Saturday afternoon, August 15, at the Chong Wa Benevolent Association Playfield, more than 500 people gathered to honor International District Emergency Center (IDEC) founder and executive director Donnie Chin, who was murdered on July 23 only blocks away.
The public memorial, organized by IDEC and nearly 100 volunteers, celebrated Chin with stories highlighting his accomplishments and life mission to build a better International District by knowing, loving, and serving those within it; a mission he executed via the creation of IDEC, a volunteer-based emergency service organization, which has responded to more than 2,500 calls and 1,000 events since its inception in 1968.
“In almost 50 years leading the IDEC, Donnie earned the respect of the entire community,” said Beth Takekawa, executive director of the Wing Luke Museum, and close friend of Chin. “He successfully collaborated with firefighters, police, medics, and other first responders. He trained hundreds of community members in emergency first aid, personal safety, and emergency preparedness. He protected the neighborhood and tried to keep us safe.”
While Chin’s altruistic efforts accomplished more than you think any one person could, including saving lives, as Takekawa noted, he’d be the last person to hear it from. Many of his deeds went unsung, because he didn’t care about recognition, rather he simply enjoyed the noble act of helping others, a point many speakers emphasized throughout the memorial.
Chin was proud of IDEC and the men and women behind it, which Takekawa highlighted by reading the following quote by him: “We have some of the most dedicated and hard-working people in the ID. They have given more than the community will know. I am deeply proud of every member here.”
Because IDEC put Chin on the frontline, responding to radio calls for crime, medical, and other emergencies, he became well known, even somewhat of a legend, among Seattle firefighters and police officers. Retired captain Preston Bhang, of the Seattle Fire Department, said firefighters respected Chin’s courage; his humble, honorable nature; and dedication to helping people, no matter who or where they were, to an extent that Bhang was asked by the fire chief at the time to recruit Chin, who refused because he wouldn’t be able to serve the International District full-time if he took the job.
“He responded,” Bhang said. “He was brave. He was community-minded. He stuck his life on the line, he did all day long and all night long, and he was not paid. And, he didn’t go home to some fancy neighborhood, to some big house—he went home and he lived in the neighborhood he served. That’s a hero.”
Police Capt. Paul McDonagh also reflected on Chin’s devotion to the International District and the many lives he saved and touched via IDEC. “He chose to help, he chose to care, and he chose to serve,” McDonagh said. “Donnie made those active choices in his life and lived them everyday.”
Angela Lee, an IDEC volunteer and employee at ACRS, saw Chin as an inspiration and mentor throughout childhood. Lee shared memories of Chin’s involvement with her and other neighborhood kids, via the youth program he pioneered, and how it made growing up in Chinatown a lot easier.
“Donnie, I wish I could tell you how much it really meant to all of us and thank you for helping raise us ghetto kids, who used to swear and fight with you, to be people who we’ve grown into now,” Lee said. “We are all better to have known you in our lives. Thank you for taking care of us, mentoring us, and looking after us all these years.”
Other speakers included Tai Tung restaurant owner Harry Chan, who commended Chin for saving his grandmother, after a neighbor notified him she’d fallen. Chin contacted Chan about the incident directly, which granted the family members more time together, Chan said. Also speaking was former transient and drug addict, Franklyn Smith, who was left for dead by passersby on an International District sidewalk after his pancreas ruptured, until Chin approached him, asked if he was okay, and got him the medical attention he needed.
When Smith ran into Chin later on, he asked him, “Why do you do the things you do to people who don’t live here?” Chin replied, “Because we are all family.”
Since then, Smith has celebrated 10 years of sobriety and worked to serve his community through supportive housing programs and his employment with the city as a transitional reentry specialist—all of which, Smith stated, he owes to Chin.
While each speaker had a distinct, inspiring story to share about Chin and the ways he influenced their lives and the community, they collectively cherished Chin’s love for helping others and will remember him as a true hero of the International District. And, although a void remains after his loss, the deep imprint he left on the International District, speakers said, will live on through the people he taught, served, and loved.
Among the overflowing crowd, which grew bigger and bigger throughout the ceremony, were hundreds of Chin’s friends and family members as well as Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, and members of the Seattle Fire Department, the Seattle Police Department, and IDEC.
The memorial began and ended with a joint ceremonial performance by the Seattle Fire Department and Seattle Police Department Pipe and Drum Band and the presentation and retiring of colors by the Seattle Police Color Guard, an honorary act traditionally reserved for fallen police officers and firefighters, which seemed only fitting for someone like Chin, who lived to heroically serve his community.