I Am KoreAm: Bill Yoon
I am KoreAm and proud because (cont.):
My grandfather Choong Sup Park was on the first boat of Korean immigrant laborers to leave Korea in 1902 for Hawaii.
My grandfather Kyung Hak Yoon was one of the first Koreans to immigrate directly from Korea to San Francisco in 1903.
My grandmother Rosa Sunoo, was on the ‘Lost Ship’ of Korean immigrants that was sent to Mexico instead of Hawaii in the early 1900s.
My grandmother Chung Kyung Park, and [grandfather] Choong Sup Park were childhood sweethearts who grew up in the same village, Jeon Ju. Choong Sup worked for 10 years to save enough money for Chung Kyung to come to the United States so they could be reunited.
I own Koreana Gifts and Arts (koreanagifts.com), the oldest Korean Gift Store in the United States. We have many vintage and rare Korean items from the 1950s and 1960s. We may have the largest collection of vintage traditional Korean Dolls in the world. And we are the largest supplier of traditional Korean Drums and traditional Korean Dance Equipment in the Los Angeles area. Koreana Gifts was originally opened in 1961 by John and Cathy Han.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My mom, Gloria Insook Yoon. Gloria is known as The Hommy, and I have done a series of comments on my Facebook page called “The Hommy Chronicles” detailing my life with The Hommmy since 2010, when my sister Leslie passed and I moved The Hommy in with me. I bought the house my parents bought in 1954, so The Hommy is very comfortable living with me.
Gloria is 93 years old, has a pacemaker, is blind due to macular degeneration, is mostly deaf, and has major back curvature from being stepped on by a horse as a child. But her mind is still sharp, and she has a phenomenal memory.
I have also had many good friends who have been with me for decades and I am thankful that I have so many good friends. I could say Jesus Christ, but I see Jesus in my mom every day.
Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
I never tell anyone how smart I really am. My close friends know, but few other people are aware.
My IQ was estimated at 170+ in high school. I had the second highest SAT scores in my high school, and the highest ACT scores.
I skipped 1/2 of the 2nd grade and 1/2 of the 6th grade, so I graduated a year ahead of my peers.
I was accepted by UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Cal Tech when I graduated high school in 1974.
I used to belong to Mensa, but was never active in Mensa.
I am both right brain and left brain, technical mechanical and creative artistic.
If you had to describe yourself using three words, they would be…
Passionate, Creative, Kind
If you could be anybody besides yourself for a day, you would be…
Present – Pope Francis
Past – Leonardo da Vinci
What are your pet peeves or interesting things about you that you dislike?
Cell phone use while driving. I used to autocross and race my 1975 and 1984 Honda Civics, so I have major issues with anyone who is not paying attention to their driving. Plus my father Harold was a big-rig diesel driver for 50 years, and he always made me drive the right way. Both hands on the wheel, always in the right gear, eyes ahead and behind constantly, monitor all the traffic around you all the time. When I would leave my hand on the gear shift after shifting, my dad would hit my hand hard and tell me to put both hands on the steering wheel when I’m not shifting. Thanks to my father, I can upshift and downshift a manual transmission without using the clutch.
Name one of your favorite things about someone in your family.
My mom still has a great sense of humor and is very funny. And she used to fix everything around the house. My mechanical aptitude comes more from my mom than my dad.
One day my mom was eating cookies in her bedroom.
I asked her if she had been eating cookies because I saw the cookie crumbs, and told her I could see the crumbs and now her bedspread was dirty.
My mom looks at me and smiles and says “It’s not dirty, it’s crummy.”
I had no response for that.
What is the kindest thing that someone has ever done for you?
There are so many kind things that my family and friends have done for me. One thing that sticks out is when we had a memorial for my father Harold in 1999 when he passed. My sister had a few friends show up, my brother had a few friends show up, and about 50 of my friends showed up and took up five whole tables. I have always thought that was remarkably kind of my friends to show their support for my family that way. I have some of the best friends in the world.
If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be and why?
I want to go back to Korea (I was there in 2007), and would love to take my mom Gloria with me since she has never gone to Korea. I want to take her to Jeon Ju to see the village where her mother and father came from.
I know the South Korean government offers free trips for US military veterans of the Korean War. Why doesn’t the South Korean government offer free trips to the surviving Korean Pioneers? There aren’t that many left, and the numbers get smaller every year. Many of the early Korean Pioneers have never been to Korea. The South Korean government should step up and right this wrong.
It was the early Korean Pioneers who kept the dream of Korean Independence alive for decades during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. They were the ones who led the Korean Patriot Movement. They were the ones who sacrificed to collect money, food, and medical supplies to send to Korea in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. They were the ones who lived through years of discrimination and racism to pave the way for all future generations of Korean Americans in the United States.
Do the Right Thing.
What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
As a general rule, I don’t eat weird things. I’m a meat and rice guy, and wherever I go, cows die.
Do you have any words that you live by?
Tell us about the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to deal with my severely injured back through the years. I have torn ligaments in my lower back, and when I was 21 I was told by everyone that I would would never run and jump again. I told all the doctors and nurses that they were wrong, and that I was going to play basketball again. I was a basketball junkie for decades. Since I injured my back, I played basketball, played tennis, practiced Kung Fu for seven years, rode a mountain bike, and took up rock climbing, even though I was told I couldn’t do any of those things.
If you could choose one song to describe your life, what would it be and why?
“Desperado” by the Eagles. The words have always spoken to me.
What takes you out of your comfort zone?
Loud stupid people.
Is the glass half empty or half full for you?
Right now, half empty. But if I can raise the funding for the Los Angeles Korea Town Mural Project, it will be overflowing.
It’s my dream and my vision. I know I am an extraordinary art teacher, and I want to give an opportunity to low income Korean American students who can’t afford to pay for after school classes or tutoring. I believe I can teach these art students more in 6 months than most teachers could teach them in two years. My middle school students’ artwork was far superior to any of the artwork coming out of the local high schools.
Who is someone you look up to and what about them inspires you?
Dr Ken Fong. Ken is the senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, and a close friend. Ken is one of the people I know who could have done anything they wanted to do. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, anything. But he became a pastor to follow Jesus and serve God.