Teachers, students buy arm for the school janitor

Chong Lee, of Wausau, Wis., lost his arm when he was just a boy when mortar shells rained down on his backyard in Laos in 1968.

After years in a refugee camp, his family migrated to Wisconsin, he learned to speak English, and for the last few years he’s worked as a janitor at Wausau East High School.

He has a prosthetic arm, but it’s too heavy and uncomfortable, so he works with just one arm.

A teacher friend, George Hagge, found a much better option — a lightweight arm attached at the shoulder. But an insurance company refused to pay for it because it had already paid for one.

So the students and staff bought it for him.

In order to raise the $2,500 for Lee’s prosthetic, students volunteered at places around town, made 2,000 egg rolls for the annual Cultural Arts Festival of East and received generous contributions from other faculty and staff at the high school.

Last spring, Lee was fitted for the prosthetic. Walkabout cast his right hand and created a mirrored prosthetic for his left hand. He got the arm in Sept. 2015 and was allowed to use it before payment while funds were still being raised.

In May 2016, after a successful CAFE event, students had enough money to cover the cost. At a school-wide event, student leaders from the YCC presented Walkabout with a check for Lee’s arm.

Hagge retired this year and although he loved many aspects of his 27-year career, he’s been glad to have experienced the many cultures that enlivened his classroom.

“It has been an honor to be a part of the Hmong community. There’s so many different groups with which I’ve worked and it has been the most wonderful job with some of the most wonderful, kind people.”