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Taylorsville Journal

City receives hundreds of facemasks from historical association founded by former Judge Michael Kwan

Dec 03, 2020 02:34PM ● By Carl Fauver

Deceased Judge Michael Kwan’s sister Karen and wife, Jennifer, (front, L-R) recently presented Taylorsville City with hundreds of facemasks as a gesture of appreciation. (Taylorsville City)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Utah House District 34 Rep. Karen Kwan was reelected last month by a 57% to 43% margin. Among her constituents are thousands of Taylorsville residents. But she is the first to admit the election was one of the few bright spots in what has been a challenging 2020.

“It has been such a terribly hard year,” Kwan said. “I have not been able to move forward since my brother’s death. I’m not sure when I will be able to do it. We were so close. I have not been able to get myself there.”

Kwan, of course, is referring to her older brother, Michael Kwan, who died unexpectedly on July 21. The rest of us knew him as Judge Kwan, the only municipal court judge Taylorsville has ever had. His life was not claimed by COVID-19. But his passing was every bit as shocking and unexpected to his family as any coronavirus tragedy.

“[Michael] was only two years older than me, and we were always so close,” Kwan said. “Growing up in California, people often thought we were twins. We were very close in height and hung out together all the time. We have younger and older sisters who both still live in California. But we were the two middle kids and both here in Utah.”

In addition to Kwan, other family members survived by the judge include his wife, Jennifer, and grown children Elizabeth and Richard.

During an emotional presentation at a recent Taylorsville City Council meeting, Karen and Jennifer Kwan came armed with three large boxes of protective facemasks to donate to the city. They chose that manner to express their appreciation for everything city officials did to coordinate events following Michael Kwan’s death.

But the donation of nearly 1,000 masks (“No one took an exact count”) was made not just by the Kwan family but by a historic organization founded by Michael Kwan and others two years ago: the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association.

City officials and leaders of the Unified Police Department Taylorsville Precinct coordinated activities in the wake of Judge Kwan’s passing, including a police-escorted processional on Redwood Road and 5400 South. The city also organized a public viewing, as the judge lay in state for an afternoon at city hall.

“The organization you provided and the way you kept everyone safely distanced [due to coronavirus] was so wonderful,” Karen Kwan told council members while making the donation. “The police officers were also so nice to provide a flag ceremony. Our family feels wrapped in the love of the city. We wanted to make sure you know how much we appreciated all of it—and all of you.”

After founding the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association in 2018, Michael Kwan served as its president until his passing.

“We know through our family oral history, one of our ancestors worked on the transcontinental railroad,” Karen Kwan said. “The shame of it is, as workers came from China to work on the railroad, their names were often not recorded. My grandmother used to tell us the stories, but we aren’t sure if it was her grandfather or great grandfather who worked on it. Our story is not unique. Many Chinese Americans know their ancestor worked on the railroad, but there is no paperwork.”

The CRDWA mission statement (at reads, in part: “The CRWDA is a national organization which seeks to preserve, promote and protect the contributions made by Chinese railroad workers to the United States. We support further understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices, struggles, hardships and contributions made by generations of Chinese and Chinese Americans to the United States.”

Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson introduced the presentation to the Taylorsville City Council, before relinquishing the visitors’ podium to Representative Kwan.

“Our court is functioning, but we still miss Judge Kwan very much and are delighted to have you here with us for this presentation,” Overson told them. She said the process of naming a successor is continuing. Overson hopes to name the new judge “sometime in the spring.”

The three large boxes of donated facemasks were given, one each to the police department, the municipal court and city administrators, for employees and guests to use as needed.

“Our hearts go out to you,” Council Chairwoman Meredith Harker added. “We appreciate you honoring Judge Kwan in this way.”

“It was a somber moment,” Councilman Curt Cochran said. “I respect Judge Kwan and everything he did for the community. He changed people’s lives.”

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