Posted on February 14th, 2018 by

Boy and Betty Toy

This is a love story.

The end of December, Boy and Betty Toy and I met at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  We sat across the desk from each other, Boy and Betty with pens in hand.  Boy teared up.  He said, “I woke up this morning. l looked at Betty and said, ‘Can you believe we are going to give a million dollars to Tennis & Life Camps today and yet I have this tremendous feeling of happiness?’”

We talked awhile about the journey that took them to this point.

Boy and Betty grew up in different villages in China during WWII.  Both nearly starved to death with their families because of famine and brutal Japanese wartime control of their areas.  Boy said to me, “Do you know those pictures you see on TV?  The ones with kids whose stomachs are so big from malnutrition, whose ribs show through and eyes are hollow?  That was my family.  That was Betty’s family.  Our villages were located relatively close, but we never met.”

After the war, both sets of parents emigrated to the United States.  Boy and Betty met in Duluth.  Halfway around the world.  They have been together now for 60 years.

Those who know them, know that where one goes, you will usually find the other.  Their smiles are filled with gratitude.  For life.  For the goodness they have been shown in this country.  For each other.   And for Steve and Barb Wilkinson and the Tennis & Life Camps instructors.

They attended camp just one time, in 1983.  They were so moved by the instructors Steve had hired and their sense of mission, joy, kindness, and dedication to helping each and every camper, that Boy went to Steve and said, “I don’t know where you found these people, but this gives me hope and renews my faith in America.”  In 2015, Boy and Betty returned for summer camp, perhaps the longest stretch between attendance at camps in TLC history.  Thirty-five years later, he is saying the same thing.  In times of great division in this country, Boy and Betty see unity at TLC.  They see the diversity we strive for.  They see inclusion of all.  They knew what it was like being outcast as children.  And they know what it is like to be embraced by people who appreciate them and celebrate who they are from the depths to the heights.

When they came to America to live and study, they wanted to give back.  They both spent over three decades of their lives dedicated to public education.  (Boy, now in his 80s, still teaches an AARP Smart Driver class regularly for seniors in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities area).

They know what it is to sacrifice. And they know what it is to suffer, to see others suffer, and to want to do something about it.

And now, they want Steve’s and Barb’s legacy to carry forward long after they – and we – are gone.

Steve and Barb Wilkinson

Boy has told me often a story I still want to hear every time I see him.  He said, “My dad was a firm believer in Buddhism.  When my father was in ill health, a very close person to me who was a Christian came to me and said, ‘Boy, you have to tell your dad he must take God into his heart in order to get to Heaven.’ Years later, we were on one of TLC Australian trips. Knowing Steve was a professor of world religions with special emphasis on Eastern Religion, I posed this question to Steve. “I can safely say, 80% of the world’s population is not into Christianity, does a person have to take God into his heart in order to get to Heaven?” Steve looked at me, paused, and said with sincerity, “Boy, it’s hard for me to imagine a God who would send 80% of the people to other places than Heaven.”

Boy continued.  “Steve didn’t tell me yes or no. I have never forgotten this.”  And each time he recounts this story he chokes up.

Each time I hear this story it is like an oasis in the desert to me.  In a world of “us and them”, we are all really “us”.

So there they sat, Boy and Betty, pens in hand.  They are giving a million dollars to TLC’s 40-LOVE Campaign, a transforming gift that will help us push towards the finish line in the next two years.

They were so happy.

I was so happy.

TLC is so happy.

Who would have guessed that two people, who have been through what they have, who nearly starved to death as children, who separately found their way to America, who met in Duluth of all places, who worked in public education most of their lives, and who still have a deep and abiding love after 60 years, would find themselves in that room at that time?

No one.  Except maybe Betty and Boy, who talk of how much they receive by being able to give this gift.

Love-Love.  It comes in many, many forms.  Thank you, Boy and Betty, for teaching us the meaning once again.

How Can I Contribute?



  1. Kevin Werwie says:

    Boy & Betty,

    Your kindness, love and passion to bring joy and happiness to others is amazing! You both truly know the secret to being happy in life. Wonderful story…you are an inspiration to me and countless others.

