Kim was a Korean patriot

The grandson of a former student reaches out to the college.

It was one of those "out of the blue" phone calls. "Hello, my name is John Kimm. I would like to come to see the papers of my grandfather, Kim Kyusik, who graduated from Roanoke College." My response was immediate excitement, for this was one more member of the Kim family making contact with the College. John Kimm is the grandson of Kim Kyusik and his first wife, and in July 2009, John Kimm and family paid us a visit.

Many alumni are aware of Kim Kyusik, who graduated in 1903, either through alumni exhibits or by reading Dear Old Roanoke. Certainly he was a highlight of our sesquicentennial celebration and again in 1993 when Pauline Kimm Chang, Kim's daughter by his second wife, came to visit her father's beloved Alma Mater. He is one of Roanoke's most illustrious alumni, important in international politics and a hero of the Korean independence movement of the 20th century. Korean visitors to the Archives are eager to view the pictures of Kim as a student. They often take turns being photographed near a vintage picture of him.

When his own father was exiled by the Emperor, Kim was placed in the Korean home of Presbyterian minister Rev. James Underwood. There, Kim learned English, which made him invaluable as a translator between the Empress and Mrs. Underwood. In his adult years, he was sought by the Japanese to teach English to their people as they expanded militarily throughout that part of the world.

When Kim Kyusik arrived at Roanoke College, he was about 16 years old and was at first a "sub-freshman," most likely needing a few extra classes to achieve college level status. He thrived at Roanoke, and, according to several classmates, including President Charles J. Smith '01, he was very popular on campus and among Salemites. While he should have graduated in 1902, President Julius Dreher persuaded him to graduate in 1903, as part of the semi-centennial celebration. In 1910, Kim received his master's degree at Princeton, the same year Korea came under the control of Japan.

The remainder of his life was spent alternating between political and academic service to his country. He was Minister of Education in "The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea" based in Shanghai; a delegate to the Versailles conference after WWI, requesting freedom and recognition as a nation; chairman of the Korean commission to Europe and America; negotiator with Russia for land concessions for 200,000 Korean refugees in the 1920s; head of the Korean Revolutionary Army; college president and professor in China and an exile in China until the end of World War II.

Not long after his journey to Versailles, Kim visited Roanoke College on a speaking tour of the United States. In 1923, Dr. Kim received from Roanoke College the honorary Doctor of Laws (in absentia). During WWII, while in exile, he wrote several textbooks on English grammar for the refugee universities in China. Several others were "in the works." After the surrender of Japan, while preparing to return to Korea, Kim sent the finished volumes to the College library with the inscription "To be ‘shelved' as an oddity exemplifying China's wartime printing. With fond memories of the Alma Mater, from the author, Kiusic Kimm. Chungking, China, October 18th, 1945."

By the fall of 1946, Kim was in poor health and his financial resources were meager. Nevertheless, he sent a check to Roanoke College for $1,000, requesting that a confirmation of receipt be sent through an American military government officer. (e.g., in 1941, $40,000 built Lucas Hall.) This generous gift spoke volumes about Kim's feelings for Alma Mater. Kim died in 1950, while being held captive in North Korea.

When John Kimm and family visited from Northern Virginia, they had the opportunity to view items of Kim's for the very first time - including photos and Kim's published works. The message that he and Kim scholars have is that Kim Kyusic worked for much of his life not for glory, power or financial reward, but for the independence and nationhood of the Korean people. And for that he gave his life.