Joan Shipers Memering: On January 24, 1945 Joan C. Shipers was born. Her grandmother, who was Ukrainian, witnessed the murder of her entire family at an early age. Later, her grandmother came to New York City as a refugee at the age of fourteen. Because someone had helped her grandmother, Joan decided to help other refugees.
Joan earned a B. A. in English from Bowling Green State University (1966), and master’s degrees in both English and Speech from Central Michigan University (CMU), in 1973 and 1979, respectively. She also took graduate studies in English-as-a-second-language; Latin American Studies; Spanish; Reading; and Supervision of Instruction.
After graduation, Joan worked as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1967-1968. She also taught at The Columbus School, a private American-Colombian School, 1968-1969; at Hodge Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, 1970-1971; and at West Intermediate Junior High in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, 1974-1975, teaching 7-8th grade Reading and Writing classes. Also, Joan taught Freshman Composition, English, Journalism, and Speech courses in the English and Journalism departments of CMU, 1975-1990, and at Delta College in 1974. Joan was recognized by both her colleagues and students as being a gifted, caring teacher who made a positive, significant difference in their lives.
From 1979 through 1987 Joan wrote numerous articles on a wide variety of topics for Mount Pleasant area newspapers including the Buyer’s Guide, the Morning Sun, and the Isabella County Herald, in which she had a weekly column called “My Two Cents,” 1992-1993. Some of her articles were also published in the Saginaw News. Joan also wrote a number of articles for CMU’s Information Services newsletter in 1985. All of her articles showed her excellent research and writing skills as well as her humanity and concern about other people.
Because of her interest in refugees, Joan became the Coordinator of the Mid-Michigan Refugee Action Committee, which did extensive legal work and writing on behalf of Asian refugees and new Asian immigrants, in 1979. While working with the refugees, Joan befriended many of them. She conducted oral interviews with them, recording them on tapes, while taking extensive notes. Joan later transcribed the information from the tapes into typed notes. From the typed notes, Joan wrote articles and several partial drafts of a book. Although she tried a number of different times and approaches, she did not complete a full draft of a book or get it published.
With her work on the committee and the oral interviews she conducted, a number of her articles from 1979 through 1980 focused on Indochinese refugees, especially Cambodians. Joan wrote vividly about what they had suffered, the type of culture shock they experienced in refugee camps and in the U.S., and how they adapted to their new lives. Many Indochinese, mostly Cambodian, refugees came to the mid-Michigan area through the efforts of the Mid-Michigan Refugee Action Committee volunteers and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services program through Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant.
Probably through her work at CMU, Joan met Professor Willard D. “Dean” Memering. They were married in Robinson Hall on the CMU campus in 1973. They did not have any children. On June 26, 2004 Joan died of cancer in Mount Pleasant. She was survived by her husband, Willard D. “Dean” Memering.
Willard D. “Dean” Memering: “Dean” Memering was born on January 7, 1936 in Hammond, Indiana. He earned a B. Ed in English from the University of Miami (1958), and both a M. A. in English Education and a Ph. D. in English Education, Composition, and Rhetoric from Florida State University, in 1968 and 1971, respectively.
Dean taught various English courses in Florida schools, 1960-1971, before moving to Mount Pleasant to teach at CMU beginning in 1971. At CMU, he taught a variety of courses including Freshman Composition; Introduction to Literature; Expository Writing: Advanced Composition; Teaching Literature; Teaching Composition, and graduate Composition. Dean was active in a number of professional organizations and wrote a number of articles and many books on writing. He was recognized as a kind, caring professor who saw the potential in everyone to learn to write. Progressive in his teaching style, Dean combined traditional methods with newer ones to encourage students to be engaged in his classes. His love of computer resulted in his being instrumental in establishing the English department’s computer lab. He retired from the department on September 30, 1998.
For fun, Dean enjoyed creating abstract paintings. An example of his artistic skill can be seen in the “Visitors” Christmas card he drew for the National Hemophilia Foundation, 2001, which is in his papers.
Probably while teaching, Dean met Joan Shipers, whom he married in Robinson Hall in 1973.
