John K. Lem (88) of Maryland passed away on September 18, 2023. He passed away peacefully from complications associated with dementia. John was known for his can-do attitude in volunteering and service to others. Most notably, his service to recent Chinese immigrants, teaching English class for over 2 decades and then growing and redefining the Chinatown Service Center in the Chinese Community Church in Washington DC in the late 90s.
John lead a colorful and rich life, starting when he was born in Canton, China where he spent his early childhood. Life challenges were not far behind however, as the march of the Japanese occupation during World War II effected much of his youth forcing his family to move several times, eventually making Chueng Chau Island their home before coming to the United States in June 1950.
After arriving in the US, he and his extended family settled in Houston, Texas where they tried their hand at chicken and vegetable farming. After suffering economic hard times, their family moved to Michigan in December 1951, where his father David, went to College. There, John spent his teenage years in Detroit eventually joining the Army for a term in 1955 to get his GI bill to attend college. Initially attending 2 years at Kent State, he transferred to Michigan state where he graduated and became a cartographer working for the Defense Mapping Agency where he would spend his entire 36 year career.
John lived in St. Louis for his initial time at the Defense Mapping Agency, he eventually moved to Washington D.C. where he began his courtship of wife of 55 years Madge Lem. His love for her grew so fast that he would drive to Ontario, Canada on weekends (where she lived at the time) to date and were married a year later on March 4, 1968. Together they spent their early years of marriage teaching English and volunteering at the Chinese Community Church, sharing a firm belief of serving the Chinese community and assisting recent immigrants to assimilate into US society. In 1974, they had their son Peter for which, John was a loving and kind father.
This lifetime of service extended throughout John’s professional career where he later took a leadership role in the Chinatown Service Center after he retired. Channeling his energy and determination John grew the Chinatown Service Center into a modern facility that was able to provide educational services, computer lab and a place for Chinese kids to have a safe environment to learn and grow. All the while inspiring a new generation of people to service, John left an immeasurable mark on the Chinese community in the DC area.
John continued this spirit of service even in later retirement he was active in St. Matthew Presbyterian Church and Vice President of the Chinese Club in Leisure World.
John is survived by his wife, Madge and his son, Pete, daughter-in-law, Gloria and granddaughter, Averie.
The viewing for John will be October 2, 2023 from 5-8 PM. Service will be held on October 3, 2023 at 11 AM followed by his burial at Parklawn Memorial Park at 1PM.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Chinatown Service Center in Washington D.C.