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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Citizen Jims

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Chinese Citizen of the Year honors have been bestowed on Vernon Jim (for 2006) and his wife, Yun Soong Chock Jim (in 2001), of Manoa.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Vernon and Yun Soong Chock Jim were married on Sept. 9, 1944, the day the groom graduated from medical school in Chicago.

Family photo

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Don't think you can leave the Jims' Manoa home empty-handed.

Before you leave, they'll hand you branches of loquat and handfuls of limes, maybe some bananas, eggplants and pomegranates, if they've got them.

And they won't take no for an answer.

"Here, take," said Yun Soong Chock Jim, 85, holding a chayote one recent Friday morning. "Use it like regular squash."

(Her husband, Dr. Vernon Jim, also 85, left to get a knife to cut down some rosemary growing wild along their steep driveway.)

"And do you know what this is?" She pointed to a succulent air plant with bell-like flowers. "We call it pachi-pachi."

She snapped off a flower and clapped it together in her hands, making a loud popping noise.

"See? Here, take some."

To those who know the Jims, this generosity isn't unusual.

But their giving expands well beyond their prolific garden.

This couple, married for 61 years, gives back all the time, whether to local charities, cultural organizations or education-related projects.

So much so that the United Chinese Society in Hawai'i, of which both have been members for decades, named them Chinese Citizens of the Year, an honor held by such notables as Sen. Daniel Akaka and the late Sen. Hiram Fong.

Yun Soong Chock Jim, a retired high school science teacher, earned the title in 2001; Vernon Jim received the honor this year.

They have become the first couple to ever hold the title.

"They've done a lot for the community, not only in service but through their own time and effort," said Henry Lee, executive director of the United Chinese Society. "They're very deserving."

Though they're humbled by the honor, the Jims wave off any fanfare. They don't volunteer for the recognition. They do it because they believe in helping others.

They both volunteer with the United Chinese Society, UH Lyon Arboretum, American Cancer Society, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and other cultural and charity organizations.

They also make annual donations to such groups as Aloha United Way, Shriners Hospital, Lanakila Senior Center and the Aloha Medical Mission.

The list goes on.

"You should always help people," said Vernon Jim, a retired reconstructive plastic surgeon. "Because you never know when you'll need help, too."

The couple met in 1941 at the University of Chicago, where she was studying biology and he was in medical school.

Both fascinated by science, they spent weekends catching snakes and watching surgeries at Cook County Hospital.

Then on Sept. 9, 1944, the day Vernon Jim graduated from medical school, the pair wed. They celebrated with cake and ice cream.

"I liked that he worked for what he really wanted," Yun Soong Chock Jim said about her husband. "He strives to get things done."

The morning after their nuptials, Vernon Jim enlisted in the Army as a flight surgeon, leaving his bride for months at a time over the next three years.

Yun Soong Chock Jim moved back home to Hilo, where she bore their first two daughters.

Once out of the Army, Vernon Jim packed up his family and moved to Chicago, where he studied ophthalmology and his last two daughters were born.

In 1954, they moved to Minnesota, where Vernon Jim studied reconstructive plastic surgery at the Mayo Clinic. They moved back to Hawai'i in 1956.

He received board certification in both ophthalmology and plastic surgery, wanting to help accident victims and cancer patients who had lost portions of their faces.

Despite the opportunity to make more money in cosmetic surgery, Vernon Jim resisted.

"I wanted to help people," he said. "It was very rewarding."

Even with four daughters, eight grandchildren and now six great-grandchildren all living in San Francisco the Jims find a way to carve out vacation time for themselves.

But they don't go on ordinary holidays.

They spent a month sleeping in a tent in Papua New Guinea in 1973, cruised to Antarctica in 2000 and stayed on a boat for a week on the Yangtze River in China two years ago.

This June they're going to Tibet. Again.

"You have to be active," said Yun Soong Chock Jim, clipping a branch of rosemary. "You'll get Alzheimer's just sitting around."

They won't have to worry about that. They're so active, they often don't see each other all day, despite being retired.

In fact, they have to leave notes on the floor near the door, just so they know where the other one is.

"We like to do things," said Yun Soong Chock Jim, winking. "Why sit around when there's so much to do?"

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.