‘She saved my life’: Woman asks Twitter for help in finding former Long Beach elementary teacher

Nancy Wang Yuen has been searching for her elementary school teacher for over a decade, hoping to find the woman who showed her kindness during one of the toughest chapters of her life.

The Biola University professor said she tried searching on Google for Mrs. Hoagland, her second-grade teacher in the early 1980s at Bret Harte Elementary in North Long Beach. She even reached out to a friend who works for the Long Beach Unified School District, but still no luck.

But this week, Yuen decided to ask Twitter users for help after seeing another woman’s success recently in finding a man who gifted her a bicycle while she was a child refugee in the Netherlands.

“I thought, I’ll just ask Twitter and see,” Yuen, 43, said.

On Wednesday evening, Yuen posted her plea in a caption to a previous tweet of hers from this January mentioning her first-ever birthday party thanks to Mrs. Hoagland.

“She found out I never had a birthday party so she asked me what I wanted and I told her I wanted to go miniature golfing and eat at a Chinese restaurant and she just made it happen,” Yuen said of the memory.

The year before, Yeun had immigrated from Taiwan to Long Beach with her father and had a less patient teacher who would yell at Yuen thinking she was deaf when she just didn’t know the language. But with Mrs. Hoagland it was different.

“She took care of my intellectual needs, as she should as a teacher, but she also took care of my psychological, emotional and even cultural needs as a new immigrant,” Yuen recalled.

Yuen credits her teacher for getting tested for a gifted and talented program and transferring to a better school the following year. An act that would set the trajectory for a successful life.

“I felt so special in her classroom,” Yuen said. “She believed that I could achieve greatness.”

Nancy Wang Yuen poses with television personality Dr. Phil during a segment on “Deconstructing Privilege.” Courtesy photo.

After elementary school, Yuen graduated from Whitney High School in Cerritos and went on to college in Texas before transferring to Long Beach City College and eventually graduating magna cum laude from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in English.

Yuen went on to pursue a doctorate degree in sociology from UCLA and is a frequent speaker and writer on race in media. She is the author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.”

When not working she volunteers for the nonprofit Matthew 25 SoCal, which aims to stop deportations and provide holistic care for undocumented or asylum-seeking families.

When Yuen became a sociology professor at Biola she applied the same holistic style of teaching as Mrs. Hoagland did. Yuen invites her students over for the holidays and still keeps in touch with former ones.

Since that tweet, Yuen has received multiple leads from savvy Twitter users.

One woman found out Mrs. Hoagland is now Jeanne Daprano, having remarried after her first husband died.

She apparently has continued to lead a fulfilling life, even now as an octogenarian.

In 2018, CNN produced a story about her record-breaking running on the track field as an 81-year-old in Atlanta.

Even LBUSD school board member Megan Kerr is helping Yuen reconnect with her former teacher.

Kerr said when a friend alerted her to the tweet she reached out right away to Superintendent Chris Steinhauser for help in tracking down the teacher.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of stories like hers out there and we know that teachers are more than academics,” Kerr said about her reason for helping Yuen.

While Kerr has helped connect former students with teachers, this is the first time she’s had a request from so long ago.

The request means going to literal filing cabinets for information that has never been digitized.

However, with Long Beach being such a tight community, Kerr said she is hopeful there is someone who can help connect the two.

While Yuen is happy to know her former teacher has had such a decorated life and is now famous, she hopes she can reconnect with a woman who was like a mother figure to her, someone who is like a long lost parent.

“I want to let her know that without her it would have just been a really, really hard childhood,” said Yuen. “I think that she really saved my life by investing in me.”

Editor’s note: After publication of this article, Yuen and her teacher were reconnected. Read the update here

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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