A Long Journey: In Her 80s and Making a New Home

Helen Kim’s journey to The King Home in Evanston has taken many fascinating twists and turns.

It began in Korea, where she was born in 1927, through Manchuria at the age of 12, and eventually to the U.S. in 1960. Along the way, it has been her faith, love of music and family that has kept a constant smile on her face.

A story about Helen in the Spring/Summer issue of The Chimes, a publication of Presbyterian Homes, describes her best: “She weighs less than 100 pounds and stands about five feet tall, but Helen Kim has the inner strength of a mother lioness. At 84, this King Home resident has a story to tell of a life that included joyous highs and tragic lows. Having escaped from the Communist regime in North Korea, she left her family and country to find a new beginning in America.”

Helen eventually settled in Mason City, Ill., where she spent 30 years married to Rev. Mark Kim. The Kims had three children and her daughter, Nancy, lives in Evanston. Music has always been part of her life as both a pianist and teacher to many young children along the way. That love of music and teaching led to the State of Illinois naming her “Mother of the Year” in 1985.

A Daughter’s Love

After her husband died in 2004, Helen moved to be near her daughter and in 2010 she became one of the first women to live at The King Home. Initially, Helen lived independently in her own apartment with the support of Nancy.

“It’s easier for a daughter to be the caretaker,” says Nancy, echoing the experience of my other daughters who have taken the same role. “My mom is a great cook, and an apartment with a kitchen was a perfect choice at the time.”

According to Helen, the Levy Senior Center was a big factor in her decision to live in Evanston. Friends and programs at the Levy Center, like crocheting and artwork, filled her days. “At first I did not need to live in a community—the Levy Center filled that role,” she says.

Change of Circumstances

For an older adult, health circumstances are often the impetus for a change in living arrangements. Beginning in 2009, Helen experienced a series of hospitalizations which, over time, began take their toll on her sunny disposition.

“I was depressed,” says Helen. “I did not know what was going on and I am typically an upbeat person.”

That’s when Nancy began to conduct research on alternative living arrangement for her mom. “For adult children it’s hard,” says Nancy. “You just can’t tell your parents what to do. She had to come to her own realization.”

Nancy’s siblings have been very supportive of their mother’s move to The King Home. “We are all individuals and each of us has our own relationship and way to communicate with our mom,” says Nancy. “Her decision to move there was a huge relief.”

The Presbyterian Homes organization assisted Helen through moving planners who helped her downsize and allocate space for her furnishing and beloved piano. “Most important to us is the culture of caring at The King Home.”

Settling In

And Helen? “I am not a complainer,” she says. “After I made my decision to move all I wanted to do was to make things better. I am more than happy.” One indicator of her happiness is the special Korean dinner that she cooked this past summer for all the residents. Just another thing that keeps a smile on Helen’s face.