Mae Hoo Ong

Feb 14, 1922 - Jan 30, 2012


The Passing of Gilbert History – Mae Hoo Ong passed away peacefully on January 30, 2012 in Gilbert, Arizona. Mae was born on February 14, 1922 in Sacramento, CA but grew up in Loomis, CA to her parents Ong Shee and Hoo Yuen Leung. Being the sixth child of nine siblings, Mae often told stories of working hard on her parents 40- acre fruit farm where they grew peaches, pears, plums, apricots, figs, and grapes. In 1941, Mae married Ben F. Ong and moved to Gilbert, Arizona to start a family grocery business called Liberty Market which they purchased from Eddie and Edith Dong. Using her wonderful culinary skills, Mae had a heart of gold and would frequently donate her food to church functions, the Boy Scouts, and to the less fortunate residents of Gilbert. In 1958, Liberty Market was remodeled and using her artistic talent, Mae designed a neon “Liberty Market” sign which is still shining brightly to this day in the newly renovated Liberty Market Restaurant. Mae had also worked as a reporter and photographer for the Gilbert Enterprise Newspaper between 1966 to 1968. Mae was a member of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce and was one of the Gilbert Promotion Committee which started Gilbert Days. Mae was preceded in death by her husband, Ben F. Ong, in 2006. Mae is survived by her daughter, Joycelyn Ong Sakata (husband, Norman) and their sons, Steven and Mitchell; son, Benton (wife, Wendee), and their sons, Byron and Benton, Jr. (wife, Quyen Pham); Jenny Quong (sister-in-law) and nieces Jennifer Quong Chung and Jeanette Quong Ong. Mae touched so many friends and family with her quick wit and laughter that she will be greatly missed. Visitation will be held on Friday February 3, 2012 from 6 to 8:00 PM at Falconer Funeral Home, 251 W Juniper Ave, Gilbert AZ. Funeral Services will be held on Saturday at 1:00 PM at Falconer Funeral Home. Mae will be laid to rest with her husband Ben Ong in Sacramento California following the services in Gilbert. For additional information please visit

MAE HOO ONG, longtime LIBERTY MARKET owner dies

The previous owner of one of Gilbert’s oldest and most famous businesses has died.

Mae Hoo Ong, who owned and operated Liberty Market in downtown Gilbert with her husband, Ben, for nearly four decades, passed away on Jan. 30. She was 89.


“Everybody remembers her smile and how friendly she was,” said her son, Benton “Benny”Ong. “My sister and I used to say that she took in a lot of strays, people who needed help or needed a job. She’d take people under her wing and help them out.”

Ong, who moved to Gilbert in the early 1940s, had seen Gilbert grow from a sleepy farm community of just over 800 people to a bustling community of nearly 210, 000.

“She left a legacy,” said Kayla Kolar, the executive director of the Gilbert Historical Museum. “Liberty Market is still Liberty Market and the neon sign out front that she designed still stands today. It’s part of our history.”

Ong was born on Feb. 14, 1922, in Sacramento, Calif., but grew up in nearby Loomis. Along with her eight siblings, she spent much of her youth picking peaches, pears, plums, apricots, figs and grapes on her parents’ 40-acre farm. Her father, according to Benton, was a Buddhist priest.

After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1941, she married Ben F. Ong. It was an arranged marriage, Benton said, that lasted more than 64 years, until Ben’s death in 2006.

He worked as a clerk and butcher for Eddie and Edith Dong, who had opened Liberty Market on Sept. 15, 1936. The then-new building cost $1, 500, according to MarjiScotten, a board member with the Gilbert Historical Society.

In 1943, the Ongs purchased the tiny grocery store in downtown Gilbert that is now a restaurant owned by Joe Johnston.

In a 2006 interview with The Arizona Republic, Mae recalled what a grind it was at first and how they struggled to make payments. Even then, though, the Ongs helped those in need.

“People could go in there and charge their groceries, and not with a credit card,” Scotten said. “Then when they had money, they could go in and pay. That’s the way businesses did it in those days. Gilbert was so small, everybody knew everybody.”

The Ongs persevered, paid off the mortgage and then took out a loan to renovate, remodel and expand the store, doubling its size, in 1958.Ong designed the iconic neon “Liberty Market” sign, which still lights the night in Gilbert’s downtown.

Johnston, who bought the store in 2006, was adamant about keeping the sign.

“Liberty Market was part of my childhood and part of downtown Gilbert,” Johnston said. “It’s one of the few buildings that have been the same. It’s always been Liberty Market since Day One, so keeping that sign was kind of a big deal to us.”

From 1966 to 1968, Ong worked as a reporter and photographer for the Gilbert Enterprise newspaper. She was also a longtime member of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce and was active in the Gilbert Promotional Corporation, which oversees the annual Gilbert Days celebration.

In recent years she enjoyed going to the restaurant to eat and reminisce with Johnston, who still uses a few items from her day — a butcher block, meat slicers and old grocery carts now used to fetch wood for the pizza ovens. She posed for a photo with Johnson under the sign and showed him where she wrote her son’s name in concrete during the remodel of 1958.

She is survived by her daughter, Joycelyn Ong Sakata (husband Norman), her son Benton (wife Wendee), her sister-in-law Jenny Quong, four grandchildren and two nieces. Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Falconer Funeral Home.Ong will be buried in Sacramento, next to her husband.

Liberty Market timeline
1936 – Opened by Eddie and Edith Dong.

1943 – Purchased by Ben and Mae Ong.

1958 – Remodeled and expanded. Its iconic neon light, designed by Mae Ong, is still operating.

1981 – Sold to Sam and Mary Bromert.

2006 – Sold to Joe Johnston and his brothers, who turn the historic grocery store into a restaurant.

2008 – Liberty Market reopens.

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Funeral Home:
Falconer Funeral Home
251 W. Juniper Avenue
Gilbert, AZ

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