CHAMPAIGN/CHICAGO — Jane (Jenny) (Wong) Barrett. Jenny was born just days after her parents arrived in Chicago from China. She wandered neighborhoods with her sister and grew to know and love the city, picking up English quickly and excelling in school. Instructors at the Art Institute encouraged her, but her family lacked the resources to pay for classes. She worked in the family’s takeout restaurant from an early age, translating for her parents and delivering food. She often worked two jobs through high school and college, graduating with honors from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she served in the homecoming court in between anti-war protests and met her husband, Jim Barrett. He thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and soon learned she was also the smartest. He followed her to Northern Illinois University, where she earned an MA in Asian history, then she followed him for a year of graduate study in England.
Moving to Pittsburgh, Jenny pursued studies in Asian American history and English as a second language. Their son, Xian (Sean), was born there. She earned an MA in computer science at the University of Illinois in 1989 and worked as a programmer on the Plato system and for many years in the Department of Psychology.
At Illinois, she won the CAPE Award and organized the Academic Professionals Association, serving as its chair for many years and on the State Board and Higher Education Committee of the Illinois Education Association.
Through her union and community work, she helped countless friends and strangers. After retirement in 2010, Jenny traveled widely and returned to her love of art, dividing her time between CU and an apartment in Lincoln Park. Her water colors won awards at shows around Illinois, and she continued painting during her long struggle against cancer.
In Chicago, she loved the Lyric Opera, Art Institute, Grant Park Music Festival, Lincoln Park Zoo and the city’s diverse neighborhoods and foods. She was an enthusiastic athlete well into her 60s — running, Pilates, competitive volleyball, hiking and biking. She loved her Champaign-Urbana book and painting groups and read constantly — history, biography, politics and fiction, including Asian American novelists and women mystery writers.
At the time of her death, she was writing "Chicago: A Peoples’ History" with her husband. Jenny was the best wife and mother Jim and Xian could possibly have had and a loving mother and grandmother to Erin and Xiobhan (Xi Xi). She changed the world so much for the better that it is difficult to imagine it without her.
She is survived by her siblings, Kwan (Violetta), Catherine (Laurence) and Edmund (Diana); the Barrett family; nephew, Tony Wong (Helen Zhang); nieces, Judy Wong Strobos and Michelle Wong; and hundreds of friends.
A life celebration is being planned for the spring. Remember Jenny by contributing to Planned Parenthood, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank or Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA-IL).