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December 13, 2012

Yong-Min Chi, M.D.

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Cooperstown Crier

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Dr. Yong-Min Chi, a native South Korean who served alongside American soldiers during the Korean War and who started his medical practice in Cooperstown and Delhi, passed away peacefully on Saturday, Dec. 8, in his Cummaquid, Mass., home. He was 82.

Dr. Chi was born in Korea in 1930 to Chang-Il Chi and Bong-Yi Choi, the fourth of nine children and the eldest son. Dr. Chi grew up during World War II, when Japan occupied Korea. As a boy, Dr. Chi was forced to help build airfields for the Japanese in his bare feet and to speak in Japanese rather than Korean.

Korea was liberated from Japan at the end of World War II. But soon after, the Korean War began. Dr. Chi’s father, a pharmacy owner, opposed communism and resisted North Korean soldiers who tried to take his property. He was shot by the North Koreans for doing so, leaving his son Yong-Min as the family’s eldest male.

Dr. Chi became a captain in the South Korean army. A top student who attended Korea’s prestigious Seoul National University, Dr. Chi possessed extraordinary English language skills. In fact, his English was so good, that as a teenager, he was hired to translate into Korean George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm,” which satirized totalitarianism. Dr. Chi used his excellent English as a translator and liaison between South Korean and American military officers. He first came to the United States as part of his military service, with stops at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Fort Bliss in Texas.

Dr. Chi moved to the United States in 1954 with little money and few connections but the determination to become a physician. He gained admission to Columbia University in New York but could not afford the tuition and instead attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., which offered him first-year student aid. He was accepted to and graduated from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, where the faculty admired the immigrant’s willingness to sacrifice and persevere. 

In his struggle upward, Dr. Chi overcame financial hardship, the challenges of being an ethnic minority and the loneliness of being separated from his family in Korea. He was admitted to Columbia University’s medical residency program. In 1963, he was assigned to one of the program’s affiliated facilities, Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown.

While at Bassett Hospital, Dr. Chi met his wife, an Irish Catholic nurse named Mary Elizabeth Clark. The couple married in 1967 and, each having lived in fatherless households, shared a desire to build a strong and large family. They started Dr. Chi’s medical practice and their family in Delhi, and then lived briefly in Picayune, Miss., while Dr. Chi taught medicine at Louisiana State and Tulane universities. In 1976, they moved to Athol, Mass., where they raised five children.

Dr. Chi practiced family medicine and general surgery at Athol Memorial Hospital for 25 years, known in town as a highly competent and compassionate caregiver.

As a father, Dr. Chi emphasized academics and self-discipline. His children graduated from elite colleges and graduate programs. The family spent its summers in the 1980s at a home on Sunset Hill in Richfield Springs.

In 1992, Dr. and Mrs. Chi bought a house in Cummaquid, Mass., later retiring there. They shared joyous years on Cape Cod. Three of their children married on the Cape. Their children and grandchildren visited often.

Dr. Chi read constantly, with bookshelves full of histories and biographies, many about World War II. He golfed with a close circle of friends and belonged to the Cummaquid Golf Club.

Dr. Chi captained his Korean high school basketball team. In the 1950s, when he arrived at Bradley University, the men’s basketball team was a national powerhouse. Dr. Chi tried out for the team. He recalled that, though outmatched in height, he stole the ball and made a lay-up during tryout scrimmages. The doctor loved watching the Boston Celtics.

Though ill, Dr. Chi insisted on going to the polls to vote on Election Day this past November. He cherished the freedoms that he enjoyed as an American citizen.

Dr. Chi is survived by his wife Mary; daughter, Christine Yong-Hwa Chi and granddaughter, Elizabeth Chi Urias of New York City; daughter, Jennifer Yong-Hee Chi, son-in-law, Jason Clinton Glenn and granddaughter, Willamina Emmanuelle (Roma) Glenn of Brooklyn; son, Christopher Yong-Min Chi, daughter-in-law, Vicki Lynn Chi and grandchildren, Nathan Dean Chi, Anna Elaine Chi, Laurel Elizabeth Chi and Clark Christopher Yong-Min Chi of Franklin, Tenn.; son, Jonathan Yong-Hwan Chi, daughter-in-law, Lisa Fisher Chi and granddaughter, Gemma Josephine Chi of Milwaukee, Wis.; and son, Michael Yong-Ahn Chi, daughter-in-law, Margaret Hess Chi and grandchildren, Augustus Hess Clark Chi and Henrietta Hess Clark Chi of New York City.

He is also survived by his eight siblings and Elizabeth Chi of Stockholm, Sweden. 

Dr. Chi will be memorialized at a private ceremony at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Richfield Springs. Donations in Dr. Chi’s memory may be made to Friends of Bassett Healthcare Network, designated to Bassett Medical Center, online at https://www.bassett.org/our-network/friends-of-bassett/online-donations/.