Ong Seok Kim: A name that will never die

The good that men do, lives on after them. And so the descendants of educationist and philanthropist Ong Seok Kim, gather this Saturday to honour a hero in the family.

COME Oct 5, there will be a big family reunion of some 380 descendants of the late Sitiawan educationist and philanthropist Ong Seok Kim. The gathering of three generations of the Ong family will be held at SJK (C) Puay Chai (1) in Petaling Jaya to commemorate the golden jubilee anniversary of the passing of Ong in 1964.

Some 713 descendants are still alive and more than half will be attending the reunion. Some family members will come from as far as China and Australia, while others will arrive from Indonesia and Singapore.

“It will be the biggest show in town that day,” quips Ong Eng-Joo, 65, an organiser of the gathering. He is the 25th son of Ong Seok Kim and his mother was the third wife. Ong had three wives and 44 children, of which five were adopted.

“The last family gathering was in Sitiawan, Perak, in 1994. It was attended by 186 family members,” says Eng-Joo, who flew in from Sydney, Australia, to oversee the printing of three publications which will be launched at the reunion. There will be a directory listing 782 descendants of Ong, and a book profiling family members. Both are for family members only.

The third book, No Other Way Out, is a 250-page biography of Ong based on the diaries he kept.

“My father came from China under difficult circumstances. He was from a poor farming family, worked very hard but did not earn enough to feed the family,” says Eng-Joo.

“Then he heard about Nanyang (the South-East Asian region) but his father was reluctant to let him go. However, my father reasoned there was no other way out of poverty.”

The book is co-authored by Eng-Joo and the 17th son, Jianshi. It tells of Ong’s background and upbringing, his arrival in Malaya and how he made his money.

Ong Seok Kim devoted 50 years of his life to philantrophic work.
Ong Seok Kim devoted 50 years of his life to philanthropic work.

He later settled down in Sitiawan, Perak, and contributed greatly to the local community. He founded four Chinese schools in the Dinding district: Chung Cheng Primary School, Nan Hwa High School, Dindings High School and Ping Min Free School.

There is a chapter on Ong’s ancestry.

“We’re related to the first King of Fujian and I’m from the 30th generation,” says Eng-Joo, who set up a website ( on the Ong family tree. “The purpose of the publications and the gathering is to let the descendants know about the family history, and what drives a man to put in so much time, money and efforts to help society. Hopefully someone will pick up my father’s philosophy and emulate what he did for the community. Life is not just centred on your immediate family.”

Ong devoted 50 years of his life to philanthropic work, particularly in the area of Chinese education.

“My father founded Aik Tee Recreation Association for the local community. He bought land for a cemetery for the local community. He also bought land to build a maternity hospital in 1936,” says Eng-Joo.

Ong also founded the Nanyang University Association in Dinding district. He was one of the pioneers who set up the Sitiawan Rubber Traders Association (in 1920s) and was chairman of the Sitiawan Traders Association.

Eng-Joo says the family is proud to support his father’s causes.

“We have contributed to the Ong Seok Kim Memorial Education Fund (set up in 1965) and the Manjung Haemodialysis Centre. Every year, the fund gives out about RM100,000 under various schemes to assist students. So far, RM769,000 has been given out.”

In the 1920s, Ong was a prominent figure in Sitiawan. He had a double-storey house on a 2ha piece of land in Sitiawan. But most of the time, he was not at home.

“It was a trade-off because my father spent so much time doing community work,” says Eng-Joo, who describes his father as a very kind person. “He took good care of his mother-in-law and relatives.”

Ong’s relatives from China also came to live with him until they found jobs.

Eng-Joo recalls how his father used to give him 50 sen for every grade A scored.

“My father was always not home. When I got my report card, I would look for him to claim my money,” he says.

Ong’s second youngest child, It Shaw, 57, was amused that his father would reward the children for pulling out weeds in the garden.

“He would weigh the grass that we pulled and paid us according to weight.

“The last few children have interesting names,” recalls It Shaw. “My name (It Shaw) means the ‘last one’. But then another son was born when my father was 75. My youngest brother then became the last child. He was given the name, Thean Sang (which means Heaven Given).

“A son, Chung Cheng, was named after the Chung Cheng Primary School), while Thean Deng was named after the Dinding district, and Kean Tau after a town in China,” says It Shaw. One of Ong’s daughters was named Chong Keng after Chungking (now Chongqing) in China upon his return from a trip to his motherland in 1940.

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Dedicated to a life of service

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