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Meet Joseph Yi

How fortunate we are to have several members of one family share our vision to prepare skilled, bold, and articulate leaders who share the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

During a celebration honoring his 70th birthday in May 2000, Joseph Yi told his family and friends about his dream to establish a scholarship in his parents’ names at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and asked those there that night what they thought.

Joseph, a retired civil engineer, knew about the seminary because his father, Rev. Eun Taik Yi, had attended there many years earlier. When first approached by Garrett-Evangelical with the idea of starting a scholarship to honor his father, Joseph declined. He knew that his father would not want anything that would exalt or glamorize his name in any way. He reconsidered after learning that the number of available scholarships at Garrett-Evangelical for Korean students was very limited. The need was there.

After discussing the possibility of establishing such a scholarship at his birthday party, Joseph and the others decided that his father would not have opposed the idea because the scholarship would benefit today’s students, just as Joseph’s father benefited from scholarship assistance when he came to Garrett Biblical Institute in 1935.

Rev. Eun Taik Yi was the father of the Chicago Korean Protestant churches. He graduated from Hyup Sun Methodist Seminary and later from Yonsei University, both in Seoul, Korea.  While he was studying at Garrett-Evangelical, he was appointed to serve the Korean Methodist Church in Chicago, a position he held for 28 years. This was the first Korean Christian church in the Midwest and the parent church of all other Korean Protestant churches in the Chicago area.

Because of Rev. Yi’s leadership, a foundation was laid for ministries and social services for persons of Korean descent. Faithful preaching, worship, and ministry characterized the congregation. Through evangelism, many persons encountered the Christian Gospel. Through social services, many found support and community in a new land, a home away from home. His wife, Kang Ja Chang Yi, was his faithful helpmate, providing hospitality and support for his church’s ministry. Her home was known as a sanctuary for thousands of “Korean sojourners.”

Following his birthday party, Joseph recruited a committee to help raise the funds to establish the Reverend and Mrs. Eun Taik Yi Scholarship Fund for Korean Seminarians.  Joseph and his wife, Soong Ok, worked tirelessly with the committee and together they raised $150,000. The two then traveled to Korea at their own expense to raise an additional $50,000. With the help of many friends who knew his father, they were successful. The fund had reached more than $200,000.

Thanks to their family and friends’ generosity, Garrett-Evangelical is able to grant a $5,000 scholarship to two Korean students each year who have a good academic record and financial need. To date, more than 25 grants have been awarded from this scholarship.

The Yi family’s involvement with Garrett-Evangelical continues to this day. Joseph joined the seminary’s board of trustees in 2003, but soon indicated the board needed younger members. He suggested his son, Ted, would make a fine trustee. Joseph retired from the board in 2004, and Ted, the managing senior partner with the law firm Quarles and Brady in Chicago, joined the board in 2005. Ted’s specialty is real estate, including construction and loans, so his knowledge and skills were invaluable when the seminary renovated Loder Hall a few years ago. 

As a trustee, Ted recognized the need to play a leadership role in the seminary’s Forging Our Future campaign. He invited his parents and his sister, Linda Yi Condon, to join him in making a major commitment to the campaign. In recognition of their commitment, Garrett-Evangelical named a room in the library the Yi Family Bible Room, which houses a collection of old and rare bibles.

In December 2015, Joseph and Soong Ok Yi returned to campus to see the fruits of their work. They had lunch with this year’s Yi Scholars, Woong Kee Kim and Rebecca M. Lee. They also received a personal tour of the Yi Family Bible Room and visited with President Lallene Rector. 

Following their visit, President Rector commented: “We are so grateful for the leadership and generosity of the Yi family.  They have helped—and are continuing to help—us address two important campaign goals:  providing adequate scholarship assistance and renovating our buildings so that the quality of our buildings matches the education within them. How fortunate we are to have several members of one family share our vision to prepare skilled, bold, and articulate leaders who share the transforming love of Jesus Christ.”