In March 1903, Rev James Mathew Hoover (Pensylvannia, USA) was appointed by Bishop Warne of Singapore Methodist Mission to be the first Methodist Missionary to Sibu. This was because the Methodist Mission saw the need of a missionary to help with a fast developing church and the great needs of the Foochow migrants. In the spirit of Methodism, the harvest was plentiful and men and women must be sent out by the board.
The Methodist Mission had already built an attap assembly hall in Sungei Merah for church meetings. This hall was also partly partitioned to accomodate the home of the Rev Hoover, a school, and a hostel. As can be seen from the pages of the Methodist Mission histories all over the world, this was a typical model for Church or evangelical development. It can be viewed that the mission was a three prong mission: spiritual, social and economic.
The first Church built in Sungei Merah was named Sing Ang Tong or the Church of New Peace. The school was named Anglo Chinese School (which was later renamed Kwong Ang or Bright Peace). In this way, Kwong Ang Primary School became the first school established by the Foochows in Sarawak.
In 1904, Rev Hoover who was a very disciplined and proper Methodist decided to take a wife. He probably had exactly what kind of wife he should have to help him run the new settlement. So after a lot of prayers, thought and deliberation,he went to Penang, crosing the South China Sea and then sail up the Straits of Malacca to propose to Mary Hoover, the daughter of Methodist missionaries in Penang, whom he had met in 1899. She was 22 and he was 32. At the beginning of their marriage, the couple lived in the attap house in Sungei Merah. Life was not easy but with Christian fervour and determination, the couple worked very hard to help shape the settlement and make it very viable.
Perhaps unknown to many readers, Mrs. Mary Hoover. who was brought up in Penang, was very fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. When she started the Yuk Ing School in Sibu , she wrote the Bahasa texts for her students! Thus this school was indeed a pioneer in the teaching of Bahasa Malaysia.
A year later, Rev and Mrs.Hoover moved to Sibu and lived in the house built for Wong Nai Siong. This Methodist House was multipurpose as it was used for church services, the Anglo Chinese School and Yuk Ing Girls School.
Later in 1913,the couple built another home for themselves. This later became the Hoover Memorial Building, which was next to the Methodist Primary School. today it is no longer standing in its original place.
Mrs. Mary Hoover served the Yuk Ing Girls school as Head Mistress from 1912 to 1935, a period of 22 years. She taught a large number of girls in those years. At the same time, she learned to speak Foochow with a Ming Ching accent, and her husband Rev. Hoover spoke with a Kutien accent. This created a lot of humourous incidents amongst the foochows at that time.
while Rev Hoover was busy preaching, developing Sibu and introduce machinery to the farmers, Mrs. Hoover continued to teach well and looked after the girls students.She was a strict disciplinarian and a good manager. She instilled all the good Christian values in her charges who were extremely bright and resourceful.
Sadly,in 1935 Rev Hoover passed away and was buried in Kuching. But Mrs. Hoover carried on the good work stoically, and continued to teach in Sibu for another six months. Finally she left to teach in Singapore where she remained until 1941 when Singapore fell.
She was immediately taken to Perth, Australia where she had a brother. Thus she spent a quiet Second World War.
In 1946, she came back to visit Sibu and her god son, Ting Lik Kiew. she and the other missionaries who came with her, wanted to serve in Sibu again. However when she went back to Perth in 1947 she was already 65 years old.
Her needs were taken care of by her brother in Perth. But in 1957, the Sarawak methodist Church sent her a sum of money for her 75th birthday. She said that it was the biggest sum of money she ever received! And was moved to tears.
in her life, many of her former Yuk Ing students repaid her in different ways. Her students all remember her with much love and gratitude. According to my Third Aunt Pearl,Mrs. Hoover had a big heart and she loved every one, even though she appeared very strict. What ever she said was taken very seriously.
One of the ways was in the form of a young man who looked after her for two years in Perth. His mother was Mrs. Hoover's student and she insisted that this son of hers must visit Mrs. Hoover in Perth and help her in as many ways as possible. He was Lau Tieng Sing, who later became the Principal of the Methodist Secondary School for many years. Lau tieng Sing looked after her health, did her laundry, cooked for her and bought groceries for her twuce a week. He kept her little flat clean. He was like a son to her.
It was fortunately that Lau Tieng Sing was there at that time, because Mrs. Hoover's brother broke his leg and could not come to see her.
When Lau Tieng Sing left Perth upon the completion of his studies, Mrs. Hoover was getting on so she went to live in a nursing home. The Sibu church at this time also sent some money to her to assist her. She passed away on 3rd August, 1962 at the age of 80.
As the Hoovers were childless, the people of Sibu were considered their children. Their success made her extremely happy. Furthermore,those who were educated by them are eternally grateful.
(Please write in to fill up the many gaps I have in this write up. My apologies to those who have associated and made great contributions to Mr and Mrs. Hoover's lives.)
Sources : Tiong Yuk Ging , my great aunt(Oral History)and my other aunts who were students of Mrs. Hoover.
Lau Tze Cheng, my cousin from his various books which documented the development of Sibu.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Memoir by I Am Sarawakiana at 7:46 AM