Hundreds of people gathered at a memorial service in Pennsylvania on Saturday to celebrate the life of Im Ja Choi, an advocate for Asian American seniors who died from lung cancer last month at the age of 73.
Choi, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, died at a hospital in South Korea on June 22. Ken Yang, the CEO of Penn Asian Senior Services, the organization Choi founded in 2004, confirmed the news of her death in a recent statement.
“On behalf of Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi) and our Board of Directors, it is with profound sadness and a great sense of loss that I have to share about Ms. Im Ja P. Choi’s life and many achievements in the past tense,” Yang wrote.
“Ms. Choi had been battling cancer for the past few years – as you may imagine, Im Ja took the fight to the disease with the grit and determination that was characteristic of everything she did,” he continued. “And though she has been taken from us all too soon, Im Ja’s legacy lives on in countless ways.”
A memorial service for Choi was held at the Evergreen Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, where hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to the celebrated advocate.
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Born in Seoul on July 18, 1948, Choi graduated from Korea University before moving to California in 1971 to work. She then moved to Philadelphia after marrying her childhood friend Jung Choi. In her new home, she worked as a real estate agent for 20 years before eventually becoming the vice president of a local bank. She also attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her master’s degree in organizational dynamics.
In the 1980s, Choi was the vice president of the Montgomery County chapter of the National Organization for Women. She was also reportedly active in the county’s Republican Party.
It took her several months before she could find a home health aide in the United States for her sickly mother, who did not eat American food or know how to communicate in English. Channeling that experience and recounting stories from several caregivers, Choi founded PASSi in 2004, providing home health aides to Asian seniors in almost two dozen languages.
“She was always looking for ways to make an impact on the community. But if there was anything we needed, she made it happen,” Choi’s daughter, Sara, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Helping others was her calling.”
In addition to the home care service, Choi started an adult daycare center for immigrants, a vocational school for entry-level Asian healthcare workers and a senior community center. She earned grants from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and she forged partnerships with groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association, the Asian American Women’s Coalition and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, to name a few.
Choi received several awards and distinctions throughout her lifetime, including the 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award and the 2013 Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations. In 2014, Choi was named one of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania, an award that commemorates outstanding women for their service and contributions to the Commonwealth.