Dean suffered all his life with hemophilia, He died on August 25, 2006 and was survived by one sister, a brother and many nieces and nephews. (This information is from the collection, mostly from the Biographical Materials folders, a WCFX tape of Joan talking about helping refugees and her mother, and from discussion and emails with Peggy Brisbane in 2007.)
Brief Biographies of the Cambodian refugees Joan Interviewed in her Cambodia Project: [Train] Chit had a happy life in Battambang until his family lost their business when he was 14. He was an educated man. In 1971 Battambang had a lot of tension between Vietnamese and Chinese. Sensing the onset of war, the family sent money out of the country, but decided to stay. Chit and his business partner, Hong Seng, were kidnapped by Khmer Rouge for four days. He was later shot in the back. After recovering he married Khanay. Together they had a son, Bakim. Chit worked full-time as a bill collector and salesman for his mother-in-law’s brown sugar business. After 1972, business became increasingly difficult as food passed between Battambang and Phnom Penh, a difficult route, where bridges were blown up and supplies were stolen on a regular basis. Bribes were necessary to get supplies through check points. In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge invaded Battambang, looting stores and driving people out. Chit and Khanay’s family fled. People were driven from temples and homes. Dead bodies were everywhere. Afterwards, everyone worked in fields harvesting rice which they were not allowed to eat. Thousands starved. Bakim died in 1977. Between 1977 and 1982 Chit cut wood, traveled between different towns, and was quite ill. There was terrible starvation by early 1978. He recalled a young girl’s organs being taken out of her body and eaten after she died. Between May and September 1978 martial law was established. Khanay and Chit left Sisophon for Nimith in 1979 in an attempt to get closer to the border with Thailand. About May 8, 1983 they finally arrived in Thailand. They flew to Mount Pleasant in 1979 and were sponsored by St. Mary’s University Parish. Train, age 34, was listed as a 6 wheel-truck driver, and Khanay, age 31, was listed just listed as his “wife”. [Train] Chit was usually referred to by Joan simply as “Chit.”
Meng Leng [Phou] was educated in a Khmer school. His father was a moneylender, his mother a store owner, operator. His father also had warehouses of rice. As the Khmer Rouge approached, Meng Leng fled towards Thailand. He hoped to be a student in a factory. For awhile Meng Leng lived in the house of a teacher. By 1975, the teachers lost power and went on strike and roads were mined. People were organized to harvest the fields. His mother was criticized for caring for Meng Leng when he was sick. The family went to Samrong where they worked in a brick factory, May-November 1975. Rice was stored in Samrong, but people ate rats because they were starving. They were forced to work in fields and live with strangers, including many Vietnamese. While working under his brother’s supervision in the God’s Eye rice fields, Meng Leng became ill and was briefly hospitalized. In 1978 he was sent to Smach to repair a big dam, Srok. He and his brother ran away fearing they would die working at the dam. In 1978 his mother decided he should move to a nearby cotton field to work, where he would be closer to family. From July through September 1978 Meng Leng cleared fields in Mount Kangva. He slept with the rice and cook while there, so he stole rice. When caught, he apologized and was forgiven. Meng Leng could easily have been killed for stealing. Thereafter, he lived in fear that those who had forgiven initially would change their minds and kill him. By late 1978, people died daily of hunger. Some people dug up animal and human corpses to eat them. His family fled from District 3 to 5, where they were caught, split apart, and imprisoned in November 1978. Briefly hospitalized, Meng Leng learned the whereabouts of his family through contacts in the hospital. He decided to travel alone to Thailand. On the way to Thailand, he met his family on Highway 6. In 1979 they traveled from Sisophon to Nimith to Kaub Thom to Watkok, Thailand. Later that year they flew to Mount Pleasant.
