By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Fred Yee was a Chinese American student who wanted to please his family by studying science. So he chose geology, but he quickly realized that community service was his real passion.
When he was 18, Yee arrived at Seattle from Hong Kong in August 1969. The original plan was for Yee and his mother to arrive in Seattle in 1968, but her sudden death a month before their departure delayed their journey to America.
Despite the family tragedy, Yee was finally reunited with his father again. He soon enrolled at Seattle University. “My passion is in health, human services, community planning, and program planning,” Yee said.
When Yee entered college, he wasn’t that interested in engineering, but felt that geology was something he could do. But he later realized that he had other plans besides working in science.
Early on, Yee was one of the founding members of the Chinese Information Service Center (CISC) in 1972 and volunteered there as a UW student. That was when he realized his passion was working in the community.
“I was lucky enough that I was involved early on with CISC. That changed my outlook,” he said.
Yee gave up his graduate fellowship in geology and obtained his second bachelor’s degree, which was a B.A. from the University of Washington (UW) in urban geography, which was quite different.
Longtime friend Dennis Lam said about Yee, “Fred is very compassionate about the local Chinese community and exceptionally dedicated to and supportive of all the charity work that’s beneficial to the community.”
Kin On was established in 1985, but the nursing home for Asian Americans did not open until July 1987. CEO Sam Wan was working for the city at the time and was on a loan to start up Kin On. They needed someone for when Wan had to go back to work for the city.
The folks at Kin On approached Yee for the leadership role, but he rejected it at first.
After giving it some thought with his first wife Amy, Yee decided to take on the challenge. He gave up his federal job to run Kin On.
Yee was the executive director from February 1988 to March 1991, a little over three years. He remained closely connected to the organization as a board member, chair, and community volunteer. He was on the Kin On board for 12 years and was the board president from 1996 to 1998.
“Being involved in the community really helps me a lot. I run into people with similar situations and backgrounds,” he said.
Throughout his career, Yee was a hard worker and held many roles in administration and programming, management, human services, and planning.
Yee valued education and additional training. His focus was on community level planning, and he obtained his MBA in 1986 from the UW while working full-time.
Yee became independent at a young age and didn’t have a role model growing up. He lost his mother when he was 16, and didn’t get to know his father until later in life. His older brother looked after him in Hong Kong.
Yee encountered another family tragedy in October 2000, when he lost his first wife, Amy, to cancer. The death was a total shock to the family, and as a result, Yee was a single dad to Andrea and Alex for three and a half years. But he married his second wife, Clara, in April 2004.
In June 2005 during a table tennis tournament in Seattle, Yee collapsed. Luckily, after a quintuple bypass surgery, Yee recovered. He felt blessed and even continued to work. But he reflected on his career and life, and realized he wanted to retire when he turned 60.
Yee has lived in Seattle since 1969, and has valued his experiences over the years. He feels very fortunate to retire in Seattle with all his four kids grown up. “Life is good,” he said.
Yee is very active with the Yee Family Association. He encourages those who are American-born or who grew up in the States to connect with family history. In addition to his active involvement with the Yee Family Association, he is also very interested in studying family history and genealogy. In fact, Yee’s family was featured in the 1989 documentary, “Home from the Eastern Sea,” which was produced to celebrate Asian Americans in Washington state for the centennial.
Yee also enjoys travelling with Clara. He also picked up ping pong—he plays at least two times a week. He also enjoys photography and playing mahjong. He recently learned the game and started playing regularly. Yee even mentioned that Kin On has mahjong nights for the residents now.
“I feel proud of giving back to the community,” Yee said.
Yee will continue to volunteer for the organizations close to his heart. In addition to Kin On, he has volunteered for the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Seattle King County Advisory Council on Aging, WA State Chinese Cancer Network Association, APARN Coalition (Asian Pacific America Resource Network), and OCA Seattle Chapter.
On Dec. 5, he will be recognized for his lifetime achievements at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s event, “Top Contributors to the Asian Community.” (end)
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.