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Yong Wha Kim, founder of the Korea Times Chicago, dies

Yong Wha Kim founded the Korea Times Chicago in 1971, seeking to build community among the city’s Korean population through local reporting. At first, the newspaper’s staff was so small that he painstakingly taught himself to typeset its sole printing press.

“He understood the responsibility of his role,” said Kwangdong Jo, a former Korea Times reporter and editor. “He regarded the newspaper as an important tool to the Korean community, and regarded himself as carrying out a mission.”

Kim, 87, died March 20 after suffering serious injuries from a fall. He spent the last decade of his life in Wheeling with his wife of over 60 years.

Kim was born June 20, 1936, in Gangneung, Gangwon-do, Korea. He attended the prestigious Kyunggi High School in Seoul, and received a scholarship to study in the United States. After immigrating to the country alone, he graduated with a degree in business administration from Greenville University in southern Illinois in 1961.

“He didn’t come to this country expecting that things were going to be given to him,” said his daughter, Jeanney Kim. “He came to this country knowing that you can achieve things if you work hard at it. That is the fabric of the story — the narrative of the American Dream.”

In 1963, Kim’s parents arranged his marriage to his wife, Jane Young Ja Yoo. The couple exchanged letters overseas before their wedding: It was the start of a lifelong partnership. They lived in Korea for several years before returning to Chicago in 1970.

It was then that Kim launched a decadeslong media career. Noting a lack of accessible news outlets in the city’s Korean American community, he became publisher of the Korea Times Chicago. It was the first Korean-language newspaper in the Midwest.

At first, he struggled to retain readership, Kim told the Korea Times in 2017 for story on the paper’s anniversary. He frequently encountered discrimination in his work. But the newspaper slowly established itself as a community institution in its Wrigleyville office.

“I fought against indifference,” Kim told the Times. “There were no expectations or encouragement. I thought, ‘I have to push on.’”

As the publisher, Kim encouraged a focus on hyperlocal reporting, according to Jay Kim, the newspaper’s former business manager. The paper also regularly hosted events to build community among Korean Americans in the city.

“He thought the newspaper had a special mission, not just sending information on what’s going on in Korea, but what’s going on in our community,” Jay Kim said.

Kim helped with “providing daily news from his homeland to Korean Americans and providing vitality to their immigrant lives,” the Korea Times Chicago said in a statement.

Later, Kim became the CEO of Korean Broadcasting Incorporated Radio until his retirement.

Kim enjoyed simple pleasures, his family said. He loved classical music, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. He was an avid Chicago Cubs and Bears fan and a frequent golfer.

Despite his love for Korean culture, he grew to be fiercely patriotic for his adopted country. He became a U.S. citizen in 1976.

“He just gave off this warmth,” said his niece, Joyce Kim McDonough. “And you know, this funny side to him, and that’s what I always take away.”

For decades, Kim was also involved in the Chicago Covenant Presbyterian Church in Glenview. He served as a deacon and sponsored community events through the Korea Times Chicago.

“He was very proud of what he was doing,” said Seungjoo Kim, an elder at the church. “Whatever he could do to help the Korean community, he would.”

Kim is survived by his wife, Jane; children, Jeffrey and Jeanney; brothers Yong Ik, Yong Yoon and Yong Kyung; sisters Jung Min, Jung Yoon and Jung Ju; and a grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. April 7 at Chicago Covenant Presbyterian Church.