Heng Suy Keang, who was called Lim Son Seak in some of Joan’s drafts to protect his identity, was born on July 7, 1940. He grew up in Kratie. In 1955, when 15, Keang visited his grandmother in China. At the time China welcomed foreign students, so Keang enrolled in school there. However, when his father was ill in 1960, Keang discovered that students were not allowed to leave China. Finally, through his mother’s intervention, he was allowed to return home. When age 22 Keang worked with his father. He owned a charcoal factory which employed 100 people, a home, car, and delivery trucks. At age 24 in 1964 Keang married his second cousin, Houng. Together they had four children: Huam (born 1967), Sang (born 1970), and later Chor and Nee. Corruption was rampant. Kratie fell to the Viet Cong on May 6, 1970. At first the family hid in a tunnel during the initial fighting. Later, they moved to Sandan. The VietCong told them to returned home within 30 days or lose their possessions. They returned to find that business was permitted, but everyone worried about informants. In August 1973 the Khmer Rouge entered Kratie. Keang was considered rich as he owned rice fields and fruit orchards. When he heard the Khmer Rouge wanted him, Keang fled fearing death. From SaMat, VietNam, he passed forged papers through friends to his help his family escape. The family left Samat on July 1, 1974. After his brother was tortured to death by the Khmer Rouge, Keang’s family fled to Tay Ninh. From there they went to Saigon and joined 3,000 refugees at the Khmer Embassy. The family left Vietnam on December 31, 1974. They lived in Pailin and Boeng Krasar in 1975. Keang worked at a factory, MT Navy, from September 1975-January 1978; in a vegetable co-op, February-March 1978; and in a factory March-September 1978, where he made shoes with Huam. Keang was hospitalized from September 1978-January 1979. He witnessed embassy people fleeing Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979. The family fled through Sisophon and Nimith, and then through the jungle for Thai refugee camps. They arrived in Mount Pleasant in later that year. Keang’s family was sponsored by the First Church of Christ. He was listed as age 37, an experience auto mechanic with a high level of education. His wife, age 31, was listed as a beauty operator and dress maker. With them were their three sons, one daughter, and two male cousins, one listed as an experienced welder, the other as able to repair autos, bikes, and watches.
The lone woman Joan interviewed, Nay or Ing Lay, is sometimes referred to as May or Ing May in Joan’s drafts to protect her real identity. Nay’s mother, Te Im, married Nay’s father, Ing Heng, in 1920 outside of Guangzhou, China. Working on the mountains where their family lived was very hard, so her father left to try life in Cambodia. After three years of working in Cambodia, he sent for his wife. They opened a restaurant which served prepared food from China. They had a son in 1926 and Nay in 1930. Her father died shortly afterwards, so the family returned to China. After four years, life was so hard that Te Im decided to return to Cambodia. However, she was forced to leave her son behind with his grandmother in China. Im cooked and cleaned for a rich family in Phnom Penh until she had enough money to live on her own. She and Nay settled in Khmar Kaul, a village outside of Battambang. There, Nay attended school, which she hated and soon left. When Nay was 15, she and her mother moved to Battambang where they rented rooms and a sales stall. Im fell down a flight of stairs when Nay was 16, and was badly burned the following year. Im never completely recovered from these accidents. In 1949 Nay married Tang Chung . After closing their separate businesses, they opened a store together where they bought and sold tobacco, betel nut, materials, and other things. Together they had six children: son Tang Hun (born 1952); daughter Nen Chun (born 1959); daughter Nen Ta (born 1961); daughter Nen Kim (born 1965); daughter Nen Muy (born 1966); and another child (born 1975). In 1972 they moved to Poipet. They also worked as middle men, buying and selling wholesale foodstuffs in Battambang and selling to retailers in Phnom Penh. In 1965 May went into partnership with three good female friends out of the need to provide for their families. They bought materials in Thailand and sold them in Battambang. The work was exhausting. With help from her mother, Nay and Chung opened a used book store. In 1975 when she was eight months pregnant a Khmer man in black pajamas ordered her to leave her house and goods behind. Chung took a remarque, a wagon pulled by a motorcycle or bicycle, to pull Im in. They took two blankets and a pot with them. She walked until they were allowed to stop in a forest called O Popoul. While in transit, she had her sixth child. People who tried to escape near the Thai border were punished by having their abdomens cut open. Between 1976 and 1979 Nay lived and worked in Samrong, Phnom de Sway and KokhMum, where her family worked in rice fields. Government workers were targeted and killed in1975, as were people who did not follow rules, and rich people. In 1978, Takeo began killing Vietnamese. Nay and her family eventually got to Buriram, Thailand. They came to Mount Pleasant in 1979.