Life was a beautiful party for brilliant, funny Kay Pang.
If a friend stopped by the family home on Chickadee Trail, she opened the door with her arms above her head, pronouncing, “the party can get started!” Kay enjoyed a wonderful life that was rich fodder for her gift of storytelling with a humorous twist about family, friends, and the gift of service. Kay turned everything possible into a party – a friend stopping by for coffee, fundraising for causes, family dinners, funerals, and even hosting small dinner parties well into her 90’s at Wesley Willows. Kay would happily attend the opening of an envelope if she could turn it into a festive event for guests.
Kay stood still only when sleeping. Her busy, busy schedule led to a kind of purposeful chaos, and her so-called “goofs”. Her gentle, self-deprecating humor turned all of her adventures and mishaps into hilarious stories that made her and her “audience” laugh so hard that tears streamed down. Kay’s stories put people at ease making lasting friendships quickly and easily. Her style was akin to two of her favorite women, the columnist Erma Bombeck and the great Julia Child; all three women did not take themselves too seriously. All of us have our own recollections of her often-told stories such as Kay going to the wrong wedding with one of her young daughters. Not realizing they were at the wrong wedding until the groom came down the aisle, Kay tapped the man in the pew in front of their seat and queried, “Excuse me, do you know whose wedding this is?” They stayed for the entire high mass, her young daughter wearing a glove bobby pinned to her head having forgotten the requisite hat. She was extremely social. Kay and her husband, Allen, held the best parties, ALL OF THE TIME. Kay’s parties were so fun that the furniture often got moved for dancing the twist or for a wild round of Guitar Hero, where she could match the passion of the rock band Cheap Trick. As the kids grew up, the “hired staff” for many of these gatherings were her children and their high-school friends, who parked cars (driver licenses not mandated), refreshed the drinks, and cleaned up.
Kay was a force. She was born in the depths of the Great Depression in East Chicago, Indiana on June 18, 1927. Kay’s father, John, worked at Inland Steel for 50 years and her mother, Margaret, worked in the home, led a Girl Scout troop for 50 years, and was active in the Episcopal church, while her father and her siblings were practicing Catholics.
Kay was proud of growing up in the Region, and loved taking the South Shore train to Marshall Field’s and the Indiana Dunes Beach. Her beloved grandparents, Alice and William Freiberger, lived a short walk away from the Parchem’s home on Northcote Avenue. Kay’s siblings were her best friends – sister Marylou, (Eugene Pelfrey) brother Jack and his incredible wife Marge. Sadly, the Parchem siblings and Marge passed away in 2022. We like to think they wanted to be together.
The entire Freiberger/Parchem clan enjoyed walking to and from the many Freiberger members’ homes, visiting often with aunts and uncles, Bill (Martha), Cliff (Evelyn), Florence (Russell Cox), Alice (George Sufak), their beloved spouses, 12 nieces and nephews, scores of cousins, and all the many great and great great nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Growing up, there were no boundaries as family members popped into each other’s bungalows, baking together, sharing their vegetable gardens, or sitting in the front rooms telling stories over cups of coffee. Kay was close to the Freiberger clan. It was through them that she learned to cherish family, religion, hard work, education, the love of sports – both playing and watching – celebrating everything small or big, and the gift of humor.
Following high school, Kay’s love of music earned her a scholarship to Carleton College. To her father, becoming a professional flutist was not practical; so, she went to Wesley Memorial Nursing College in Chicago. There, she met her partner in life, Allen Yun Pui Pang. Allen was a few years out of the military, where he became a bombardier/navigator in a Martin B-26 Marauder, completing 68 combat missions. They fell in love and were married for 67 years, until Allen passed away in 2017. Kay and Allen grew up in very different worlds, but their shared values brought them together. They had four children: Susan, (Doug Hughes) born in Hawaii where they were living, Laura (Bill Wheeler), Sarah (Bruce Munies) and Steve (deceased 12/4/2008) were all born in Kay’s and Al’s beloved Rockford, where the family made their home on Chickadee Trail. They somewhat randomly ended up in Rockford because Kay didn’t like the constant good weather of Hawaii and Allen wouldn’t live in the big city of Chicago. To many, this mixed-race/mixed-religion marriage in the 1940’s was deemed to fail. Allen was brought up as a Buddhist in rural Hawaii, Kay was a practicing Catholic that enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the region, but they compromised, made decisions together, and their shared values and interests kept them together. Both families supported this unusual couple and embraced their decisions in every way.
