The USCPFA Palm Beach County Organizing Committee was formed in late 1977 by Polly Feustel, with the help of her husband, Henry Feustel, and was granted chapter status by the Southern Region in 1978. Polly and Henry both had a deep interest in China., Polly, a YWCA Secretary stationed in Manila, and her first husband, had hosted author Edgar Snow and his first wife, Peg, and contributed to INDUSCO, the cooperative set up in China by Mme Soong Ching Ling to improve the living conditions for women and children. Henry worked in the textile industry in Vietnam, and after an 8 month confinement due to his German heritage, he was released by the French and made his way to the US through China. Both had lost their first spouses when they met in New Jersey at a meeting about China. Before leaving her post in Manila, Polly received a chipah (Chinese dress) from Mme Soong Ching Ling, who told her every time she wore it to talk about China. And that’s what Polly did. (After Polly’s death Henry sent the chipah to China where it is housed in the Soong Ching Ling Museum in Beijing.) Subsequently Polly and Henry moved to South Florida and they applied to the USCPFA Miami chapter to get on the list to revisit China. In 1978 few people had gone to China except on government trips. The USCPFA was the only group who could obtain visas from the Peoples Republic of China because of their grass roots efforts to promote friendship and understanding between the peoples of the US and PRC. From the connection with the Miami chapter came the impetus to start a local chapter in Palm Beach County.
In late August or early September of 1977, while Marge Ketter was Vice President of the Atlantic Westside Bank on Okeechobee Blvd., she met Polly and Henry Feustel who asked if she would be treasurer of the newly organized USCPFA group. The USCPFA is a non political educational 501(c)(3) organization. At that time its Statement of Principles included a sentence about Taiwan that Marge did not view as non political and so she was reluctant to join. Rose Shapiro was elected chapter treasurer but Marge did the work as a non member. As soon as the National organization revised its Statement of Principles regarding the Taiwan issue, probably due to Polly’s lobbying, Polly happily paid Marge’s dues for the first year and had her elected as chapter treasurer. She has been doing that ever since except for a brief interlude of several years when Virginia Floyd capably handled those duties.
.Among those Polly recruited for the OC in 1977 were Dr. Tscheng Feng, a thoracic surgeon in Palm Beach, and his wife, Norma, Dr. Jeff Shapiro, a retired dentist from NY, who had been an organizer of the NYC chapter before moving to Florida, and his wife, Dr. George Volow, a retired psychiatrist and his wife, and other interested people in the area. Dr. Shapiro was the first chapter president followed by Dr. Volow. Henry Feustel served as chapter president for 2 years Marge Ketter was elected president sometime in the late 1980's. For 3 years in the late 1990’s Dan DeCarlo served as president, and after his term expired, Marge Ketter was reelected president and has held the job since. Polly never would agree to be president, she was forever the chapter secretary, but she was the guiding and motivating force behind the scene. She felt she could do more to achieve her goals that way. She recruited members and convinced them to handle the many tasks she saw necessary to be an active and well known group of China experts. The Steering Committee in the early days had about 15 members and met monthly to discuss chapter plans, usually in the basement offices of the First Methodist Church in WPB, now a landmark in City Place. Dr. Volow also taught Chinese lessons to members at the church. Almost all of the early members of the chapter, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s had traveled at least once to China. During the season meetings featured movies and slides taken by these members. With little or no information about China available at that time, our meetings were very well attended. At one time membership numbered about 200. These early travelers also lectured at local college adult learning classes, were interviewed on local radio, and hosted in their homes visiting Chinese delegations, including athletic teams, who at that time had little money and were more than happy to be put up in private homes. (Not long afterward they requested hotel housing.) The Feustels, Floyds, and other local members hosted many visiting Chinese. In the 1980’s when Chinese students were coming to the area for graduate studies, the Feustels welcomed them to their home.
The donations made by Dr Feng’s patients originally were intended to be used to send medical equipment and supplies to doctors in the Shanghai area, and when such shipments became difficult to send, the monies were designated to be used to offer financial aid to the students coming from the Mainland for graduate studies (a TOEFL score of 550 or better was required to study in the US) who had very little money of their own. Word somehow got to Chinese studying on the East Coast that Palm Beach was the place to come for beauty and gracious hosting, and many did just that. Youxie regularly sent 2 delegates every year to the US and they always visited Palm Beach. Dr. Feng was a well known thoracic surgeon in Palm Beach and was called upon when high ranking Chinese diplomats were invited to Palm Beach including Han Xu, a very popular Ambassador and a friend of George H W Bush. Han Xu remained as PRC Ambassador to the US longer than any other Ambassador since, and he visited Palm Beach more than once. The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches often invited these officials but they always included USCPFA Palm Beach County chapter in their visits. In about 1986 a gala banquet was held for one visit of Han Xu hosted by the chapter and some members of Palm Beach society, at what was then the Hong Kong Island Restaurant in North Palm Beach.
Originally the aid to the students was given as an outright gift, but eventually the Steering Committee decided the treasury would soon be depleted and sometime in the late 1980’s such aid was given as a loan to be repaid if they obtained a job. Most students stayed in the US and eventually repaid the loans. When Polly Fuestel died in 1990 the chapter set up the Polly Feustel Memorial Scholarship Fund and donations were made to that account. By chapter vote that fund has since been merged into the regular operating account from which any scholarships and other awards promoting friendship are paid. The scholarship program was the chapter’s biggest project with the exception of many cartons of books and publications of all kinds mailed to China in the 1980’s to restock libraries where the books had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Delegations came to the U.S. from the All China Women’s Federation, the Shanghai Women’s Federation, the All China Youth Federation, the Chinese journalists group, and all wanted to visit the Palm Beach chapter. Except for high ranking diplomats all were hosted in the homes of members. Shortly after the opening of the PRC Consulate in Houston, the Consul General would often visit, Ni Yaoli being the most frequent visitor. If the Consul General was unable to visit, Cultural Consuls would pay a visit to the chapter during business trips to Miami or Tallahassee.
