27 December 2019: Leaving a Legacy – the Story Behind the Siong Keng Hoon Study Award

By Pertina Seah & Jenany Nathan

Ms Rosie Wee, niece of Miss Siong Siew Woon and granddaughter of Mr Siong Keng Hoon. Image by Charmaine Chua.

A well-loved teacher at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School until her retirement, the late Miss Siong Siew Woon was a strong believer in education. It was this belief that prompted her to make a legacy gift to Yale-NUS College to establish the Siong Keng Hoon Study Award in honour of her father. The study award will help students with demonstrated financial need to defray their tuition and residential fees.

The front façade of 8 Saunders Road. Image provided by Ms Rosie Wee.

For over 80 years, Miss Siong lived in 8 Saunders Road, a terrace house off Emerald Hill. She left a bequest to the College in 2014, the sale proceeds of her one-third share of this property. Ms Rosie Wee, her niece and the executrix of her will, shares her memories growing up in that house in an article published in PASSAGE (a magazine by Friends of the Museum), titled Memories of 8 Saunders Road. In this beautifully-written piece, Ms Wee paints a vivid picture of what it was like living in a 100-year-old, two-storey terrace house:

“Life there was perplexing yet intriguing, like a splash of colour in a murky pond when sunbeams kiss it.”

The late Mr Siong journeyed from China to Singapore in search of a better life at the age of 18. From a clerk in a post office, he worked his way up, eventually assuming a managerial position at Hoe Aik Steamships, a local shipping company. Deprived of an opportunity to pursue a tertiary education as his parents passed away when he was young, Mr Siong saw the value of education and ensured that all his children were educated.

Miss Siong had held her father in high esteem and imbibed his values with regards to education, in addition to his entrepreneurial, persevering, and giving spirit. A filial daughter, she took on the role of caregiver to her mother until her death.

“She valued and believed in the power of education as a window to a better life, job opportunities and upward mobility,” said Ms Wee, who is also a granddaughter of the late Mr Siong. “She hoped that students who required financial assistance would benefit from this gift and in turn, pay it forward when they graduate from the university.”

Paying it forward was yet another lesson that Miss Siong had imparted. She believed in the importance of ending life well with a spirit of gratefulness by paying it forward and giving back to society. Ms Wee has similarly carried on this value through her voluntary work – conducting money management classes for prison inmates and being a docent at the National Museum of Singapore and the National Gallery Singapore.

Ms Wee remembers her late aunt and grandfather as people of few words with strict, serious dispositions. Both were also practitioners of ‘tough love’, showing their love through the giving of advice or offering of financial assistance rather than physical demonstrations. However, one particular occasion involving her grandfather stood out for Ms Wee, “when he took the trouble to buy some trinkets for my birthday,” she reminisced.

Ms Rosie Wee (fourth from left) with various Yale-NUS College representatives at the opening of the Siong Keng Hoon Room. Image by Lynn Ee.

In recognition of Miss Siong’s generous gift, the Estate of Siong Siew Woon has been named a Founding Benefactor of Yale-NUS. In addition, the College has also named a classroom after the late Mr Siong. The Siong Keng Hoon Room is situated in Saga College, one of Yale-NUS’ three Residential Colleges, and the opening ceremony was presided over by Yale-NUS College President, Professor Tan Tai Yong, and Vice President (Engagement) Dr Trisha Craig.

“We are extremely grateful to the late Miss Siong for her gift to the College, not only because it is our first legacy gift, but also because of the impact it will have on our community,” Prof Tan said. “Her generosity will aid us in our aim to offer opportunities to students, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, and to transform the lives of Yale-NUS students for generations to come.”

Yale-NUS Student Government President Rachel Juay (Class of 2020) also attended the event and expressed her gratitude and appreciation to Ms Wee and her family on behalf of the student body. “Your generous gift to the College will not only give more students the opportunity to build cherished memories at this institution, but also contribute to the many places where these one-of-a-kind memories are built at Yale-NUS,” she said.

The Siong Keng Hoon Study Award will be awarded to its inaugural recipients in the upcoming academic year. In light of that, Ms Wee is hopeful that future recipients will be appreciative of the study award and seek to pass on this act of kindness.