Kimiko

By Patricia Kaowthumrong

When asked what advice she had for younger generations, Lifetime Achievement Award winner 90-year-old Kimiko Side quoted John F. Kennedy. “President Kennedy said, ‘Don’t ask what your country could do for you; ask what you can do for your country,’” Side says. “I think those were wonderful words he said and I’ll never forget them.”

Side’s admiration of Kennedy’s words is truly exemplified by her more than 35 years of dedication to the Japanese American community in Colorado. Side is a board member of the Mile High Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese American Association of Colorado.

She served as the chairperson of the Denver-Takayama Sister City committee from 1994-2010 and currently holds the title of “Honorary Chair for Life.” Side raised money to facilitate a high school student exchange program and established the Eugene and Kimiko Side scholarship to help low-income students pursue their dreams of a college education.

“You cannot take it with you, so why not give everything to the younger people,” Side says. “That’s what I feel.”

While Side says her greatest achievement is the establishment of the Eugene and Kimiko Side scholarship. A history of Japanese Americans in Colorado written by Bill Hosokawa titled “Colorado’s Japanese American” is also a project that is very dear to her.
Respectfully referred to as the “Ambassador of the Japanese-American community in Colorado,” Side came to Colorado in 1959, raised a family, created an import-export business and used her success to create opportunities for future generations, according to Harry Budisidharta, partner of The Denver Firm, who nominated Side for the Asian American Hero award.

Former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper proclaimed July 22, 2010 “Kimiko Side Day” in appreciation of all her philanthropic work. Side even escorted Mayor Hickenlooper to Takayama during his term at her own expense to strengthen the sister city relationship. Her hard work has earned her the trust and respect of the Governor of Colorado, Mayor of Denver and other government officials.

Side continues to support students through the Denver Buddhist Temple and Simpson United Methodist Church by donating scholarship money.

“Kimiko Side exemplifies the strength and resiliency of all Asian Americans who have come to Colorado and become integral and vital members of their communities, largely by preserving and sharing their cultural heritage,” Budisidharta says.

“She has taught me the importance of volunteerism, and the difference that one person can make in other people’s lives. Every day she shows me, and every other person she meets, how volunteerism is a lifelong commitment and privilege.”