July 19, 2009

Sibu Tales : The First Principal of Methodist School Sibu

Eugene McGraw - a Methodist Pioneer Missionary in Malaysia
Principal- Woodworker- Mechanic -Typist- Writer- Extraordinaire

May 17th, 1909 - July 6th, 2009

Rev. Eugene McGraw died July 6, 2009, at the age of 100. His wife, Louise, always called him Mac. Eugene was born in Falmouth, Indiana, in 1909, the oldest of four boys. His mother was Ina McGraw nee Kerschner. Eugene grew up on the small family farm in Harrisburg, Indiana.

During high school years he built radios for fun and sold them for a profit. Upon graduation, DePauw University offered him a full tuition scholarship but the family had no money for his room and board. Earlham College offered a small scholarship and a part time job so he was able to attend Earlham and live at home on the farm. With a major in Physics and Bible Studies and the highest grades in his class, he received a full tuition scholarship at Earlham for his senior year. When he graduated in 1933, during the depth of the Depression, Oberlin School of Theology offered him a three-year tuition scholarship. He always liked to say that at Oberlin he “prayed for his food.” (He was given the job of cafeteria chaplain.) He also earned money typing papers and repairing cars for other students. In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Earlham and his theology degree from Oberlin, Eugene studied social work at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and became a certified social worker in 1945. He studied German, Latin, Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Foochow Chinese and was fluent in Malay. He also studied industrial arts at New York University in 1956.

He loved woodworking and was very proud of his woodworking tools.

His first job as a pastor was at the Methodist Church in Mount Comfort, Indiana in 1935 when nobody had much money. The church couldn’t pay him all of the very small salary that he had been promised. He seriously considered continuing as the preacher and starting an automotive repair shop in Mount Comfort.

After a year in Mount Comfort, Indiana, “where there was neither mountain nor comfort,” he took the train to California and then a cargo ship to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore and then the train up into Malaya where he became a Methodist missionary teacher and pastor.

His first and longest principalship was in Sitiawan Perak starting in 1937. He was pastor at the Methodist Church in Taiping, where he met the beautiful church organist, Louise Leonard, who was a missionary teacher in a Methodist school in Taiping. They were married for 65 years. The McGraws were fortunate to escape by cargo ship during the Japanese war.

Rev. McGraw arrived in Sibu by the first boat from Singapore after the Japanese Occupation was over on June 15th 1946 together with Mrs. Mary Hoover and Bishop Lee. McGraw was appointed evangelist to Sibu was involved in the re building of the concrete Hoover House . He and his family lived in the new Hoover House for four years. He was the first Principal the Methodist Secondary School Sibu in 1949 which he personally helped design and build. He was also on the first Board of Directors of the school.

Rev. McGraw was transferred to Sitiawan where he served as Principal of the Sitiawan Anglo Chinese School from 1952 to 1961. A very much loved principal his thousands of students kept in touch with him. He also helped many of them to win scholarships to study in England. He thus occupies a very important part of Perak and Sarawak history.

Eugene McGraw devoted his life to service of the Methodist church, both in America and Malaysia. He was also a supporter of Earlham College. Even thought he lived an extremely frugal life on a small missionary salary, he created and funded an Earlham Scholarship Fund to help students from overseas and from Centerville.

Eugene is survived by his brother, Glenn of Ohio; his daughter, Bonnie of Richmond, Indiana; his son, Paul of Patriot, Indiana; three grandchildren, Jack Bond of Las Vegas, Nevada, Deborah Sweeney of Elk Grove, California, and Oliver McGraw of New Orleans, Louisiana; and two great-grandchildren, Cathleen Sweeney and Seamus Sweeney of California.

Eugene was a great storyteller and prolific letter writer all his life. The family has many hundreds of pages of letters that he wrote home to his parents from the time he went to Oberlin through his years as a missionary in Asia. The letters are being typed and hopefully will be available someday under the title “Letters Home to Centerville.”

(Adapted from the obituary emailed from Centerville)

Notes: In 2006 Bonnie returned to celebrate the centenary of the Anglo Chinese School Sitiawan on behalf of her 95 year old father. She attended the ACS herself. She and Gail Pilley traveled to Sibu after the occasion. (Judy Wong)

Other Source : Ling Kai Cheng "Fifty Years in Reminiscence"

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