Alumni Love Language: Nancy Chong & Jae Staats

Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Phoenix College Alumni Jae Staats and Nancy Chong at Encanto Park Pickleball courts.
PC alumna Nancy Chong on the PC tennis team; Nancy is on the bottom row, far right.
Phoenix College alumni Jae Staats and Nancy Chong at their 1993 graduation from Phoenix College.
Phoenix College alumni Jae Stats and Nancy Chong enjoying Vietnamese food.
Phoenix College alumni Jae Staats and Nancy Chong on Phoenix College's campus, 30 years after their graduation.

En Español. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Nancy Chong and Jae Staats teamed up against another couple on one of the three packed pickleball courts at Encanto Park. Sports enthusiasts, they recruited at least half of the other players on the courts–­Jae notified his Willo neighbors, and Nancy sent out reminder texts to her friends. The moniker Pickleball Mom comes easily to Nancy, the extroverted caretaker, who brings a canvas tote of extra pickleball paddles and a ziploc bag of orange slices, offered to friends and strangers for a between-game pick-me-up.  With two adult daughters­–Natalie and Jackie, respectively pursuing degrees in Pharmacology and Architecture at University of Arizona and Arizona State University–Nancy knows how to be a mom. She’s also an artist and licensed massage therapist with her own practice, Art of Healing.  Jae is a videographer and owner of the production company, BallBoy Productions, and founder of the Almost Famous Film Festival.

The PC Connection

Jae and Nancy first met in 1991, in an English 101 class at Phoenix College (PC). Jae was seventeen, having started college early. He took the GED and started taking courses at PC when he was fourteen or fifteen years old. “After my first semester taking twelve credits, I won the Chancellor’s Scholarship, so that was a big deal. I attended a banquet and my final year’s tuition at PC was covered. It was such a positive experience.”

Jae’s smarts and writing skills caught Nancy’s attention. She started her journey at PC on a tennis scholarship and played one year of eligibility but her grades dropped and she had to bring them up before she could play her second year.  At the time of the English 101 class, she was 22 years old and worked at Phoenix Memorial Hospital. “I heard about this kid who kept getting A’s while I was getting C’s and barely passing.” Nancy, the extrovert, asked Jae if she could read his essay. She wanted a sample of what a good paper looks like. “As I’m reading,” she said, “I’m thinking, Oooo, this kid is deep. The story had me choked up.  From then on, I knew he was going to be my friend.”

Friends they were. Jae, who was hooked on the day-time soap opera, The Young and the Restless, scheduled his classes so he could go to the Bear’s Den, then on the lower level of the building, to watch the show.  “Nancy would come down and meet me there,” Jae said. “She thought it was funny.” Nancy was in PC’s Asian Pacific Islander club. “Jae would come to some of our functions on campus, a volleyball game or a potluck of ethnic foods.

Jae and Nancy took more classes together too­––golf, tennis, English, math.  “Of course, I liked her,” he said, “but I didn’t know her relationship status.”  The first time they did anything off campus, playing golf at Palo Verde, he finally asked Nancy where she lived.  “Over there,” Nancy pointed, “with my financé.”  Initially disappointed, Jae rallied: “Our friendship only grew.  We’d have lunch together and she’d give me a ride home from school.” Nancy became well loved by the Staats family too, who also had PC connections.  Jae’s brother, Kai, who graduated from Brophy, attended PC for his first two years of college, and their mom, Linda, was adjunct faculty in Sociology and Communications.

Both Jae and Nancy graduated from PC in 1993 with an Associate of Arts degree.  Jae transferred to ASU West on a merit scholarship and graduated with a degree in American Studies.  Nancy married her fiancé in 1993. Email was in its early stages, so tech-savvy Jae showed Nancy how to use it, which became a way for them to stay in touch during the different phases of their lives. In the years after college, Jae worked for the Phoenix Suns and Nancy taught elementary school while starting her family.

Nancy and Jae remained close while Jae was dating. “Truth be told, I compared every girlfriend I had to Nancy and no one lived up to her,” Jae explained. “I had been pining after her all those years. She wasn’t pining after me, but she liked me.”  Jae knew Nancy wanted to be an artist, so he kept encouraging her to go after her dreams.  “It wasn’t until after I got divorced and raised my kids that I acted on his words and returned to Phoenix College for an art class,” Nancy said.   

Jae returned to PC too, as a donor. When he started the Almost Famous Film Festival, he established a $1000 tuition scholarship for a PC writing student in the English program, because Dr. Marty Etchart, a screenwriter and fellow film buff, had been so instrumental in Jae’s writing education. “It was my way of giving back, because Phoenix College did so much for me,” Jae said. Dr. Etchart presented the scholarship at one of the film screenings.

Unconditional Love

Nancy eventually realized she had someone in her life that she could talk to about anything, anytime, anyplace and never felt judged. “He understood who I was and what I wanted to be.  He’s always encouraged me.  Looking back, I always felt I was going to be abandoned in a relationship, because my father left early on. I was never 100% in a relationship.  But with Jae, he sees all my faults and loves me anyway.  The unconditional love has been built year after year after year.”

Officially, they’ve been together since 2010, and they credit their strong relationship to similar values and interests.  “Nancy has such a big heart,” Jae said. “She opens the door for other people, and buys five Pickleball racquets, so she can give them out to people and encourage them to play.”  While they don’t celebrate an anniversary, per se, they are traveling more to sporting events.  “Jae and I have the same love language,” Nancy said.  “For us, quality time and physical touch is so important. Because we express and receive love the same way, it’s a lot easier to feel connected.”

Arizona is known for its five C’s––cotton, citrus, copper, climate, cattle––but Jae and Nancy’s love in Arizona is founded on three C’s: Communication, Chemistry, and Connection.  Phoenix College was where their connection began, yet “we’re always learning, growing, and doing something new,” Nancy said.

Do you know of alumni who found love at PC?  Let us know.  We’d love to share their love story. Email