UNC Asheville to bestow honorary degree to community leader, Givens Estates resident Oscar Wong

The University of North Carolina Asheville will present an honorary degree to Oscar Wong, a Givens Estates resident and founder of Highland Brewing Company, during the 2024 Commencement event to be held May 11.

Oscar Wong speaking at Givens Estates event

The son of Chinese immigrants, born and raised on the island of Jamaica, Wong came to the U.S. in 1959 to study engineering at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil and structural engineering.

He began his career in San Francisco, specializing in nuclear power plant safety analysis, later moving to New Jersey, where his entrepreneurial spirit took root. Success in launching a new division for the company he worked for led him to eventually start his own company focused on nuclear waste treatment systems. Wong eventually sold the company and moved to the Asheville area in 1992 with plans to retire.

At first, Wong pursued brewing just as a hobby, then in 1994 he launched Highland Brewing Company, Asheville’s first craft brewery since prohibition. Several decades later, Asheville became known as “Beer City, USA” and Wong was dubbed the “Godfather of Asheville craft beer.” Oscar Wong receiving the Brewer’s Association 2020 Recognition Award.

Now retired for a second time, Wong has kept Highland Brewing a family-owned business, which is run by his daughter, Leah Wong Ashburn, who serves as president.

Leah Wong Ashburn and father Oscar Wong unveil a commemorative marker honoring him in downtown Asheville

In addition to earning every major recognition in his field, Wong received the highest civilian honor in North Carolina in 2023. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine was awarded by Gov. Roy Cooper for Wong’s extraordinary service to the state.

Deeply committed to community service, in addition to serving two terms on the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees, Wong was president of the Asheville Rotary Club and Board chair for Arc of Buncombe County, which serves children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.