By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
It was a night that included delicious food, great company, and a room filled with influential community leaders. Eleven individuals and an organization were honored last Friday evening at the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s Top Contributors to the Asian Community banquet. The event was held at the House of Hong Restaurant.
For the first time this year, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation (NWAWF) honored three individuals with lifetime achievement awards, in addition to recognizing top contributors to the community.
Vanna Novak, co-founder of the Executive Development Institute (EDI), received fellow co-founder and honoree Ted Yamamura’s award on his behalf. Novak said that if Yamamura had been present to accept the award, he would have told people to “know what you love and know where you want to go in life” and to select mentors accordingly. Novak said that it was because of Yamamura that she became involved with EDI, which changed her life.
EDI was also honored, and Executive Director Starr Macdonald said that the organization creates dynamic community leaders in all walks of life. Novak also added, “To be recognized by the Asian community at an event like this is such an incredible honor, and it’s really helped to affirm that our work is making a difference.”
Honorees Chang Rae Lee and Susan Lee were awarded for their contributions to the homeless community in the area and the Korean American population, respectively.
Restaurant owner Chang Rae Lee dedicated his award to all the homeless people on the street and credited his efforts to Jesus Christ. He said that he felt like it was his duty to provide comfort and food to the less fortunate.
Susan Lee, current president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce, shared a story about her brother, the late Rocky Kim, who was a community leader. She states that he was her biggest influence and greatest mentor. Lee said she hopes to continue supporting his vision by serving the Korean community to bridge generations.
“I believe that by bringing diverse groups together, we can pool resources from one another, and this will help to empower and give more strength to our communities,” she said.
Honoree Christine Umayam is the founder and executive director of Child United, an international relief organization empowering children through education. As a frequent traveler, she always sees something different and is astonished by the sad stories and lives that she encounters. Umayam shared a story about how she saw a little boy with no arms and legs. He still went to school every day.
She was so deeply influenced by this boy and other children in poverty that she quit her day job to start her organization.
When Yoshi Minegishi accepted his award, he brought his Celebrate Asia! team on stage to share in his success. In 2008, Minegishi had the idea of bringing musicians together to introduce Asian musical traditions to the community. Representation from various Asian cultures allowed for a diverse and entertaining group. Since its inception, Celebrate Asia! has been a sold-out event with 2,400 attendees filling Benaroya Hall.
Debadutta Dash started his acceptance speech by asking the audience to stand up to stretch their legs and get some energy back. He then proceeded to give credit to everyone who attended the dinner because, as he said, he wouldn’t be there if there weren’t others on the other side.
“I haven’t achieved anything yet, [and] it’s just a small step,” Dash said humbly.
This year, the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee, of which Dash is co-chair, held its first trade mission to Orissa, India, along with other community leaders from the state.
Vera Ing grew up in the Central and International Districts. She mentioned how much the districts have changed over the decades. She talked about how she and other activists worked together to secure funding to build public housing for low-income and elderly communities.
Thach Nguyen, founder and CEO of Thach Real Estate Group and co-founder of The Gift, spoke to the audience about the most defining moments in his life. He talked about how he was indicted for money laundering back in 1997. He started praying and later realized his life purpose. Instead of being selfish, he wanted to be selfless in the world.
When his father passed away from liver cancer, Nguyen found out that he had been working to help others. Nguyen had not known of this. He also realized that his purpose was to be an instrument to continue his dad’s legacy. It was a night to remember as the community was able to recognize and award the endless efforts of these great community leaders.
Lifetime achievement honorees
It just so happened that the three lifetime achievement honorees were all women. These honorees are very different in their respective contributions to the community.
Ruthann Kurose has spent the last four decades working in community activism. When she looks for political candidates to support, she looks for the “candidate’s willingness to speak up on important issues to inspire and galvanize young people.” She also mentioned that President Barack Obama has been a big influence and inspiration to her children. Kurose has served on the Bellevue College Board of Trustees, where she fought for minorities on campus. This year, she worked on the re-election campaign for Senator Patty Murray.
Theresa Pan Hosley is soft-spoken, though her actions speak volumes. As president of the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation, Hosley has worked with the city of Tacoma in designing and constructing the four-acre Chinese Reconciliation Park and International Pavilion. The park was built with the idea that everyone is welcome in Tacoma, regardless of race or religion. She said she wanted to set an example and show other parts of the country how important cultural diversity is.
The third lifetime achievement honoree was Ellen Abellera. She said, “The community can make or unmake a leader, and the community has a great responsibility to inspire, encourage, mentor, love, support, and believe in them.” Abellera is the former executive director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, by which she served as a bridge between the governor’s office and the Asian Pacific community. Though recently retired, Abellera continues to support the community by focusing her efforts on Seattle’s International Drop-In Center in its capital campaign.
The event was emceed by Colleen Fukui-Sketchley, corporate diversity affairs specialist for Nordstrom, Inc. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at email@example.com.