American Success - Kim's Story
Eric Jones and Melissa Karnes
Rend Lake College, Ina, IL
Sponsoring Station: WSIU, Carbondale, IL
What an amazing country we live in. A country that allows a person to seek better opportunities for themselves and their family with only twentyfive American dollars to their name.
In March of 1974, Kim Hong Won left Korea and took advantage of the job opportunities in the United States while many American workers were in Vietnam fighting the war.
His first job was for US Steel, then for Pullman, building box cars for Amtrak and other railroad companies. Four years after leaving his country, he sent for his wife, Jeong Ja, and son, Yeong Seok to join him in America.
Soon after, the Pullman Union went on strike and Kim Hong Won was without a job. He then started working for the Caterpillar Company in Peoria, Illinois, and after that, for a shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.
Through all this time, he experienced difficulties due to language barriers. Two more sons, Matthew and Andrew, were born. A decision to move to Benton, Illinois, was made, to avoid inner-city troubles, and to provide better education for his children.
However, with no friends or family, his oldest son Yeong was all the help he and his wife had. In 1984, Kim Hong Won had saved up $3,000 to make the move to Benton, and opened a shoe repair shop. Yet he had no knowledge of the skill.
The first two years were very difficult. He and his wife practiced every day, teaching themselves shoe repairs and alterations. Still having language barriers, he was able to successfully gain the respect of the Benton community once he became known for his exceptional abilities.
"Benton people are nice," he says. "When I first came here, no one knew me, now everyone knows me."
In 1993, Hong Won, Jeong Ja, and Yeong Seok became citizens of the United States. Now he has a thriving business, a home, and many friends. Today, Hong Won expresses pride in his children for going to college, and happiness in his decision to come to the United States and to Benton, Illinois.