Alexander Shui-Sun Mar: How He Left His Mark


Submitted by Erik Ma, William Yu, Jamie Cherrett

September 7, 2019

Alexander Shui-Sun Mar And Wife
Mr. Mar and his wife Mrs. Barbara Chin. Words Pictured:風遠播香遍十方 – The wind can spread incense far far away. Photo courtesy: Erik Ma, William Yu, Jamie Cherrett

This date nine years ago marked the tragic day in which the irreplaceable Alexander Shui-Sun Mar passed away. This biography has been composed by a group of high school students in honor of him and his exceptional contributions to local communities. 

“There is no rich benefactor who provides us with an endowment to operate the school. There is no sympathetic rich banker who provides us with an interest free loan to help us through hard times. There are only Fellowship members who tirelessly contribute whatever time and money they can afford to help this school.” These wise words spoken by Mr. Mar demonstrate his beliefs on how the community can improve its Chinese school and depict his own dedication to the school.

Mr. Mar was born in Hong Kong. At the age of eleven, he moved to the U.S., growing up to attend UC Berkeley, where he majored in computer science and engineering. Despite his parents being strongly against him going to college (they wanted him to be in the restaurant business), he worked incredibly hard to prove them wrong and achieve his dream. His first career was at a nuclear power plant, but due to the decline of nuclear business, he chose an alternative: computer science. This, he ended up working at Evergreen State College for 21 years. But aside from his tremendous contributions within the College, he was also incredibly engaged within local communities.

Since the establishment of the Olympia Area Chinese Fellowship in 1980 and Olympia Chinese School in 1982, many volunteers have stood up to help support the organization. Mr. Mar was among them, holding the record for most positions served on the Board and as the school principal (see Figure 1) within the 40 years that the Fellowship has been thriving thus far.

But what would drive someone to consistently dedicate so much of their energy towards assisting the community? In 2006, Mr. Mar composed two descriptive summaries one about Chinese-Americans in the United States and another specifically about the Chinese school in Olympia. His in-depth understanding of the history behind these two topics played a major role in motivating him to serve upon the OACA (then known as the OACF) Board and as an Olympia Chinese School official for a total of 18 or so years, as well as to help the Chinese-Americans in the area with adapting to the new environment.

Terms Positions
1984 – 1986 Vice Principal (Chinese School)
1988 – 1990 English Secretary
1990 – 1992 Vice President Education
1994 – 1996 President
1998 – 1999 Interim Secretary
2000 – 2001 Vice President Administration

Figure 1. Alexander Shui-Sun Mar’s roles over the years

Despite many hardships, Alexander Shui-Sun Mar was able to maintain and expand the Olympia Chinese School as the Vice Principal. He desired for more people to learn the Chinese language and about Chinese culture and was driven by his belief that “this world … is moving toward global interdependence and global competition … The European-centrically narrow perspective of the world is no longer sufficient. The teachers of this Chinese School of Olympia will contribute our part to enable our students to survive well in a world of spaceship Earth.” In an attempt to increase the interest of high schoolers in joining the Chinese school, he went forth and directly contacted the school districts of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, which led to the creation of an extremely successful high school foreign language credit program in 1986.

Alexander Shui-Sun Mar Letter
A letter to his treasurer Ron Locke. Photo courtesy: Erik Ma, William Yu, Jamie Cherrett

Unfortunately, after his term ended that year, this program was left unrenewed by the subsequent principals due to certain issues. Then, in 1990, Mr. Mar was elected as the Vice President of Education, where he once again contacted the local high schools along with staff from the WA Office of Superintendent of Instruction, where he learned about WAC 180-50-300, a law which permitted non-school district employed organizations to grant foreign language credits for high school. Having gained this new knowledge, he constructed another flourishing high school foreign language program within the Olympia Chinese School. At the same time, using his thorough knowledge regarding computers, he was the first to compile a full student list on a computer and create forms, such as those for expenses.

After interviewing Mrs. Wendy Seid (one of the initial board members who has served many terms) and Mrs. Bea Tien (founder of Chinese School and former board member) who both have worked with Mr. Mar, it is evident that education, specifically relating to Chinese culture, was undoubtedly one of Mr. Mar’s core values. He devoted money and countless hours of his time towards the association in order to increase the exposure of children to traditions in many ways, such as creating classes for Chinese instruments (GuZheng, ErHu, etc.), calligraphy, Taiji, and more. He pushed everyone, including himself, to either learn or to help others learn about Chinese culture. He did this through things such as taking his children to Seattle each weekend to learn Chinese and hosting summer camps at the Evergreen State College to teach students about Chinese Dance, Kungfu, etc. Additionally, he organized many additional activities such as field trips to Wild Waves, Ellensburg, and Leavenworth. Aside from strongly valuing education, being self-motivated, and being willing to help others, Mr. Mar was a very responsible person who took his work very seriously. In a letter (see Figure 2) he wrote (regarding his upcoming vacation) as board president to his treasurer, Ron Locke, in 1995, he specifically mentioned important tasks that needed to be done in his absence. He additionally included the steps required to accomplish such jobs which also displays his attention to detail.

Alexander Shui-Sun Mar OACF Newsletter
Photo from OACF Newsletter. Photo courtesy: Erik Ma, William Yu, Jamie Cherrett

Most importantly, Mr. Mar had the kindest personality. He always said yes to others’ requests and was very supportive of everyone. He was willing to do anything he could to be involved and was incredibly enthusiastic, passionate, and dedicated to the work that he did. He was warm-hearted (熱心), capable (能力強), forgiving (心胸寬闊), and a real gentleman.

Overall, Mr. Mar was exceedingly willing to sacrifice great amounts of his time in efforts to better the Chinese community within Olympia. He has left a lasting legacy upon the history of the Chinese school, one that everyone should look up to.

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