Donald Chang Won Kim, who worked his way up the ranks to become chairman and CEO of Hawaii’s largest and oldest consulting engineering company, died suddenly March 27 in Honolulu.
Kim, 89, was a leading member of the Korean-American community and had remained active after retiring from R. M. Towill Corp. in 2000 following 42 years with the company.
At the time of his death, he was chairman and CEO of AMKOR A&E Inc., an architectural and engineering company that he founded in 1982 with offices in Hawaii and South Korea, and was chairman of Honolulu-based Ohana Pacific Bank.
He died in the hospital surrounded by family and close friends. The cause of death was not disclosed.
“My dad liked to say he was just an ordinary guy,” said Rex Kim, one of his two sons. “But, to me, if he was just an ordinary guy, he sure strove for and accomplished extraordinary things. Not just in his professional, business and community endeavors, but also in his personal, family life. No matter how busy he was with his work and community involvement, he always spent quality — and quantity — time with our family.
“Even though he appeared to some people as stern, he was very loving, especially to his grandchildren. When they were very small, the grandchildren discovered they could bribe my dad with kisses for dessert. He loved that attention so much, it became a tradition. Even in their middle and high school ages, the grandchildren kissed my dad before they got to eat dessert. My dad was always so happy about it. The grandchildren are now in high school and college.”
Kim also was an avid golfer and played once a week.
“He enjoyed the fellowship more than swinging the club,” Rex Kim said.
The elder Kim began working at R. M. Towill in 1958 as a design engineer and eventually moved up to president in 1978 and then chairman and CEO from 1981 to 2000. He also served as chairman and CEO from 1994 to 2000 of Kilohana Corp., the parent company of R. M. Towill, and in 1988 founded and was chairman and CEO of Keahole Associates Inc., an architectural and engineering company, until his retirement in 2002.
R. M. Towill President Greg H. Hiyakumoto described Kim as “an excellent engineer and business person with the ability to get along with and motivate people. He had an iron work ethic.”
“He established many of our current company values and had a philosophy of ‘sharing, caring and giving,’ Hiyakumoto said. “Mr. Kim was extremely hard working, demanding and very tough. He was always a positive, can-do and enabling person. He did not give up and instead believed that you needed to try your hardest when times are hard. He taught us that as engineers we should also be business people, because without a profit we would not exist. He always walked around the office to talk to all the engineers at every level and ask them how things were going and what were they working on.”
Under Kim’s leadership, R. M. Towill established several educational scholarships at the University of Hawaii College of Engineering, including The Rosewell M. and Jeanie Towill Scholarship Program in Engineering, Richard M. Towill Civil Engineering Scholarship Fund and Donald C.W. Kim Endowment for Engineering Student Activities.
Ohana Pacific President and CEO James Hong said Kim’s death will leave a void in the community.
“Chairman Kim not only had founded our bank, which is the first and only Korean-American bank in Hawaii, but also played an instrumental role to make the bank become a successful community bank today,” Hong said. “His passing is not just a loss to our bank, but to the local community as a whole as he has been so actively involved in many community organizations including University of Hawaii and others involving Korean-American relations.”
Kim was born Dec. 14, 1928, in Seoul to Yu Ho and Sook Kyung Kim and was the youngest of six children. He graduated from Kyunggi High School in Seoul, then attended Seoul National University and the University of Hawaii, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1958. Kim, who had lived in Hawaii since 1952, was a registered professional engineer licensed to practice in Hawaii and Guam.
He had a lifelong commitment to community service and was involved with organizations such as Bishop Museum, Pacific Rim Society, Navy League of the United States, Korean Dong Ji Hoe Society, Rotary Club of Honolulu, Association of the U.S. Army, YMCA and Honolulu Symphony.
He also chaired the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii, presided over the Hawaii Alumni Association, served as a trustee of the University of Hawaii Foundation, was a trustee of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and was an honorary trustee of the Mid-Pacific Institute.
Kim was honored by numerous organizations in recognition of his services and contributions to the communities. Among the awards and designations he received was South Korea’s highest honor, the Order of Civil Merit, First Class (Mugunghwa Medal), in December 2003.
He is survived by wife Iris Kyong Ok, sons Rex (Suzanne) and Dean (Ann), and grandchildren Sophia, Ryan, Isabelle and Bryce.
The funeral service for Kim will be May 22 at the Korean Christian Church, 1832 Liliha St. Viewing and visitation will be from 9 to 11 a.m. The service will be from 11 a.m. to noon. Lunch will be provided afterward. Private burial will follow.
Instead of gifts of wreaths and flowers, the family encourages friends to donate in Kim’s memory to the Korean Christian Church.