Toy Len Goon of Portland waves to bystanders while parading through New York City's Chinatown in 1952 when she was named United States Mother of the Year” by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation. Credit: Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of MaineMemory.net

PORTLAND, Maine — When Toy Len Goon’s husband Dogan Goon died at the Togus Veterans Hospital in 1941, she was left to run their Woodfords Corner hand-operated laundry service on her own.

Goon also found herself the single mother of eight children between the ages of 3 and 16.

At that point, others may have given up or crumpled under the pressure. Goon did not. Instead she kept all her children in school, saw each one graduate and then go on to higher learning. Goon was even named the nation’s “Mother of the Year,” and met first lady Bess Truman in 1952.

Toy Len Goon works in her laundry on Portland’s Forest Avenue in an undated photograph. Her daughter, Doris, works in the background. Credit: Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of MaineMemory.net

To honor Goon’s achievements and perpetuate her memory, the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine is unveiling a historic marker at 1:30 p.m. Sunday outside 615 Forest Ave., where Goon raised her children and ran her business.

“It’s the exact same building,” said Gary Libby of the Friendship Association. “I’ve been trying to get the various owners of the building to let us put a market there for 10 years.”

When the building recently came under new ownership, Libby said he tried again.

“I sent them an email and they got right back to me within the hour,” he said. “They said they’d be happy to do it.”

Libby devised a Chinese-American historic walking tour of Portland several years ago and would eventually like to mark all its locations. But Goon’s marker is special to him.

“Toy Len Goon is the most prominent Chinese American to have lived in Maine,” he said. “She was featured in one of the five episodes of the 2020 PBS series ‘Asian Americans’.”

Goon’s husband, Dogan Goon, was born about 1893 in southwestern China. At some point, he immigrated to the United States, arriving in Boston by 1917.

That year, he was arrested for violating the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The act barred all Chinese immigration under the guise of protecting American workers.

Dogan Goon was somehow acquitted of violating the act, but was then pressured to join the wartime military, demonstrating his patriotism. He served in the Army Medical Corp from June 1918 until January 1919.

With his citizenship confirmed through military service, he married Toy Len Goon in 1922, bringing her to Portland from China, where she’d been born in 1891.

Toy Len Goon and her husband Dogan Goon look out from an undated portrait. When Dogan died in 1941, he left his wife with a business to run and eight children to raise. Credit: Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of MaineMemory.net

When Dogan died nearly 20 years later, city officials tried to convince Goon to split up her large family, sending some of her children into foster care. She refused, instead keeping her family whole and her business humming.

Goon’s three oldest children helped operate the laundry, taking turns dropping out of Deering High School. Eventually, all eight children — five boys and three girls — graduated. Each went on to higher education, as well.

One son became a physician. The other sons earned degrees in physics, electrical engineering, chemistry and law. Goon’s daughters had careers in court reporting, social work and in the civil service.

Goon was recognized for her extraordinary parenting in 1952 when she was named “United States Mother of the Year” by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation.

Goon received her award at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City where she gave national media interviews and was the subject of a Movietone newsreel.

Next, she met first lady Bess Truman at a reception in Washington, D.C. Goon also had lunch with the speaker of the House while in town. On her way home to Portland, Goon even got a parade through New York City’s Chinatown.

She lived to be 101, dying in 1993.

Two of her daughters are expected to be on hand for the unveiling on Sunday.

“And there may be as many as a dozen grandchildren there,” Libby said. “They’re pretty much coming from everywhere.”

Also expected to attend are the building’s owners, members of the city council, representatives of the Republic of China’s Boston Consulate as well as members of the Maine Historical Society and Maine Unified Asian Community organization.

Libby said his next target for a marker is Customs House Wharf.

“It’s the site of the first Chinese restaurant in Maine,” he said.

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.