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Friends reunited after half a century, half a world away in OC

Column: Schoolgirls in Taiwan find each other again in Fullerton

By TERI SFORZA | | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2023

Friends reunited after half a century, half a world away in OC

Visit the Orange County Register for the full story along with images and a slideshow.

There they are, standing side-by-side in a grassy field blooming with flowers, right legs extended in a pose fit for magazine models, circa 1958.

Both were born in mainland China as war raged. Both families bolted for Taiwan as Communists gained ground over Nationalists. Both were just kids when they met at the Taipei girls school. They got close in college at National Taiwan University, running on the track team together, hitting the movie houses and disappearing into nature for hikes and picnics and excursions — the mountainous islands boast vistas of outrageous beauty.

Then Lilly Loo and Catarina Chi came to America to study library science, and lost track of each other for the next 61 years.

Different paths

The word back home was that librarians were in high demand in the States. Loo studied at USC while Chi went to Spalding University, a Catholic college in Louisville, Kentucky. Los Angeles suited Loo just fine — another big city, not unlike Taipei — while Chi longed for a more major metro milieu. She took a summer job in New York City and was immediately smitten.

Loo started as the children’s librarian in the Bellflower branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library in 1963, and worked her way up to trainer and supervisor over a 32-year career. She married, had a son and a daughter, lived the quintessential Southern California life in Bellflower, Brea, Cerritos, Buena Park.

Chi decided to live close to New York City but not in it, settling in Cedar Grove, N.J., about a half hour away from the mesmerizing hustle and bustle. She married and had a son and adored the East Coast even in the snow.

And so it went. They were experts in the Dewey Decimal System and kept tidy card catalogs, until computers made card catalogs obsolete. They helped kids with homework during busy after-school hours until the kids stopped coming, turning to the Internet instead. Loo became a regional library manager, training new hires and presenting workshops to other librarians. Their children grew up, got married, had children of their own.

Chi’s son became a sports journalist, he and his wife lived in Los Angeles, and they had a baby. Chi’s first grandchild. She had to be close to watch the child grow, and that meant letting go of her love affair with the East Coast. Chi and her husband packed up and moved to Morningside in Fullerton — a “life plan” community that shepherds folks from active retirement through later needs for assistance, if there are any — in 2018. She thought of Loo now and then, asking a mutual friend what had become of her.

Loo, meanwhile, had a son who became a pastor in Santa Fe Springs and a daughter who became a clinical psychologist, teaching at UCLA. They gave her grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and she was married to her husband for almost 53 years when he died in 2016. She sold their home and moved to nearby Morningside in 2021.

Catching up

It was there, in the palatial clubhouse, that they were reunited for the first time in more than half a century. They blinked; they didn’t really recognize each other. Then they laughed out loud and set about catching up on the past 60 years.

The friends remain formidable experts at collecting and curating information and are always ready with a book recommendation (Loo is loving “Lessons In Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, while Chi is indulging in fun summer reads), and they marvel at how much the world has changed since they were working women in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, they had to quit their jobs to have babies because there was no such thing as maternity leave. They’re both grateful that their jobs were always waiting when they were ready to return.

Chi walks every day, rain or shine, while Loo plays golf several times a week. There are painting classes, exercise groups, an arts and crafts studio, a pottery kiln and woodworking shop. The grounds are landscaped with fountains and waterfalls, meals are served in an elegant dining room and — perhaps most important of all — Morningside is home to several libraries.