Chinese American Heroes
In retirement, he has dedicated every day of life to non-profit work. In 2005 he founded Chinese American Heroes with David Chai and fellow Air Force officer Joe Chan. He also sits on the Boards of the Chinese American Forum and the American Legion War Memorial Commission. He is a dedicated veteran who initiated and developed the Veterans Resource Center (renamed the Veterans Success Center) in San Francisco to get jobs for veterans. He is an officer in American Legion Post 384 and was Commander, American Legion Post 333. His other non-profit commitments with the Northern California World Affairs Council, the OCA – San Mateo, the Asia Foundation, the Asia Society, the Commonwealth Club, the Air Force Association, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Past President of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, and the WASUNG Community Services Organization. Prior to retirement he was active in United Way, and while serving in Rotary International, was President of the Rotary Club of Taipei in 2003.
In addition to his non-profit service Roger Dong lectures on modern Chinese economics, politics, and/or the military. He speaks on modern China at the World Affairs Council, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Santa Clara, the University of Texas, the Dominican University, the Economic Roundtable, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, the Boeing Retired Employees Association, the American Legion, MOAA, and many non-profit organizations.
David Chai retired in 2000 after 30 years with AT&T Bell Laboratories where he managed a database research group, and later managed systems engineering, network planning, and software development of quality assurance and inventory control systems. While at Bell Labs, he encountered the glass ceiling that affects so many Chinese Americans, especially those of the immigrant generation, that prevents them from rising in their chosen fields of work. To help combat this he became actively involved with employee affinity groups to improve the promotion prospects of all minority groups. He recognized early on the lack of Asian “role models” to emulate or to serve as mentors at Bell Labs and elsewhere.
An opportunity to demonstrate leadership came when the Township of Holmdel, NJ, where he lived, was looking for someone to serve on its Planning Board. He immediately volunteered and was accepted. That led to continuing community service which ultimately led him to run for a city council seat, which he won in 1996 for a 3-year term. He served as its Mayor of Holmdel in 1999 in his last year on the Council. He did not seek reelection since he planned to move to the San Francisco Bay Area where two of his children and four grandchildren live. Nevertheless he continued to volunteer in a variety of ways until his move to the Bay Area in 2004. Once in the Bay Area he immediately joined OCA – San Mateo, and was eventually elected to its Board of Directors in 2005. As he was planning for a candidate debate sponsored by the OCA – San Mateo for the California primary election of 2006, he met Roger Dong who was interested in starting a project, originally called “The Great Wall of Chinese American Heroes and Heroines.” Its mission was to write about, and make easily accessible, the stories of Chinese Americans who have made significant contributions to America and the world. The idea immediately sealed a friendship and partnership to launch the project together.
David was born in 1937 in Nanjing [formerly Nanking], China, a few months before the occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army of Japan and its subsequent Rape of Nanking. He spent the 8 war years in Chongqing [formerly Chungking] and returned to Nanjing after the war ended. As the Chinese Civil War was raging, his family moved to Tokyo, Japan in 1948, where he spent the next 7 years of schooling in both Overseas Chinese schools and American high schools. He came to America in 1955 with a one-way ticket on a Chinese freighter ship with $100 in his pocket to study Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana. He served as a waiter for his “free” meals on campus, and worked part-time and summer jobs to carry through the next semesters. He finished his Bachelor of Science degree in 3 ½ years, and immediately went to work at IBM in Endicott, NY. He later went back to school for a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Michigan.
David received the Outstanding & Distinguished Service Award from the OCA – New Jersey and the Aletha R. Wright Volunteer Leadership Award from Leadership New Jersey in 1999. He also received the Community Service Award of the Asian American Heritage Council of New Jersey in 1998. He is politically active, having served on the Board of 80-20, an Asian American Political Action Committee from 2005-2008. He has served as board member of non-profits, such as the United Way of Monmouth County [NJ], Leadership New Jersey, OCA – San Mateo chapter [where he is the Chair of Speak & Lead with Pride to teach public speaking and leadership skills to local high school students], and Northern California Presbyterian Homes and Services in San Francisco [a senior housing and health service organization]. While in New Jersey, he hosted many visiting government delegations from China, to whom he spoke about the governance of “small” US cities and lessons that could be learned from that experience about governing in China.