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

Original Article by Ruth Nerhaugen

Corinne Ching brought her 5-year-old daughter, 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. Years when she's not busy running for re-election to the Hawaii House of Representatives, she comes to visit the house where her mother grew up, to see where her mother worked and played, and to meet with people who were 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, to her grandmother's home town.

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

Growing up, Ching thought that Thomas Wong was her uncle and that his sister, Ethel, and her husband, Ronald Ching, were her parents. She had no idea that Bea Engstrom even existed.

But her adoptive parents decided that at 15, she should be told who she is -- the natural daughter of her "uncle" Tommy and a woman from a town called Red Wing, Minn.

Engstrom had come to Hawaii to teach. She met Wong, who ultimately came to Red Wing and asked for Bea's hand in marriage, Ching said, but the couple did not stay together and did not marry.

Then Engstrom discovered she was pregnant. In the early 1960s, having a child without a husband made life difficult for a woman, Ching said, but Wong did not want the baby put up for adoption.

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

"I wanted to know more about my heritage," said Ching. She drilled her birth father for details. He was in poor health, though, and died shortly 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 her grandfather, Roy Engstrom -- son of early Swedish immigrant Andrew Engstrom -- being a photographer. Mostly, though, he talked about the charming little town of Red Wing, Minn., where people made shoes and pottery, and went out on boats on a river; a town with mountains and lots 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 her to take the next step, although the chain of events that led her to Engstrom was complex.

Dorothy Holmes, an old Red Wing friend of her mother, had sent Engstrom a newspaper clipping about another friend, Berdell Eastlund. It mentioned that Berdell and Cal Eastlund's son, Lon, lived in Honolulu. Engstrom contacted him just days before he received 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 be received, but eventually she got through to the house. "Do you know Tommy Wong?" she asked the woman. "I'm thinking and I'm hoping you're my 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 letter to family and friends announcing "A Remarkable Discovery." In it, she shared the news of her happy reunion with her daughter.

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

"Now I have discovered friends and cousins 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 Paul Chesley, who helped her create a calendar promoting one of her constituent communities, Liliha.

Mother and daughter had about 15 years to get to know each other before ill health claimed Bea Munive. She helped her daughter campaign for state office.

When she died in 2005, Bea Engstrom Munive was cremated. Her remains were divided for burial -- half in Hawaii, and half with her parents at Calvary Cemetery in Red Wing -- establishing forever a link between Hawaii and Minnesota that will keep Ching coming back.