Friday, May 10, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Judy Lew worked tirelessly for her kids' education

Seattle Times staff reporter

Before bean sprouts sprouted on countless restaurant menus across Seattle, Judy Lew saw the possibilities.

In 1949, she and her husband, David, started Lew's Bean Sprout, which for the next 24 years supplied sprouts to area eateries and introduced the veggie to numerous diners.

It was just one of the legacies left by Mrs. Lew (former mother-in-law of the Seattle restaurateur and cookbook author of the same name), who died April 27 at 89.

Mrs. Lew made other lasting marks by helping establish Seattle Chinese Alliance Church, striving to preserve Chinese culture among immigrant families and working endlessly to ensure that her four children would receive college educations — which they all did.

Friends and family remembered her as a hard-working, devoutly religious woman who also had a sense of humor and a deep reservoir of hope.

"She was like a guiding post to me, like a rock," said her granddaughter Suzanne Chan of Seattle.

Born Hom Nguey Slen on Oct. 10, 1912, to a wealthy family in Toishan, China, Mrs. Lew immigrated to the United States in 1940 with her husband and daughter Shirley. Though raised in material comfort — and educated at a teaching college in China — she found herself struggling to get ahead as an immigrant in the U.S.

She rose to the challenge, say those who knew her. Changing her given name to Judy, she worked in a laundry and sewing piecework before starting the bean-sprout company. Her husband died in 1963, leaving her to run the business alone.

"She worked every day, seven days a week, for 24 years," recalled her son Willkie Lew of Renton. "In 24 years, she didn't take any vacations at all, except for three days to go to her sister's wedding in California."

The chief goal of all that effort, he said: the education of her children.

The results: Willkie became a school principal, now retired; Shirley Chan earned a master's degree in nutrition; William chairs the art-history department at Clemson University in South Carolina; and Willon has a law degree and works as the regional human-resources director for McDonald's in Kirkland.

Mrs. Lew sold the bean-sprout company in 1973 to retire, though she worked for a time as a sewer in local garment factories.

She remained involved in other activities begun years earlier, especially in Seattle Chinese Alliance Church, which she helped start in the 1960s.

"She definitely was a great influence on anyone who came into contact with her," said Wallace Ip, a church elder.

Mrs. Lew also helped rejuvenate the Lung Ting Family Association, which helped build cultural connections among Chinese-American families.

She never learned to speak English, though she could read it. She lived most of her life on Beacon Hill but spent her last two years at an assisted-living home.

In addition to her four children, she is survived by two sisters in Los Angeles and one in Texas; a brother in China; and 10 grandchildren. Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Bonney-Watson Funeral Home, 1732 Broadway, Seattle.

Judith Blake can be reached at 206- 464-2349 or


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