Kay liked to make every-day life special, celebrating with her family, her numerous friends, and cohorts in civic causes: Illinois Children’s Home & Aid, Women’s Club, Court Street Church, the Burpee Museum, Garden Club, and political work for Representative John B. Anderson and Representative Lynn Martin. Late into her 80’s, she created and executed three successful fashion shows to entice working women to join the Women’s Club and to raise funds for Remedies, a nonprofit providing services for women suffering from domestic violence or substance abuse. It’s no wonder that Kay and Allen had friends of all ages, races, religions, and walks of life.
Kay Pang was the best mom, often unexpectedly showing up at her children’s schools, taking each of them out of school at different times so they could be with her one-on-one. There were regular excursions for shopping in Chicago or to East Chicago to see Grandma and Grandpa. Her parenting strategy was if the kids were kind, polite, involved, home for dinner at 6:00, and had good grades, all was good. If the kids mostly achieved these rules, Kay and Allen overlooked their numerous car accidents, missed curfews, large bills at the Rockford Country Club snack shop, and parties when they were out of town.
Kay and Allen adored their grandchildren Christian, Benjamin, Audra (married to Ben), Meaghan, and Jake. She was fiercely competitive in sports, even needing to win against her very, very young grandkids in ping pong, bowling, and as they grew, winning in tennis, cards, Pictionary, and board games – even Cards Against Humanity. She played golf only for Allen’s sake, and once purposely drove over her clubs thinking that would put an end to her golfing. Her kids were sworn to keep the “accidental” demise of the golf clubs from Allen. Secrecy held, but Kay got new clubs from Allen for her birthday. She also loved chocolate, chardonnay, her bridge club, Stitch & B*@#%, and seeing every blockbuster movie in a theater, cooking, reading, writing – including Op-Eds sent to the Rockford Register Star and Chicago Tribune – University of Iowa football and basketball, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Rockford Symphony Orchestra, American musicals live, and keeping up on the Chicago Cubs’ drafts, trades, rosters, batting orders, and scores.
It takes a village to help someone grow old gracefully and pass away with dignity. We are grateful for the incredible support from our friend, Jim Weber, from Olson Funeral Home. He supported our family with comfort and healing, many times. Jim guided Kay & Allen when their son passed; a feat that Jim carried so lovingly for his very close friend Steve; planned Allen’s funeral with Kay & Allen in their living room on Chickadee, knowing that Allen had just a few precious days left on earth; and now Jim has rejoined Allen & Kay with such beautiful care. Kay’s friend, Sarah Bell, helped her immensely with the transition from her beloved home on Chickadee to Wesley Willows (WW) Suites, then to WW assisted living, making the moves fun and easy for Kay. We are so thankful for the kind and expert staff at Wesley Willows as they kept Kay independent, engaged and safe, even through COVID; Visiting Angels, particularly Sharon who kept her independent; Home Instead’s fun-loving Lora kept her laughing; and Mercy Health Hospice aided her peaceful final transition to heaven.
In Kay’s memory, all she hoped was kindness to one another and to make someone laugh. Please, please, please forgo flowers and memorial gifts and instead, simply bring a smile to someone’s day in Kay’s honor.
Kay’s final resting place will be with Allen in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl, Honolulu, Hawaii. To be with Allen again, she happily agreed to get used to the perfect climate and sweet ocean breezes of Hawaii.
A private family service and a memorial are planned for later this year. To share a memory or condolence, visit olsonfh.com.
Posted online on November 08, 2022
Published in Rockford Register Star