Bong Ki Kim, founder of Kim International, Dies at 94

MajorsAug 11, 2023

Bong Ki Kim, founder of Kim International, Dies at 94

Born in North Korea, Kim survived three years in a prison camp before fleeing to South Korea and eventually immigrating to the U.S.

Bong Ki Kim of Kim International
Bong Ki “B.K” Kim, founder of jewelry wholesaler Kim International, died last month at the age of 94. Before immigrating to the United States to start his business, Kim served in the South Korean army and aided U.S. generals as a translator.
Addison, Texas—Bong Ki “B.K” Kim, founder of jewelry wholesaler Kim International, died on July 28 at the age of 94.

Kim was born July 9, 1929, in a small North Korean village during the time of Japanese colonization.

His parents were farmers and didn’t have a lot of money but Kim valued education in spite of the limited opportunities available to him.

“His life is a fascinating story of survival and accomplishment,” the company said in Kim’s obituary.

After the Japanese surrender brought an end to World War II, the Communist Party-controlled Soviet Union seized control of North Korea and conditions worsened.

In response, Kim organized an anti-communist student movement in his high school. When North Korean authorities discovered this, he was sent to a prison and labor camp for three years, enduring “unspeakable conditions.”

Freed in 1950 at the age of 21, Kim maintained his stance against communism, joining an anti-communist guerilla group.

During his time in the group, Kim was shot, eventually escaping over the border into South Korea, leaving his parents behind. They would never see each other again.

He found work at a U.S. Air Force base in South Korea as part of the kitchen patrol. Kim was described as a hard worker, and he taught himself to speak English while at the base.

There, he met his future wife Kilcha, and they wed soon after. They had three children, Charlie, Aeran, and Mike.

Kim entered a translator program, later becoming a first lieutenant in the South Korean Army. He served as a translator for several U.S. Army generals and as an aide to one four-star general.

He retired eight years later with the rank of major.

Bong Ki Kim of Kim International
Bong Ki Kim’s “life is a fascinating story of survival and accomplishment,” Kim International said in his obituary.

Kim and his family moved to Miami in 1974 in search of the “American Dream,” including freedom and educational opportunities for his children.

In Miami, he began working at a giftware import business, getting his first glimpse into the giftware and jewelry businesses.

In 1975, he moved his family to Dallas to start his own business, then called Kim Imports.

It was a rough start for Kim as the new business required a lot of hard work, including leaving his family for weeks at a time, traveling and sleeping in a van, attending shows, and visiting stores to sell his jewelry lines.

One of Kim’s favorite stories to tell was the one about his first buying trip to Vicenza, Italy.

He hopped into a taxi at the airport and asked to be taken to a gold factory. With $50,000 cash in hand, Kim made his first major gold purchase.

His company continued to grow throughout the years, specializing in fine fashion and bridal jewelry.

“His journey is truly an example of living the American dream. He began with nothing, but through his resolve and sacrifice, he built a successful jewelry business,” the company said. 

“Most importantly, everything he worked for wasn’t for himself. It was for the family he loved dearly.”

Though Kim retired years ago, he enjoyed returning to the office and sharing stories from his life.

In his free time, he liked to play golf and watch the History Channel.

“His greatest joy was his family, which grew to include nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” said the company.

His children, Mike Kim and Aeran Kim-Park, currently run Kim International in Dallas.
Lenore Fedowis the associate editor, news at National Jeweler, covering the retail beat and the business side of jewelry.

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