Hawaii journalist 'Jookie' Ku dies at 97
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
Ah Jook "Jookie" Ku, a pioneering Asian-American journalist and longtime media champion, died Monday. She was 97.
During World War II, Ku became the first Asian-American reporter for The Associated Press. She was also the first Asian-American female writer to work for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Ku's colleagues yesterday remarked on her dedication to the principles of fair and honest journalism, manifested through her involvement with the Honolulu Community Media Council for more than 25 years. Council chairman Chris Conybeare said she also was responsible for getting him and many others involved in broader issues such as international press freedoms.
"She walked the walk," he said. "She was a person of tremendous principle. She really believed that journalists and people who brought information to the public were important, and that it was absolutely crucial that people were informed of what was going on in government, and she never wavered from those ideals."
A descendant of early immigrant laborers from China, Ku was born April 24, 1910, in Kailua, one of 15 children in her family. She grew up on the 'Ewa Plantation, where her father worked as a luna.
Ku often told the story of how her father had considered selling her for a bag of rice. Despite her parents' belief that girls were not deserving of an education, Ku won a scholarship to Mid-Pacific Institute and in 1933 earned an education degree from the University of Hawai'i.
Two years later, Ku became only the second "exchange student" from Hawai'i to graduate from the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism. News accounts at the time also noted she was only the school's third female of Chinese ancestry to attain a degree.
While in college, Ku was involved in a number of campus journalism clubs and was an eager and eloquent spokeswoman for Hawai'i, making frequent appearances before school and community groups and on the radio.
After returning to Honolulu, she rejoined the Star-Bulletin, where she had begun as a high school correspondent, and worked for The Associated Press from 1943 to 1946.
She left the Islands again in 1948 to fulfill a long-held ambition to travel to China, sailing aboard the SS President Cleveland on its maiden Pacific voyage.
Her job as English editor at the Nationalist Chinese government information office in Nanking was cut short after 18 months by the Communist revolution.
Back in Hawai'i, Ku entered the public relations field, serving a variety of groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Hawaii Employers Council and the Salvation Army. She worked as a public information specialist for the state Department of Education, retiring in 1975.
That same year, Ku took over as executive director of the Honolulu Community Media Council, a nonprofit volunteer group established in 1970 to improve public access to information, strengthen public support for First Amendment freedoms and promote accurate and fair journalism in Hawai'i.
In 2002, Ku was honored with the council's Fletcher Knebel Award for outstanding contributions to journalism.
Jerry Burris, public affairs editor of The Honolulu Advertiser, came to know Ku through her numerous activities. He said that while Ku may have looked like "a kindly, little old lady, she was busting down barriers."
"She was one of these people who doesn't get in the news very much but is one of the people who hold the community together," he said. "She would not stop volunteering. Things worked because she was just there. She was not looking for credit; when something needed to be done, she did it."
Her family and countless others will recall her kindness and generosity, said nephew Byron Leong.
"She was a very generous and giving person who always looked to help others. She never turned down a request for help," he said. "She helped business associates expand their careers and put nieces and nephews through college, and helped them buy a home."
Leong said his aunt "downplayed" her achievements, which include authoring the book "The Chinese in Hawaii" in 1961.
"She was very humble, although a lot of her peers recognized her contributions," he said.
Ku is survived by a sister, Yuk Jun "Junnie" Joseph of Honolulu.
Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 21 at Borthwick Mortuary, with a service at 10 a.m.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.