She was a committed patriot in Honolulu working against the occupation of her homeland. He was a craftsman of fine furniture whose creativity was imitated far beyond the islands.
Together, Hee Kyung Lee and Doin Kwon added hard work and compassion to their dreams as an immigrant couple, their humble start in a rented one-room cottage leading to a successful business in their adopted country. Decades after their passing, the country they left at the beginning of the 20th century honored them both as patriots of the Korean Independence Movement.
Now, more than a hundred years after an ambitious young man and his picture bride began their story in America, their youngest child Esther Arinaga honors them both with endowments in a perpetual tribute to their creativity, dedication, and struggle on behalf of others.
The Hee Kyung Lee Kwon Endowment for the Enhancement of the Korean Literature Program
Throughout her life, Hee Kyung Lee Kwon never wavered from her belief in the power of women to achieve justice and to live their lives as strong, independent people. Growing up in Korea, Hee Kyung had an insatiable love of learning, a desire to further her education in the United States, and a deep reverence for her native land that fueled her desire to restore Korea’s independence as a nation.
This fund supports and strengthens the Korean literature program in UH Mānoa’s department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, with a preference for scholarly endeavors focusing on modern Korean women writers and their traditions.
Hee Kyung never realized her dream of pursuing higher education in America, but she did succeed in mentoring, organizing, and rallying Korean immigrant women in Hawai‘i to play a vital role in the Korean Independence movement. In the process she also enabled them to become self-supporting entrepreneurs in the workplace. Hee Kyung loved America as the land of the free, but throughout her life, Korea and Korean culture always remained first in her heart.
“Across the globe, we see more women writing their experiences in a variety of genres such as fiction, poetry and memoir,” said Dr. Laura E. Lyons, Interim Dean of the College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature. “Esther Arinagaʻs gift, in memory of her mother, ensures that our students have the opportunity to appreciate and study the rich body of literature written by Korean women, and to have a greater understanding of the complex challenges and successes Korean women have so beautifully chronicled in the written word.”
The Doin Kwon Design and Innovation Endowment Fund at the School of Architecture
Doin Kwon turned his creative ideas into inventions, useful objects, and furniture, masterfully combining aesthetic appeal and function to make everyday life easier. This endowment supports the UH Mānoa School of Architecture in promoting the value of design and innovation for a positive impact in the built and natural environments of Hawai‘i and beyond.
As a young boy growing up in Korea during the late 19th century, Doin experienced the conflict between the “old ways” of a fading Korean dynasty and the “new learning” introduced by foreign powers. He never lost respect for Korean culture, but his fascination with western learning and technology fueled in him a desire to study in America. He was just a teenager at the turn of the 20th century, but already his passion for problem solving and innovation had been kindled and would find creative expression in the many inventions, furniture, and window coverings he designed during the more than five decades he lived in America.
Doin opened his first furniture store in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. His business soon failed, but within a few years, with more experience using woodworking tools and machines, Doin reopened his business and named it D. Kwon and Company. He created unique furniture from his favorite wood, Philippine mahogany. Before long Doin was recognized as one of the leading furniture craftsmen in Honolulu.
A new industry began in Hawai‘i from Doin’s idea of turning a bamboo roll-up shade upright. Over time the idea of a vertical blind became a national and international concept, and he secured a U.S. patent on the invention. Other patented inventions followed, including a bamboo fold-up blind and a blind that could be dropped from the top down, to allow for air to pass through. He named his bamboo draperies Poinciana Blinds. He had always loved the colorful trees that lined the streets of Makiki, and Poinciana became a household name throughout Hawai‘i.
Dr. Daniel S. Friedman, Dean of the UH Mānoa School of Architecture, said, “With this extraordinary gift, Esther Arinaga and her family have opened new horizons of opportunity for our students, honoring the legacy of Esther’s father, Doin Kwon, who by his life’s work demonstrated the felicities of design and innovation, which he applied equally to the causes of living well and well-being.”
One journey ends; another begins
These gifts “mark the completion of a long journey by the Kwon family to find the best way to honor two remarkable people,” said Arinaga. “One journey ends; another begins. I hope these endowments we celebrate today will assist the faculty, students, and programs as well as our community in the studies of architecture and Korean women’s literature.”