To say Toy Len Goon was a mold-breaker is a bit of an understatement.

Dogan Goon immigrated to the United States from China, gaining citizenship by serving in Army Medical Corps from June 1918 until January 1919. He married Toy Len Goon and they settled in Portland in 1921. He died in 1941, leaving his wife to raise their eight children and run the laundry they had opened. Photo courtesy of the Collections of the Maine Historical Society

She was the bride of a Portland man, Dogan Goon, who brought her to Maine from her native China in 1921. They had eight children and ran a laundry in Portland.

When Dogan Goon died in 1941, Toy Goon was visited by government officials who wanted her to take welfare benefits, but she refused, according to her daughter, Doris Wong. Goon didn’t want to give up her independence, Wong said, and planned to continue to raise her children on her own until they were ready to head to college.

“There was no way that she would ever lose control of her brood,” Wong said of her late mother, who died in 1993. “Mother was really an extraordinary woman.”

Goon’s extraordinariness will be recognized Sunday, when the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine unveils a marker at 615 Forest Ave., where she raised her family and ran her laundry.

The plaque won’t be the first honor bestowed upon her. In 1952, Goon was named Maine Mother of the Year, then National Mother of the Year, by American Mothers, an organization founded in the early 1930s by, among others, Sara Delano Roosevelt, mother of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


The first mothers of the year were, frankly, the type of women you would expect would to be chosen for an award that was handed out each year at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City – the dean of women at Wesleyan College and the wife of the founder of the Mayo Clinic were among the early choices.

Four of Dogan and Toy Len Goon’s children played with a car at their home at Arlington Place at Woodford’s Corner in Portland circa 1934. The children were, from left, Doris, Josephine, Richard and Edward. Photo courtesy of the Collections of Maine Historical Society


But then came Goon, nominated by a friend and customer in Portland who saw something special in the woman running the laundry on Forest Avenue – and her children.

Clara Soule “saw how we worked and how we were all good students and my brother was in medical school” and recognized their mother’s hand in molding her children, Wong said.

A plaque dedicated to Toy Len Goon is on the front of the building at 615 Forest Ave. in Portland, where Goon, a single mother of eight, lived and ran a hand laundry business. Gregory A. Rec/Staff Photographer

When Goon told her daughter that Soule wanted to nominate her for Maine Mother of the Year, she admitted she was dubious.

But ultimately, Goon told her daughter that she would agree to be nominated.


“‘What are the chances? Just make her (Soule) happy, it will never happen,’ ” Wong remembers her mother telling her.

The timing argued against a Chinese American getting the honor, said Gary Libby of the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, which promotes Chinese language and culture in the state and provided the plaque that’s being unveiled Sunday.

“In 1952, we were fighting the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans in the Korean War,” Libby said.

A year when Chinese and Americans were fighting each other in Asia was probably not an auspicious time to give an honor that had largely gone to blue-blood American mothers of European descent.


As Mother of the Year in 1952, Toy Len Goon visited Washington, D.C., with her children and was received by first lady Bess Truman at the White House. Photo courtesy of the Collections of Maine Historical Society

But there Goon was in May 1952, getting the award in New York City, being paraded through Chinatown, eating lunch in the Capitol as a guest of the House speaker and meeting Bess Truman at the White House. Later that month, she was honored in Boston and at several events back in Portland.


“Mother was so pleased – and a little intimidated,” Wong said.

Portland was good to the Goon family, and vice versa, Wong said, although the couple had to to move their home and business several times before they settled into the Forest Avenue location in 1934.

The two had rented business locations and apartments, Wong said, but her mother was secretly squirreling away a dollar here and there each week. Eventually, when they found the three-story building for sale on Forest Avenue, Goon told her husband she had $500 as a down-payment on the $5,000 building. A Portland bank gave them a loan and they were able to buy it.

Gary Libby, who has researched the Chinese community in Maine for 20 years, lobbied to have a plaque placed on the building at 615 Forest Ave. in Portland where Toy Len Goon lived and ran a hand laundry business. Gregory A. Rec/Staff Photographe

The first floor held the laundry, the second floor was the Goons’ home and the third floor was rented out, Wong said. Initially, the second floor “was all one bedroom” for the big family, she said, and Goon would cook for and feed them on the first floor.

“But as the years went by, it became a real apartment,” Wong recalled.



When her husband died, Goon told the children there would have to be some changes to allow them to all stay together. Her oldest son, Carroll, dropped out of Deering High School to help her with the business and then, after a year returned as the other children – Richard, Edward, Albert, Josephine, Arthur, Doris and Janet – became old enough to help out in the laundry after school.

But schoolwork always came first, Wong said.

Carroll’s teachers sent him books to help him keep pace with the students in school, and after a year, he returned to Deering High to get his degree, went to Syracuse University on a scholarship and then to Johns Hopkins, where he earned a medical degree. The family is filled with PhDs and engineers and lawyers. Wong became a court reporter and then started her own business in Massachusetts.

Goon left Portland the same year she won the award and moved to Massachusetts, near where her children were beginning to settle.

Wong said she never experienced any racism in Portland and is eager to return for the plaque unveiling this weekend. Her sister, Janet Louie, will join her, but her two other surviving siblings are too old to make the trip, Wong said.

“We never had a problem in Portland – everybody loved us,” she said. “Our hearts remain in Portland.”

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