By Arthur W. Yee
If you lived in the West Village anytime during the 1950s–1990s, chances are you may have patronized the KY Yee Hand Laundry located on the corner of Bleecker and Grove Streets. To my recollection, there were about six other laundries in a six-block radius but KY’s was very popular and busy.
Kwong Yee, or KY, as he was called by his many friends, passed away peacefully on April 17, 2020 at the NYS Veterans Home in Montrose, NY at the age of 97. He was born in China and came to the U.S. when he was 14. He learned English, attended high school, and worked with his father in the laundry. Upon graduation, he was drafted into the armed services and served first in Africa, then in India, and then in China with the 14th Air Force Group, 407th Air Service Squadron as a mechanic with the famous Flying Tigers. When he was discharged he returned to the U.S. but was unable to find work as a mechanic, so he went back to China to get married. He brought his bride Mei back to the U.S. and took over his father’s laundry business.
He and Mei worked long hours, sometimes six or seven days a week, but because of his amicable personality, meticulous workmanship, and perseverance, word spread about the business and it took off. Some of its dedicated clientele included famous people like Dean Jones, Shelly Hack, Jack Warden, and William Kunstler. I recall customers who moved uptown, and even a few to New Jersey, but who would return on a Saturday to drop off and pick up their laundry. Now that’s dedication!
On the rare occasions that KY took time off on a Sunday, he was heavily involved with, and held leadership roles with, the Yee Family Association and the American Legion Post 1291 (one of the largest in the U.S.) in New York’s Chinatown. He was highly respected and many would come to him for counsel and advice. For example, at the American Legion location he had a desk and a chair that he alone used. Even the post commander would yield the chair to KY if he was present! He had served his country with pride!
Recently, KY was featured, along with his best friend and war buddy John H. Wong, in a 2018 mini-documentary, “We Are American Soldiers,” which was produced by his granddaughter Katie May Porter and her husband Gregg.
KY and Mei “retired” in the late 1980s and passed the business along to relatives; but he was often seen there into the early 90s, helping out on the weekends. KY was loved by his extended family, other relatives, and numerous friends. He was always proud to have served his country and his community. He is survived by his wife Mei, their two children May and Arthur and their spouses, three grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.