In 1985, as a sophomore at Ouachita Baptist University, Pam Westburg remembers receiving an angel food cake and frozen strawberries in the mail from her mother in Fayetteville as a birthday gift.
Upset that the gift had melted on its trip to Arkadelphia and that she was alone on her birthday, she turned to her dorm mother, Rosemary Chu, known on campus as Mom Chu. To Westburg’s surprise, she shared the same birthday as Chu, May 7.
Westburg said since that day she has spent every birthday with her “second mom.” Chu, 80, has served in the same position since 1967 as hall director at Frances Crawford women’s dorm.
She has lived in a small apartment in the dorm since she began her job 42 years ago, and on Friday, May 22, Chu will retire as dorm mom and move out.
“God put me here for a purpose,” Chu said. “I have learned so much, and I have really been blessed at Ouachita.”
Before she leaves, she will donate 1,000 books from her personal collection to the library and enough money for four scholarships. The money was raised for scholarships from the proceeds of her book that was published, chronicling her trip from China to the United States.
Chu will move to Kansas City, Mo., to be near her daughter.
Chu was born in China in 1929 and came to the United States to attend college at Wittenberg University in Ohio. She moved to Arkadelphia in 1963 with her husband, Finley, when he got a job as chairman of OBU’s economics and business department. Four years later he died of cancer, leaving Chu to take care of their 9-year-old daugh-ter.
The OBU staff asked Chu to become hall director, and she and her daughter moved in the dorm.
“Me and my daughter shared the apartment in the dorm,” Chu said. “Those girls helped raise her and take care of her.”
Chu’s daughter graduated from Ouachita with a degree in music education.
Chu said over the years many things have changed, not only through her job but around the campus.
“The landscape around campus is much better,” Chu said. “And there are so many new buildings.”
Several aspects of her job have changed through the decades, including rules, curfew and inspections.
“Back then the girls had to sign in and out whenever they left the dorm,” Chu said. “They also had to be in bed at 10 p.m., and I had to check every room, every night. We also only had one phone for the entire dorm, which was outside my room. The girls had to stand in line and wait their turn to call home. There was also only one TV in the dorm, which was in the lobby.
“Another rule we had was no refrigerators, TVs or phones in the rooms. Now every room has all of those things, plus a computer,” Chu said.
Westburg said one thing she remembers about living in the dorm is the special things Chu would do for the residents.
“If you needed anything ever, she would help you,” Westburg said. “When she inspected our room, she would always leave special notes telling us if our rooms were clean or dirty.”
Westburg said Chu could remember every girl in every room who ever lived in the dorm. In the beginning, 152 girls occupied the dorm; now, because some have private rooms, 127 girls live there.
“When we have reunions or she sees someone who used to live in the dorm, she knows exactly what room and what floor they lived on,” Westburg said. “Her memory is dangerous.”
Along with living on campus, Chu attends as many campus events as possible and is a member of the local Baptist church.
“I attend everything I can,” Chu said. “It’s a great way for me to learn about the culture. I also joined First Baptist Church on Aug. 15, 1963, and I go every Sunday.”
Westburg attends church with Chu, and they walk together every week.
“Every single Sunday, everyone gets a red lipstick kiss from Mom,” Westburg said. “My kids all had red lipstick on their faces. She just has to do it.”
Chu said she stayed at OBU because of the students and their families.
“These girls are so loving and caring, and they tell me about their families,” Chu said. “God has really blessed me abundantly.”
OBU President Rex Horne said Chu’s impact on the thousands of students she has come in contact with cannot be overemphasized.
“Her life is a lesson about freedom and mission: freedom in our country and commitment to our Christian mission,” Horne said.
By Elizabeth Pannell, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Tri-Lakes edition, May 10, 2009