It is with profound sadness that we bring you the news that Bernie Wong, our beloved CASL co-founder and former President, has passed away surrounded by her loving family. Bernie was courageous in everything she did in life, and she fought cancer the same way.
It is not lost on us how vital Bernie was to CASL and to many of you personally. We will all miss her leadership, her warmth, and her commitment to CASL. As we move forward, we will honor Bernie by carrying on her vision in our mission and our lives.
Bernie’s life is the epitome of the American dream. When she was just 18 years old, she immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. She attended college at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City and later got her master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. She worked long hours as a social worker in the Chicagoland area before she founded CASL in 1978.
Bernie dedicated her entire life to supporting Chinese Americans and many other immigrant communities. Under Bernie’s guidance, CASL grew from one employee to the largest and most prominent social service agency serving the Asian American community in the Midwest. Bernie served as our president for decades and even after she retired continued to spend countless hours serving CASL as an advisor and volunteer.
Bernie was a dynamic and trailblazing leader who gave everything she had to make a better life for everyone she touched. Recognizing the critical importance of community, Bernie developed programs that addressed many aspects of care necessary for new immigrants.
With her fi rsthand experience as an immigrant, Bernie had a vision for creating a comprehensive suite of services to help Chinese Americans adapt and thrive in Chicago. She knew that immigrants needed help from early childhood to elder care. Two of her proudest achievements were the development of the Senior Housing facility, later renamed the Albert and Bernie Wong Senior Living Community, and the Kam L. Liu Community Service Center. These accomplishments were just a few of many life-changing initiatives that impacted our community.
Bernie Wong was a pioneer who fought for a better life not just for Chinese Americans or Asian Americans but all immigrants. She served in many capacities representing CASL; these are a few highlights:
• Founding board member of the National Asian Pacifi c Center on Aging (NAPCA)
• Chaired the Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Advisory Council on Asian Aff airs
• First Asian American appointed to the boards of United Way of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Public Library
• Served on the Asian Advisory Council for governors Quinn and Rauner
• Served on the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Counsel on Equity
• Member of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) board
• Board member of the Leadership Greater Chicago
• Council member of the Illinois Department on Aging
• Founder CISANI, the Chinese Immigrant Services Agencies Network International
Bernie had an award collection that fi lled an entire room. She was honored by mayors Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel, and Lori Lightfoot; Governor J.B. Pritzker; and presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. She was recognized by a variety of organizations including the YWCA, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and both of her alma maters.
Bernie said that growing up in Hong Kong her mother “always found time to volunteer and help people she didn’t know.” Bernie said of her tireless service to the community, “I never thought of doing anything else.” What a wonderful example she set for all of us.
We will be honoring and remembering Bernie in the coming days, weeks, and beyond. Thank you for being a friend to CASL. Thank you for celebrating Bernie’s life with us. She will be deeply missed as a bright star and great inspiration, both in our community and throughout our nation.