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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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Chun Bin "Charlie" Yim Chun Bin "Charlie" Yim

SDSU Alumnus Awarded Ellis Island Medal of Honor

Charlie Yim is a Korean-born American who played a part in San Diego’s economic development.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

“I came to this country empty-handed and I have been blessed. Now I share my wealth with a willing heart to community organizations in need.”

San Diego State University alumnus Chun Bin "Charlie" Yim (’73) joined astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Hollywood studio executive Sherry Lansing as a recipient of the 2017 Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Yim received the medal on Ellis Island, New York, in May during a ceremony that culminated in a fireworks display over the Hudson River. The  award’s sponsor, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, said medalists exemplify the ideals of “tolerance, brotherhood, diversity and patriotism.”

Yim was nominated by Larry Stirling (’64), a former California state representative and senator. The two became friends during the 1970s when they both worked for the City of San Diego.

Starting all over again

Born in Korea, Yim was the first formally educated anthropologist in his native country. He left Korea for Hawaii in 1968 to work as a coordinator for the Peace Corps. He also intended to pursue a degree from the University of Michigan, but that plan went awry after Yim visited a cousin in San Diego. The cousin urged him to get a business degree from SDSU instead, and a counselor confirmed that Yim had the necessary requirements to enroll.

“I couldn’t sleep for two nights wondering what I should do,” Yim said. “Finally I thought, ‘I’m in America. I can start all over again. I have the freedom and the opportunity, so why shouldn’t I do something different?’”

A student in need of a job, Yim introduced himself to George, the manager of a campus restaurant and a Korean War veteran. The young man offered to work for free, but when he cleaned the restroom to George’s satisfaction, he was hired on the spot. The two became friends, and Yim spent several holidays with George’s family. Now he has a family of his own—a wife and two daughters.

Author and speaker

Yim invested in San Diego’s commercial real estate sector, purchasing several malls and attracted big-name tenants. In 1986, he returned to Korea for the first time with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. He led seminars for executives with Samsung, Hyundai and other large corporations interested in expanding their businesses to San Diego.

Later he became a motivational speaker and wrote a book, “I Will Work for Nothing,” which chronicles his life in the United States.

“I came to this country empty-handed and I have been blessed,” Yim said. “Now I share my wealth with a willing heart to community organizations in need.”

Yim believes his willing heart and humility are qualities that earned him the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. After the ceremony, he left for the airport with the medal in his carry-on bag. Airport security detected it and asked him to explain. When he told them about his award, they saluted him and asked, “Why aren’t you seated in first class?”

“I told them I like to sit in economy class,” Yim said, “because that’s where I came from.”