs of water in case we had not brought enough. I hadn’t even thought about how important it was to have a backup supply of water, and I am grateful in hindsight for all of the preparation of our leaders which ensured that we kept safe.”

Jacob still picks up pieces of trash he finds on the ground, a habit that began in Scouting. He grew up to become a patent attorney, and in that profession he uses the skills he learned in the Mammal Study, Environmental Science, Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World merit badges.

Ephraim’s Turn


Ephraim and his brothers returning from a competition.

Jacob’s son, Ephraim, just earned his Eagle this year. He was living in Utah, but his family is embarking on a new adventure, living in Taiwan for a year. His mother Brenda is from Taiwan and didn’t understand much about Scouting. She saw the 100th Anniversary of Scouting in the LDS Church program and caught the vision. She realized that Scouting was to help boys become better men.

Ephraim has two younger brothers who are Cub Scouts. His mother said, “I was touched when I asked Ephraim, my Eagle Scout, to help his brother work on his Arrow of Light and he did it without complaining.  He did such a great job teaching Zion some of the skills that he needed for the Arrow of Light award.”  She is impressed that her husband and sons have learned cooking skills and how to light a campfire. Mostly she is grateful that her boys are learning to solve their own problems and grow up to be responsible men who can lead.


Group picture at Ephraim’s Bot Builder camp

Ephraim’s favorite Merit Badge was Climbing. It exposed him to something new and taught him skills he will use again. His hobby is robotics, and through Scouting he was able to use those robotics skills to serve his community. For his Eagle project he designed a BotBuilder camp for the Saratoga Springs Library. He created a manual that included materials, instructions, online resources, and missions so that the library can repeat the camp. He ran a session of the camp and was able to refine his plan based on his experience. See Ephraim learned he could accomplish challenging things by being prepared and living the Scout law; recently, he and a group of friends created an app for recycling and presented the app at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge finals.

Ephraim commented, “Scouting didn’t teach me leadership by words, it taught me how to be a leader by the experience. As a senior patrol leader I learned how to plan activities and how to get people involved instead of doing everything.”

That experience has helped Ephraim as he adjusts to life in Taiwan, where, according to Ephraim, “many Taiwanese kids study hard for school entrance exams so they don’t think they have time for Scouts.” Ephraim will have the experience of being a Lone Scout this year. He has found the leadership training he gained in Boy Scouts helps him in group activities in Taiwan like preparing for a relay.  He recently placed 2nd in the 100-m dash at a Lutheran school in Taiwan and enjoys their version of Scouting. As he makes new friends and joins them on a campout, he will continue the family legacy.

Susan Cheever
Author: Susan Cheever | Development Assistant, Utah National Parks Council

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