Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

Founder of Korea Times Chicago, 1st Korean-language paper in Midwest


Shortly after arriving from South Korea in 1955 to attend college in Illinois, Yong Wha Kim was told he’d need a pillow. So he went pillow shopping.

Mr. Kim went to a department store, where a saleswoman showed him five pillows. Despite being on a tight budget, he bought them all.

“He didn’t understand because when he was growing up in Korea, if you took stuff out of the package you had to buy it,” recalled his daughter, Jeanney Kim.

“As Korean students came to attend Greenville College [now Greenville University] in southern Illinois, he’d give them one of the pillows and explain to them, ‘Hey, this is how it works here,’ so they didn’t make the same mistake,” she said.

Mr. Kim, who came to the United States alone at age 18, went on to make a career out of filling the informatio­n gap for a growing Korean diaspora when, in 1971, he founded Korea Times Chicago.

“The newspapers served as a community center. There was no internet. And when people had questions like, ‘How do I get a driver’s license? How do I get a Social Security card?’ they’d call the newspaper,” she said.

Mr. Kim did it all, at least initially. From the newspaper’s office a block from Wrigley Field, he sold advertisin­g, wrote articles and did typesettin­g for what became the first Korean-language newspaper in the Midwest.

The newspaper was affiliated with the Korea Times in Seoul, and Mr. Kim, or an employee, drove to O’Hare Airport daily to get a copy of the paper, which he republishe­d, along with local, state and national news.

“We explained American culture to Korean immigrants who came here for jobs and educationa­l opportunit­ies but were not familiar with western culture,” said Kwang Dong Jo, a former editor with Korea Times Chicago, which is now based in Wheeling. “The newspaper became a guide to assimilate, to be good American citizens. And that’s his legacy, his passion to help.”

Mr. Kim died March 20 in Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview due to injuries he suffered from a fall. He was 87.

“He was an immeasurab­le contributo­r to the growth of the Korean American community in Chicago and beyond, and we’re going to remember him and miss him,” said his friend, Dr. Yong C. Chung, who went to college with Mr. Kim.

“He worked in the cafeteria, and I cleaned bathrooms at the school, and he and I and two other Korean students pooled our money and bought an old car, and he was the only one who knew how to drive, so he taught us,” Chung said.

“He didn’t speak English when he came here, but he eventually learned the language, and he had a Chicago accent. It was pretty tough for him, but he had a very adventurou­s spirit, and he was a very patriotic American,” said his daughter, who noted that she had photos of her dad with former Mayor Harold Washington and former Gov. James Thompson.

Mr. Kim retired from the newspaper in 2000. He also served as CEO of Korean Broadcasti­ng Inc. Radio, a position he retired from in 2010.

After living in Chicago, Mr. Kim moved to Morton Grove and then Glenview, where he lived for many years, before moving to Wheeling.

“My dad was just so happy to be in America and never expected anything. He knew he had to work hard. Everything was bonus for him, he never felt that anything was supposed to be given to him,” she said.

Mr. Kim was born June 20, 1936, in Gangneung, Gangwon-do, Korea, to Chang Heub Kim, his father, and Eui Soon Kim, his mother.

His father was a “self-made man” who worked as a driver and later owned a bus company, and his mother was a homemaker, Jeanney Kim said.

Mr. Kim graduated from the prestigiou­s Kyunggi High School in Seoul and attended college in the United States on scholarshi­p. A huge Cubs and Bears fan, he became a United States citizen in 1976.

His two children occasional­ly rolled their eyes at his affable personalit­y, like when they’d be eating at a diner and Mr. Kim would read a waitress’ name badge and ask how she was doing.

“What? I’m from the Midwest,” he’d tell his children. “That’s what you do,” his daughter recalled.

Mr. Kim loved playing golf, fishing in Wisconsin, visiting Niagara Falls and watching John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Kim is survived by his wife, Jane Young Ja Kim, his son Jeffrey Kim and one grandson, Owen Yong Wha Kim.

A memorial service will be held Sunday at 3 p.m. at Chicago Covenant Presbyteri­an Church in Glenview.

 ?? PROVIDED ?? Yong Wha Kim

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