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Kobe Quake Victim Remembered : Funeral: At resolutely joyous services, friends and family recall Van Nuys woman’s enthusiasm for life and friendships.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There were tears, hymns and sorrowful embraces at Voni Lynn Wong’s burial Friday morning.

But then there was sunshine.

Just as Pastor Jess Moody told Wong’s family that their daughter and sister had left this world for a better one, the sun broke out from behind a bank of clouds, illuminating and warming more than 300 mourners on what had been a chilly, overcast day in the Hollywood Hills.

Despite the sorrow of the occasion, Wong’s family was resolutely joyous, their faith in God carrying them through.

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“This is a great celebration day!” said Wong’s father, Henry, 65, of Van Nuys. “She’s here. She’s buried. The sun burst out and we’re happy for this.”

Voni Wong, 24, died last week in Ashiya, on the outskirts of Kobe, Japan, when the ceiling of her bedroom collapsed during the earthquake. She was one of two American fatalities in the temblor. For days, her parents, devout Baptists, worried that Japanese custom and bureaucracy might prevent her from receiving a traditional Christian burial, because most of the dead in Japan are cremated.

Those worries came to an end when the body of Wong, a Grant High School and UCLA honors graduate, was returned to the United States. She was buried with her favorite stuffed toy panda.

A picture of a panda, clinging to a branch against a background of blue sky, adorned a funeral card handed out to friends and relatives. The image came from Wong’s last correspondence with her parents, in which she sent a postcard with a similar photograph and wrote on the back: “That’s me hanging in the tree . . . it’s beautiful.”

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Wong’s brother Andy, 35, explained that pandas were a lifelong interest of his sister.

During the morning burial and an afternoon memorial service attended by more than 400 people at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, friends and relatives took time to recall Wong and her passion for life.

“I remember she was very gentle and very sweet,” said Mabel Loong, 23, of Fullerton, who met Wong at First Baptist Church in Van Nuys when they were children. “We used to stand in front of the mirror and put ladies’ face cream all over our faces. We used to go crazy pretending.”

“She was very cultural and was always willing to try something new,” said Cynthia Ung, 24, of Northridge, who became a friend of Wong at Madison Junior High School in North Hollywood. Holding a letter Wong had recently sent from Japan, she remembered how her friend had loved going to theater and dance performances, and her passion for the novels of Jane Austen.

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In the letter, Wong told how she was teaching five Japanese students English while taking classes in Chinese, Indian vegetarian cooking and taiko, a traditional form of Japanese drumming.

“This is a blessing for us, to see all of these people that knew her and loved her,” said Wong’s mother, Myrtle, turning to hug a friend, and then another as a crowd gathered around her.

“I’m flabbergasted, speechless, at all the radio and media support we’re getting,” added Jonathan Wong, 30, another of Voni’s brothers. “Half of the letters we’ve gotten, we don’t even know who they’re from.”


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