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Published Wednesday June 17th, 2009 at 8:07pm

Original Article by Ruth Nerhaugen

Corinne Ching brought her 5-year-olddaughter, Annalauren, to explore Red Wing, her grandmother's home town.Beatrice Engstrom grew up in this house at Sixth and Hodgman streets,then settled in Hawaii, where Ching was born.

A woman from Honolulu, Hawaii, vacationing in rural Minnesota?

The idea is not as outlandish as it sounds.

Corinne Ching comes to Red Wing regularly to explore her roots. Yearswhen she's not busy running for re-election to the Hawaii House ofRepresentatives, she comes to visit the house where her mother grew up,to see where her mother worked and played, and to meet with people whowere friends of the late Beatrice "Bea" Engstrom.

This year,Ching's mission of discovery had a special focus. She and her husband,Dr. Stuart Lerner, brought their daughter, 5-year-old Annalauren, toher grandmother's home town.

It has taken years, but Ching hasfinally pinned down details of the family story that was kept secretfor the first 15 years of her life.

Growing up, Ching thoughtthat Thomas Wong was her uncle and that his sister, Ethel, and herhusband, Ronald Ching, were her parents. She had no idea that BeaEngstrom even existed.

But her adoptive parents decided that at15, she should be told who she is -- the natural daughter of her "uncle"Tommy and a woman from a town called Red Wing, Minn.

Engstromhad come to Hawaii to teach. She met Wong, who ultimately came to RedWing and asked for Bea's hand in marriage, Ching said, but the coupledid not stay together and did not marry.

Then Engstromdiscovered she was pregnant. In the early 1960s, having a child withouta husband made life difficult for a woman, Ching said, but Wong did notwant the baby put up for adoption.

"It's a tradition, almost, inHawaii," Ching said, describing the practice called "hanai," whichkeeps the child in the family. Wong's sister and her husband, who areChinese, adopted the baby girl at birth and raised Corinne as their own.

"I wanted to know more about my heritage," said Ching. She drilled herbirth father for details. He was in poor health, though, and diedshortly after their conversation.

"He said three things that imprinted on my memory," Ching said.

He talked about her mom being one of four sisters, and about hergrandfather, Roy Engstrom -- son of early Swedish immigrant AndrewEngstrom -- being a photographer. Mostly, though, he talked about thecharming little town of Red Wing, Minn., where people made shoes andpottery, and went out on boats on a river; a town with mountains andlots of antique shops.

Wong told her Red Wing was an all-American town, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

"I wanted to find my mother," Ching said. Simple good luck enabled herto take the next step, although the chain of events that led her toEngstrom was complex.

Dorothy Holmes, an old Red Wing friend ofher mother, had sent Engstrom a newspaper clipping about anotherfriend, Berdell Eastlund. It mentioned that Berdell and Cal Eastlund'sson, Lon, lived in Honolulu. Engstrom contacted him just days before hereceived a phone call from Ching. She had discovered that Lon Eastlund,organizer of a race in which she was to participate, was from Red Wing.

"I'm looking for my long-lost birth mother. She's from Red Wing. Do you know a Beatrice Engstrom?" Ching asked.

Engstrom had married a man named Michael Munive and still lived in Honolulu; they had no children.

Ching was nervous about calling the woman, unsure how she would bereceived, but eventually she got through to the house. "Do you knowTommy Wong?" she asked the woman. "I'm thinking and I'm hoping you'remy birth mother."

The woman turned to her husband and said, "It's my baby girl!"

That was 1991. Ching was thrilled when her birth mother sent a letterto family and friends announcing "A Remarkable Discovery." In it, sheshared the news of her happy reunion with her daughter.

Chinglearned that Bea, the daughter of Roy and Grace Engstrom, grew up inthe family home at Sixth and Hodgman streets. She attended Villa MariaAcademy and got a teaching certificate from the College of St. Teresa.At one time she worked at the Republican Eagle newspaper, and she was alifeguard at Colvill Pool.

"Now I have discovered friends andcousins all over the region," Ching said. When she comes to Minnesota,"I get this wonderful reception." Plus she has connected with other"Red Wingers" in Hawaii, including international photographer PaulChesley, who helped her create a calendar promoting one of herconstituent communities, Liliha.

Mother and daughter had about15 years to get to know each other before ill health claimed BeaMunive. She helped her daughter campaign for state office.

Whenshe died in 2005, Bea Engstrom Munive was cremated. Her remains weredivided for burial -- half in Hawaii, and half with her parents atCalvary Cemetery in Red Wing -- establishing forever a link betweenHawaii and Minnesota that will keep Ching coming back.