  2. Carole Gallagher says:

    Dear Boy and Betty,

    What an incredible, moving story of your love and generosity! It is deeply my pleasure to know you both and spend time together at the Pine Tree Event each year; another of your favorite commitments to life and tennis:) Thank you so much for the wonderful people you are and the inspiration you both give out to the world. Warm regards, Carole Gallagher-Kelly

  3. Roxanne says:

    I echo every single thing written above. Betty and Boy: amazing individuals combined to become a dynamite couple who believe simply that the Golden Rule is what makes a man truly rich, and living by simplicity, honesty, generosity and goodness to the world-to us. I admire them so. Thank you for being my friends. How lucky I am to have learned much from them.

  4. Bruce Deger says:

    Wow, what a generous gift! Betty and Boy, thank you for a lifetime of bringing joy to everyone you encounter.

  5. Gary and Barb Eilefson says:

    Incredibly wonderful, giving friends. Many wonderful memories with Boy and Betty for 40+ years!!!

  6. Beth Martinson says:

    The article about Boy and Betty really touched me. We have been friends on and off the court for over 35 years. They are very loving and generous people. Congratulations!

  7. Beth Martinson says:

    I love these people…the article really touched me. Congratulations to Betty and Boy.

  8. Diane Marsh says:

    What a beautiful story and beautiful people. I am left speechless.

  9. Brian McCoy says:

    A true gift of love from Betty and Boy who exhibit what is good in this world everyday.

  10. Barbara Wilkinson says:

    Dear Betty and Boy,

    You are truly one in a million. Thank you for your love, friendship, and generosity. On our travels, you opened up worlds to Steve and me and we cherished our times together.

    Thanks to your generous gift, the upgraded tennis facilities will benefit Gustavus and Tennis and Life Camps students for many years to come.

    With deep gratitude from our family.

  11. Janet Howe says:

    I remember meeting Betty and Boy years ago…..on the tennis court, of course. They have always been special people, loving, giving and accepting of everyone. Thank you for giving again, again and again.

  12. Lisa Lang Stingley says:

    Every tournament, every volunteer opportunity is better and brighter because of Boy and Betty! Northern is blessed to have such selfless and generous supporters of the game and their legacy will live on at Tennis and Life Camps! Each of us can learn valuable lessons from these two LOVE birds!

  13. Steve and Beth Fridinger says:

    Wow!!! Thank you, Toy’s!!!! I believe your truly amazing gift will bless far more people than you can ever imagine. You are a true inspiration for us ALL!!!

  14. Colleen Chmelik says:

    This moved me to tears – it’s so beautiful…
    The Million Dollar Gift will allow TLC to continue it’s amazing mission, which my kids and I have benefitted from, along with so many others!! But even better (for me, anyway) is the gift of love Boy & Betty have shared with us. Of kindness that inspires me to keep looking for the best in others. Of renewing my faith in the good people who are a part of this world which often shows it’s darker side more easily, more obviously. I wish I could shout this from the rooftops so everyone could celebrate with us!
    Thank you for your gifts, Toy family – the ripples in the pond that come from your generosity will be immeasurable.
    Colleen Chmelik

  15. Brian Eck, AVP-Sales UCare says:

    Boy and Betty Toy are two of the finest people I have ever met. And now you all know that as well!

  16. Jill, Sky Li & JiaXin Griffiths says:

    This week is more than Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow is the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. A time of great celebration 🌟 and for honoring the generosity of Betty & Boy. Thank you for sharing this story full of hope & grace!

  17. gretchen Koehler says:

    what a great love Valentine’s day gift

  18. Becky Cantellano says:

    Boy and Betty Toy are amazing people!! Their love and giving spirits are a shining example of good in the world. I am thrilled for TLC and the legacy that this gift will leave for our kids and future generations to enjoy the transformative impact of camp!! Thanks for sharing this story Neal and for all your work in the 40-Love campaign!

  19. Margie says:

    Betty and Boy…Wonderful ambassadors of tennis.

  20. John D. Wilkinson says:

    I, too, am happy and speechless. Thank you Boy and Betty Toy!

  21. Jan Johnson says:

    Boy and Betty, you are a gift from God….what a gracious heart you both have.
    Believe me Steve is watching, cheering and thanking you from above!!!

    Jan Johnson

  22. Jennifer Kirby says:

    I’m so thrilled to hear about this fantastic news! What a wonderful example for all of us to give as much as we can, whenever we can, however we can. Thank you to the Toys’!!!!