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Jeopardy! champ pays it forward

Ben Chan becomes New Community Shelter's first-ever 'celebrity server'

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May 1, 2024

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – St. Norbert College Assistant Philosophy Professor Ben Chan earned celebrity status darn near overnight thanks to his success on the popular game show Jeopardy!

Born and raised in Queens, New York, the youngest of three siblings born to immigrant parents, said he never imagined he’d be famous for anything.

In fact, being on the game show itself, Chan said, was a “product of accidents.”

“I happened to watch one day and did well playing along from home, so I decided to take the Anytime Test,” he said. “One thing led to another, and I ended up being on the show.”

For Chan, though, the significance of it goes much deeper.

“When I got the follow-up test, it coincided with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I lost a couple of people close to me during the pandemic, and that was the first time I had ever had a bucket list.”

The one item on that list, Chan said, was being a contestant on Jeopardy!

“It made me believe in manifesting because the moment I clearly articulated to myself I wanted it, things happened quickly,” he said.

Being recognized for his time on Jeopardy!, Chan said, has been surreal.

“It’s nice to be recognized for something good,” he said. “The values of Jeopardy! are values I hold dear – there is more that unites us than divides us.”

Many of the people who watch Jeopardy!, Chan said, watch it with other people.

“There is so much in it for everybody,” he said. “I think that’s the nice thing about the show – so many different people watch it, and so many people can relate to it. It gets you out of your little bubble. I feel like I have a million new friends from all over.”

While participating on the show, Chan said he felt like he had “found his people.”

“I think when I was on (Jeopardy!’s) Tournament of Champions, I had a realization I finally found my people,” he said. “I think at some point, I had given up on finding my people or stopped thinking about finding my people. And even though we all did different things, everyone who was there had this deep curiosity about things.”

Chan said it’s his curiosity that led him down the philosophy path.

“I told my students the other day that when I was in fourth grade, one of my teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t care – I just want to be a productive member of society.’ The teacher said to me, ‘why do you want to be that?'”

It was then, Chan said, that he had his first philosophical moment.

After high school, the New Yorker went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of California-Los Angeles.

He then completed a post-doc in the bioethics department of the National Institutes of Health before working in the nation’s capital for a bit.

Chan said a teaching opportunity at Lawrence University was what first brought him to Wisconsin in 2011.

“Two years later, I moved onto St. Norbert College – I’ve been at St. Norbert’s since 2013,” he said.

Maximizing his new-found celebrity status
Having local notability, Chan said, is an interesting thing – but it has provided him with opportunities he might not have had if he wasn’t Northeast Wisconsin’s-own Jeopardy! champion.

The most important of those opportunities, he said, has been his ability to shine a brighter light on organizations in the community that need support.

Recently, Chan worked as the first-ever “celebrity server” for the New Community Shelter’s Community Meal Program – helping staff and other volunteers serve meals to people in need in the Greater Green Bay community.

Ben Chan volunteered at New Community Shelter in Green Bay as the organization’s first-ever celebrity server. Photo Courtesy of New Community Shelter

Terri Refsguard, the New Community Shelter CEO, said she hopes Chan – whose picture is the first to hang on the shelter’s “Celebrity Server Wall of Fame” – will be the first of many.

“We hope to have many more (local celebrities) we can highlight serving a meal,” she said. “I also heard Ben likes to cook, so perhaps we can convince him to come back as our first celebrity chef in the future.”

Chan said though it may sound cliche, “I got more out of it in a sense than they did.”

“I volunteered at the shelter before, about 10 years ago – and we both have grown a lot since then – but so has the need,” he said. “Homelessness around the country, including here in Wisconsin, is a growing issue.”

Chan said though being a “celebrity server” is new to him, giving back to his community is not.

“There is never a shortage of opportunities for us to give back,” he said.

For the past several years, Chan said he has been involved with Foundations Health & Wholeness – a local nonprofit focused on community, collaboration, leadership and innovation.

“It fosters care, placement, support and community mental health counseling,” he said.

Chan said he’s been involved with the organization’s board of directors and has helped organize its annual ethics celebration.
“We have an awards event every year where we bring people to Lambeau Field, and we get to tell the story of people who have been doing great work in the community,” he said.

Chan said he also volunteers with Bellin Health as a member of its ethics community.

Giving back, he said, is an important aspect of his core, because “the world can be a lonely place.”

“Many of the wisdom traditions tell us the thing that is most satisfying is to give – that’s the real key to happiness,” he said. “There is no community unless we create it – and that is not the world I want to live in. If you find an opportunity where you have something to give, I encourage you to do so.”

Chan’s dedication to give back – both with his time and financially with the winnings from Jeopardy! – was recognized by the Wisconsin Legislature earlier this year.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Assembly adopted a resolution honoring the success and generosity of Ben Chan. Photo Courtesy of St. Norbert College

Representatives unanimously adopted Assembly Joint Resolution 114 Feb. 14, which honored Chan’s success and generosity as he “positively uses his fame to support local organizations.”

Though his run on “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions ended with a second-place finish, Chan – affectionately dubbed the “pride of Green Bay” – said it has been an honor to represent the Northeast Wisconsin community on a national stage.

“Being on Jeopardy! allowed me to represent Green Bay in the best possible way,” he said. “There is so much that is great about our community. The thing I always tell people from outside Green Bay is no matter who you talk to – and I talk to a lot of people – community is a high priority for everybody. Everybody is regularly thinking about how they are going to give back to the community. So, to be a part of that is special.”

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