Friday, July 31, 2015

Sunday, May. 25, 2014

Therese Park: UMKC Conservatory professor honors brother with benefit concert

Special to The Star


Benefit concert

The Chi Hun Yi Memorial Benefit Concert will be at 3 p.m. May 31 at the Korean Kansas Mission Church, 8841 Glenwood St. in Overland Park. Freewill donations will be accepted. People also can donate by sending checks to the Fabiola Yi FBO Pamela Yi Educational Fund, 520 W.103rd St. #338.

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Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor our loved ones who are no longer with us. What is the best way we can do that?

For professor Un Chong Christopher, who teaches voice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance and piano at Calvary Bible College/Theological Seminary, it’s giving a memorial benefit concert in her brother’s name, so she can sing his most cherished songs and play the music he often listened to. That’s how she conceived the idea of the Chi Hun Yi Memorial Benefit Concert for Pamela Yi.

Yi, Christopher’s youngest brother, died on May 5, 2013, 10 months after he had been diagnosed with double-hit lymphoma and leukemia. He left behind his wife of 20 years, Fabiola Yi, and their 21-month-old daughter, Pamela. Chi Hun Yi was only 47.

Yi achieved success as an athlete and a leader of groups, including the Korean Korean-American Society of Greater Kansas City, which he served as a vice president. And he earned three U.S. Service Medals — the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.

The two siblings were close, particularly because Yi also had the gift of music. Not only was he a skilled guitar player, he also had a beautiful voice like his sister. Occasionally, they entertained friends and relatives with their songs.

On Memorial Day last year, three weeks after Christopher lost her brother, she sang the National Anthem for the Korean War Veterans Association’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Trail Ridge Community Center (a temporary arrangement due to pouring rain). It was her dying brother’s wish, she informed me, that she continue what he no longer could — singing the nation’s most revered hymn on the day designated to remember and honor one’s departed loved ones. At the same time, she wanted to help set up a college fund for her young niece whose father died without life insurance.

I never met Yi but I did meet his wife and daughter after he passed. It was difficult for me not to ask Pamela, who will be 3 years old, if I could hold her, because I missed my four grandkids who live out of state. To my delight, Pamela obliged. As I held her, a thought followed: How could her father die, leaving such a precious child and beautiful wife behind? Why couldn’t God expel the cancer cells and cure him, like Jesus cured paralytics and cripples?

Yet, Pamela herself is a miracle. Her aunt told me how Pamela said farewell to her dad, whom she called “Papa.”

“At the wake on May 8 at the funeral home,” Christopher said, “we each approached the open casket to say goodbye to my brother. When it was Pami’s turn, she asked me to lift her up so that she could see her father. Seeing her pap below, she leaned to him, grabbed his nose, and would not let go. It was the game she and her papa often played at their intimate moments. We all cried.”

Does she still remember Papa?

“Yes, she does,” Christopher said. “Once in a while, when the garage door opens she runs to it, saying, ‘Papa! Papa!’ On New Year’s Day this year, the first thing she said to her mom was, ‘I wanna see Papa!’ So her mom played the video clip of my brother at a family gathering on TV. Pami watched it intently for a moment, and then unexpectedly, she walked to the TV and began to kiss on Daddy’s image, leaving wet spot on the screen. Afterward, she declared, ‘I’m happy now!’ and looked for her toys to play with. Children have their own way of expressing their feelings, and Pami certainly surprises us with her words and actions.”

Beside Christopher, who will sing and play piano, the concert will feature violinist Sarah Kim, me on the cello, and pianist Sarah Cheslik.

Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.

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