When my best friend, Stewart Bacheler and his then wife, Janice, tried to have children many years ago, something didn’t work. Realizing that having their own was going to be a problem, they chose to adopt and turned to an agency that brought infants and toddlers from South Korea to America. After becoming proud and loving parents of baby Jessie, they thought she should have a brother and along came Josh. I remember when I first met Jessie. She was as cute as cute can be.
I moved to Florida in 1981, but each year I’d make the journey back to my home state of New Jersey to see my friends, mostly from Flemington, at our legendary (in our minds, anyway) down the shore “Big Chill” party at the Bacheler’s summer home on Pelham Avenue in Beach Haven. I had the same downstairs bedroom each time I visited there for the week. It was called Heidi’s Room for Stewart’s niece. Stewart’s mother was quite the Pennsylvania Dutch interior decorator, so Heidi’s name was ornately painted on the sliding bedroom door.
We would all would meet at that house on Friday and party well into the night. We were still pretty young then. Stewart and I were always the first ones up in the morning and we’d travel back up the boulevard to Marvel’s Market for fresh, deep-fried doughnuts. In the meantime, we’d brew a pot of coffee and that would, one-by-one, rouse the others. Stewart and I sat out on the shady front porch to catch up on what we had been up to and to enjoy the morning ocean breeze wafting by before the scent of suntan lotion filled the air. Plus, we had first dibs on the still warm doughnuts and fresh coffee.
This one particular morning was a little different. About 7 AM, I was awakened by a banging on my bedroom door and very young cries of “Unca Day! Unca Day!” which was Jessie’s special way of telling me, “Uncle Dave, it’s time to get up!” I heard Stewart stumble out to try to quiet her, but I was already awake and the thought of finally getting to see her was a lot more important than sleeping another minute. For months, he had told me how excited she was to meet Uncle Dave. Believe me, I felt the same way about her. I put some pants and a shirt on and slid the door open. When I looked down, this sweet little girl was staring up at me with bright brown eyes. She couldn’t have been two feet tall and I melted on the spot. Quickly, I scooped her up in my arms and we hugged each other tightly. It was something I will never forget.
That was in July of 1983. How quickly she and her brother grew up. Jessie graduated from Penn State and Josh moved to Hawaii, where he goes to the state university there. After Stewart and Janice divorced, he married An, a wonderful person, and the two of them eventually settled in Florida. At least, I haven’t changed much since those early days. I was bald then and I still am. Unfortunately, that beach house was sold and razed when his folks got a bit too old to maintain it. Oh, the stories we could all tell of that place.
Jessie is quite successful now. She ended up staying in the land of the Nittany Lions after graduating and is the marketing and public relations manager at WHVL, a TV station in State College. She and her boyfriend, Kevin Tan, a Fremont, California native, own a house they share with two dogs, but alas, her boyfriend spends a lot of time away from home. That’s because he is a gymnast. Oh, not your garden variety ‘bouncing around on a mat’ kind of guy. No, not exactly. From what I understand, he is ranked number one in the country on still rings and he’s a top contender on parallel bars. That is why, on June 22, he was named to the U.S. Olympic team after competing Friday and Saturday on rings, parallel bars, high bar and pommel horse. Kai Wen – or Kevin – as we will get to know him by his more English sounding name, will travel to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics. His father, Peter Tan, was born in Taiwan after his parents fled the mainland in 1949. There, he met Kevin’s mother.
KEVIN TAN – Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images
Kevin, who has a degree in financing, was a six-time All-American at Penn State, and is the assistant gymnastics coach there. He earned a scholarship in gymnastics and won back-to-back NCAA titles on the rings (2003-2004) and that helped PSU win the 2004 NCAA championship. He was an all-conference honoree, winning both the still rings and parallel bars titles at the 2004 Big Ten Championships and his still rings crown was his third-consecutive championship in the event. That was going to be the end of his career, but the thought of representing the United States and competing in Beijing overwhelmed him. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch him perform on the rings Saturday afternoon on NBC and he looked great.
In a recent interview by Frank Fitzpatrick, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tan said, “If I make the team, my father is planning on returning to China.” His mother passed away in 2000. “I know it will be a thrill for him to go back to the land where he was born.” Thanks to Kevin, his father will have that chance, but traveling to his family’s ancestral home will not come cheaply. The cost is estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per person. That’s a lot of money to send a small – but very important – support group of Jessie, his father, brother and sister-in-law to Beijing to cheer him on.
Not only is Kevin a proud American, I’m proud of him and all the rest who will represent us. I’m proud for Jessie, too, and proud for the good old United States of America. Hooray for the Red, White & Blue. Congratulations, Kai Wen, I hope you win the gold.
Go, Kevin, Go
USA USA USA
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Kevin and Jessie at the Great Wall of China.