Generations of Methodists have enjoyed the cool air, the mountaintop views and the quiet retreat that Rumah Methodist in Fraser’s Hill offers. But not all of us know the history of the Leo family, who have taken care of the bungalow and all its residents and visitors, keeping the place clean and comfortable and serving excellent local and Western dishes.
“My earliest memory of Fraser’s Hill was in 1951”, Bishop Emeritus Datuk Dr Denis C. Dutton recalls. “It was the year that I was baptised and confirmed as a member of Wesley Church, Kuala Lumpur. (The late) Reverend Gunnar Teilmann was the pastor and he took the confirmation class up there for a couple of days.
Until then, the bungalow had been used as a school for the children of missionaries. Leo Chin Wah came to what was then Malaya from China in the mid-1940s. He applied for his wife Nyam Tok Eng to come and she did, around 1953, along with their son Leo Aik Min, who had been born in 1947.
The rest of their children were born in Malaya: Leo Juat Wah in 1955, Leoh Juat Chin in 1956 and Leo Juat Tin in 1959. Aik Min began helping his parents in 1969 and his sister Juat Chin pitched in from 1973 until she got married in 1979, when Juat Tin took over. She is still managing the bungalow today, with her sister Juat Wah.
Dutton remembers that around the time of the assassination of British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney in 1951 on the road to Fraser’s Hill (you can see a plaque at the spot where he was killed), the school was closed and the children moved to Singapore. “It then became a holiday place for American missionaries,” he explains.
The classrooms were converted into additional bedrooms that could accommodate up to 24 people. Rooms 1 and 2 had outside bathrooms, while rooms 3 and 4 shared a common bathroom, as did rooms 5 and 6.
When the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia became autonomous in 1968, the property was given to them, says Dutton. He was appointed to manage the place, and formed a small committee of three to help him--Toh Kheng Teik, Lim Ewe Hoe and Helen Tan. Later, Tony Chan took over from Kheng Teik. They arranged major renovations to the building and, he recalls, “none of them charged the bungalow account for anything, including their travel expenses whenever they went up there to make minor repairs and pay the salaries of the workers”
The architect who provided pro bono services was Fong Ying Hong and the whole team showed “extraordinary commitment and dedication to this project”. For the first time all rooms had a private bath attached.
The road leading to the Bungalow was also repaved. “Before the road was repaired, there were a lot of holes,” says Juat Tin. “Since it was redone, it has survived nicely until today.”
Bishop C. N. Fang rededicated Rumah Methodist on October 26, 1987. There are now 10 rooms that can take 40 people. The Leo family’s former quarters were converted into what is now the dining hall, and a chalet was demolished to make way for their new quarters.
Over the years since then, there have been further renovations, such as in 2007, when the roof, wiring and water pipes were changed and a new pathway installed. New furnishing was also installed, including curtains and more comfortable beds.
Juat Tin remembers the generations of missionaries and church leaders and members who have stayed in Rumah Methodist. “When the missionaries were here, we were very young,” she says. “They took us hiking, and took us to the town. We couldn’t speak English but we could communicate. We played together with their children.”
When there were celebrations, the Leo children joined in and the visitors gave them little gifts. “We have sweet memories,” says Juat Tin.
Mrs. Wava Teilmann taught Juat Wah flower arrangement, and you can still see her legacy in the fresh bouquets in the dining hall and the lounge. “They taught me to make pies and desserts, which we still make today,” adds Juat Tin.
Over the years, the Teilmann family continued to visit. Reverend Kjell Knutsen and his wife came on holiday a few years ago, while the late Reverend Denver Stone and the late Reverend Donald Haskell were also regular guests. The late Reverend Paul Castor’s son and his wife came earlier this year, 46 years after their last visit.
“They were all very nice to us, very kind,” says Juat Tin. “We are happy to work here. It is like my home.”
On behalf of her family, she expresses her appreciation to all the bishops, those who have retired and those who are serving now, and the church leaders: “They have all been very good to us and we thank them.”