After a short drive in the pouring rain, the clouds parted last Friday afternoon as a car full of KWA staffers pulled up to a small senior center in south Seattle. The Seattle Korean Elder’s Association sits just off of Plum St. in the Rainier Valley, and the surrounding neighborhood is just as sweet as its address.
Inside, a crowd of about 75 people greets us – all gathered to celebrate with KWA homecare client Pil Jung Kim. Mr. Kim doesn’t look nearly old enough to be turning 100. It gets harder to believe when you learn that just one year ago, Seattle senior non-profit Sound Generations honored him with their “Inspire Positive Aging” award for teaching dynamic stretching classes.
“It is plain to see that ACRS Lunch Program members look up to Mr. Kim as a teacher endowed with great wisdom. This communal respect stems from his astounding ability to age in a healthy way and his willingness to share his “secrets” to healthy aging,” said Timothy Kim, the man who nominated Kim for the award.
Before retiring, Kim was a math teacher in South Korea, and taught himself to play both the piano and violin. He emigrated to the United States at age 67 and began a musical trio with another violin player and cellist. Together the three of them volunteered their services to anyone who was in need, including countless churches. Eventually, Kim says, his neck became too stiff to continue playing his violin. He made sure to donate it so that another student could learn.
Despite his only family in America living in Los Angeles, Kim says he would never leave Seattle. His senior apartment has a view rivaling some of the city’s most sought-after views, with the stadiums, downtown, and waterfront visible from his living room. Kim says he loves all the green – and if the trees out his window weren’t enough, his large collection of houseplants drives the point home.
Kim and his KWA caretaker, Song Mi Sook, have been together for over five years and have a bond most only develop through blood. Their father/daughter camaraderie is easy to see, even when the conversation slips into their native Korean. The only shadow, Kim says, is his health. He’s too healthy for the state DSHS to approve more hours that they can spend together. A small price to pay at 100 years old.
Now back to the party. A table at the front of the room serves as the stage for Kim’s celebration, overflowing with rice cakes, fruit cut into the shape of exotic animals and, of course, presents. Kim’s friends share stories about their adventures together, and several sing songs of love and devotion, backed up by the flashing screen of the karaoke machine. Then it’s time for Happy Birthday – an identical tune across international borders, it seems – and tables are rearranged to clear room for dancing until our time is up.
The relationship Kim and Sook have formed is the ideal that KWA strives for with all our homecare clients and caretakers. To arrange a caregiver for someone in your life, or to become a caregiver yourself, click here for more information.