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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg


Boy and Betty Toy

This is a love story.

The end of December, Boy and Betty Toy and I met at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  We sat across the desk from each other, Boy and Betty with pens in hand.  Boy teared up.  He said, “I woke up this morning. l looked at Betty and said, ‘Can you believe we are going to give a million dollars to Tennis & Life Camps today and yet I have this tremendous feeling of happiness?’”

We talked awhile about the journey that took them to this point.

Boy and Betty grew up in different villages in China during WWII.  Both nearly starved to death with their families because of famine and brutal Japanese wartime control of their areas.  Boy said to me, “Do you know those pictures you see on TV?  The ones with kids whose stomachs are so big from malnutrition, whose ribs show through and eyes are hollow?  That was my family.  That was Betty’s family.  Our villages were located relatively close, but we never met.”

After the war, both sets of parents emigrated to the United States.  Boy and Betty met in Duluth.  Halfway around the world.  They have been together now for 60 years.

Those who know them, know that where one goes, you will usually find the other.  Their smiles are filled with gratitude.  For life.  For the goodness they have been shown in this country.  For each other.   And for Steve and Barb Wilkinson and the Tennis & Life Camps instructors.

They attended camp just one time, in 1983.  They were so moved by the instructors Steve had hired and their sense of mission, joy, kindness, and dedication to helping each and every camper, that Boy went to Steve and said, “I don’t know where you found these people, but this gives me hope and renews my faith in America.”  In 2015, Boy and Betty returned for summer camp, perhaps the longest stretch between attendance at camps in TLC history.  Thirty-five years later, he is saying the same thing.  In times of great division in this country, Boy and Betty see unity at TLC.  They see the diversity we strive for.  They see inclusion of all.  They knew what it was like being outcast as children.  And they know what it is like to be embraced by people who appreciate them and celebrate who they are from the depths to the heights.

When they came to America to live and study, they wanted to give back.  They both spent over three decades of their lives dedicated to public education.  (Boy, now in his 80s, still teaches an AARP Smart Driver class regularly for seniors in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities area).

They know what it is to sacrifice. And they know what it is to suffer, to see others suffer, and to want to do something about it.

And now, they want Steve’s and Barb’s legacy to carry forward long after they – and we – are gone.

Steve and Barb Wilkinson

Boy has told me often a story I still want to hear every time I see him.  He said, “My dad was a firm believer in Buddhism.  When my father was in ill health, a very close person to me who was a Christian came to me and said, ‘Boy, you have to tell your dad he must take God into his heart in order to get to Heaven.’ Years later, we were on one of TLC Australian trips. Knowing Steve was a professor of world religions with special emphasis on Eastern Religion, I posed this question to Steve. “I can safely say, 80% of the world’s population is not into Christianity, does a person have to take God into his heart in order to get to Heaven?” Steve looked at me, paused, and said with sincerity, “Boy, it’s hard for me to imagine a God who would send 80% of the people to other places than Heaven.”

Boy continued.  “Steve didn’t tell me yes or no. I have never forgotten this.”  And each time he recounts this story he chokes up.

Each time I hear this story it is like an oasis in the desert to me.  In a world of “us and them”, we are all really “us”.

So there they sat, Boy and Betty, pens in hand.  They are giving a million dollars to TLC’s 40-LOVE Campaign, a transforming gift that will help us push towards the finish line in the next two years.

They were so happy.

I was so happy.

TLC is so happy.

Who would have guessed that two people, who have been through what they have, who nearly starved to death as children, who separately found their way to America, who met in Duluth of all places, who worked in public education most of their lives, and who still have a deep and abiding love after 60 years, would find themselves in that room at that time?

No one.  Except maybe Betty and Boy, who talk of how much they receive by being able to give this gift.

Love-Love.  It comes in many, many forms.  Thank you, Boy and Betty, for teaching us the meaning once again.


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