Before China was further opened to the outside by President Carter in 1979, the USCPFA had a very successful tour program because of the visa availability, and all levels earned money from those tours. By putting passengers on National tours, chapters could earn $100 per passenger, and everyone wanting to go to China had to go with USCPFA. Eventually competition with commercial tour operators made it difficult to profit from tours and the tour program is now greatly reduced.
Public meetings were held at the Palm Beach County Library on Summit Blvd. on Saturday afternoons. Evening meetings were held at the WPB Library in downtown WPB. Early meetings usually were travelogues by returning China travelers, with slides and narratives, all hungrily absorbed by the usually good turn out. Judges, lawyers, teachers, eagerly gave presentations on their trips to China. In the libraries walk-ins often joined the meetings, and an occasional member was signed up. Local media often attended the meetings. Early members participated as teachers in a program at FAU for retirees still interested in learning. A relationship was established with professors at FAU who willingly spoke on the Chinese grad students or their experience on visiting China.
Many of the founding members regularly attended National meetings and Southern Region meetings, served on boards, and participated in the tours sponsored by Youxie to introduce China to the western world, and in what were called FAM (or familiarization) tours to teach potential tour leaders how to lead tours for the National or Southern Region. Only those cities that were considered suitable for foreign visitors were on those itineraries, and as China improved living conditions and provided more housing units for its citizens, other cities were opened to travelers. In those early 1980s, USCPFA ran 5 or 6 tours to China annually, all led by USCPFA members, and always booked to capacity. In those days only Lindblad Travel and USCPFA were given visas by the PRC. The PRC government appreciated the grass roots non political educational efforts of USCPFA.
After more and more information became available to the public about China, membership dropped and attendance at meetings suffered. The chapter went from monthly meetings during the season held at a local library or other meeting room, to 3 luncheon meetings during that time. Members no longer wanted to travel distances at night, the County library room was no longer available on Saturday afternoon, and meeting venues became difficult to come by. The Mandarin Restaurant in North Palm Beach offered both a meeting room upstairs and a very good Chinese meal, and became a regular meeting place until it was sold. The only centrally located Chinese restaurant with a private dining room was found to be the Singing Bamboo in WPB, and most meetings are now held there. Past meetings and banquets have been at other Chinese restaurants in the area.,
During the 1980’s the Palm Beach Junior College in Lake Worth held an International Festival each year with participants from all of the local ethnic groups. There was no local Chinese community at that time and the Palm Beach County chapter was invited to have a display representing China. Opening night was Friday and there was a parade of countries around the college gym and the chapter would find a Chinese person that would carry the Chinese flag. The chapter’s display included a room with movies from China, and gifts purchased in China by members that were sold at a table out front. Sunday night closed the Festival with another march of the countries represented. The Festival was well attended by the community. When student enrollment increased they found it necessary to discontinue the festival.
Polly and Henry Feustel devoted all their free time to the chapter, and on the death of Polly in 1990, the chapter activities were scaled back. No one had the time or energy to devote that much time. Henry died many years later but did not have the talent Polly had to energize the group, although he remained a member until his age restricted his activities. The chapter membership has fluctuated between 25 and 50 members since that time. The scholarship program that once benefited many students from the Mainland of China was unused for a number of years until member Yinjie Qian, Chinese teacher at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton suggested the chapter begin a program of small scholarships to deserving students in her Chinese classes. Each year the chapter offers a $100 scholarship to up to 3 students recommended by their teacher. At this time only Olympic Heights is participating although other high schools have shown some interest in the program.
In 1996 the chapter hosted the Southern Region Conference at a Palm Beach Hotel with Consul General Wu Jinrong and 2 Cultural Consuls invited as featured speakers. They made a special trip up from Miami where they were meeting with local Chinese.. The Conference opened Friday night with a reception co- hosted by the chapter and the Edna Hibel Art Museum in Palm Beach, including 2 young musicians from Harid Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton offering entertainment. We held a banquet Saturday night in the outdoor dining area surrounded by tropical palms and flowers, and greeted by a downpour. Luckily the tent help up and Consul General Wu gave his welcoming speech. Sunday Noon closed the Conference, with local members driving some of the remaining visitors around Palm Beach and to the airport.
From that meeting came a call from Jason Yan, president of a new southern Florida Chinese group, Chinese Association of Science, Economics and Culture (CASEC). Consul General Wu had suggested Jason Yan introduce CASEC to the chapter. This began our friendship with the CASEC organization and interaction over the years. The Palm Beach Chapter were co-sponsors with the Palm Beach State College for a New Year Gala in 2011 that had performances by the Performing Arts Group-CASEC. The Gala had a very entertaining program of acrobats, musicians, singers, and dancers as well as the standard Dragon Dance.
Over the years we have maintained a cordial relationship with the Curator of the Chinese Collection at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. The Curator has often given programs for the chapter on the excellent Chinese exhibit at the Museum.
The chapter name was changed to USCPFA Southeast Florida Chapter at its annual meeting held April 30, 2011. The chapter has grown to include members from Broward County north to Martin County and several members suggested the change to better reflect the present membership. For a number of years we have had a chapter web page that is also linked to the USCPFA National website. As the membership changes so do the programs and interests, and we see the chapter as a work in progress that has lasted from its early beginnings in 1977.