Karen Fung Lee

 

A second generation Chinese American Pittsburgh native, Karen Fung Yee has spent much of her life honoring and sharing the rich traditions of the Chinese and Asian culture. Working with the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) since the 1970s, Yee is a past president of OCA Pittsburgh, Asian Women’s Institute – Pittsburgh Cluster, Ikebana International – Pittsburgh Chapter, and The University of Pittsburgh’s Women’s International Club. She has also chaired the has chaired Pitt’s Chinese Nationality Room Committee since 1988.

It was her father’s devotion to giving back to the community that inspired Karen’s own civic practice: Hoy Fung was instrumental in raising early funds and support for the Chinese Room at Pitt’s  Nationality Rooms. But Fung never laid eyes on the room until he retired in the 1970s. Owner of the iconic Bellevue Tea Garden in the northern suburb of the same name, he worked six days a week after opening in 1926 what many think is the first Chinese restaurant in the area.

“The room meant so much to him, and he spent decades making sure the money was there to keep it going,” said Yee. “He was very proud of the room when he finally saw it, but he knew all those years that people were enjoying it and learning from it. That’s what mattered.”

Yee served as chairperson of the Chinese Nationality Room from 1990 through 2014 and as Chairperson of the National Council, consisting of all the Nationality Room Committees in 1998 and 2011. She was a member of the Asian-American Heritage Committee of the Pittsburgh Federal Executive Board and chairs the Asian-American Coalition of Western PA. She was appointed to the Congressional Awards Council of PA and served as a member of Women & Philanthropy, Pittsburgh Region. She also served on the Violence Prevention Task Force convened by Allegheny Chief Executive James Roddy and chaired by Dr. Cyril Wecht.

A 1971 Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Karen majored in English, with minors in biology, sociology & education. After a decade as caseworker in the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, Yee retired in 1998 to enjoy time with her family. With her twin sister, a younger sister, and 3 brothers, Yee grew up in Bellevue, a suburb of Pittsburgh, where their family owned and operated the Bellevue Tea Garden from 1926 to 1997.

Yee and her late husband, Western Pennsylvania Hall of Fame basketball coach Fred Yee (who was also the first Asian American to play for Pitt) raised 3 children during their 51 years of marriage.

Currently, a Professor in the Ikenobo School of Ikebana (flower arranging), and a 1970 charter member, Yee teaches Ikenobo classes at Carnegie Mellon University and has exhibited in Kyoto, Japan, Phipps Conservatory, Carnegie Museum, Carnegie Mellon University, Fifth Avenue Place, Station Square, and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. She has served as president of the Ikenobo Society of Pittsburgh since 1990. She loves sharing with her students the natural beauty she creates with just a few flowers, branches, and leaves.

Says Yee, “My dad always told us that if we were lucky enough to do well in life and provide for our family, we had a duty to give back.” We couldn’t agree more!