A sweet gum tree in the full leaf of spring, its boughs overarching Lowry Mall and just cresting the Fine Arts Building roof, was dedicated Thursday in memory of an MU researcher who was murdered last year in a campus parking garage.
More than 50 friends, family and colleagues gathered in front of the tree for a midafternoon ceremony in memory of Jeong Hyok Im, who had been at MU since 1987. The smiles they used to greet one another flattened into somber lines as speakers talked about their lost mentor and friend.
The 72-year-old microbiologist was found murdered in the Maryland Avenue garage in January 2005. His killer has not been found, but MU police Capt. Brian Weimer said the investigation is still active.
MU’s Asian Affairs Center and Korean Students Association collaborated to adopt a campus tree in memory of Im, who was Korean. Soo Ihm, who spells her last name differently than that of her late father, chose the sweet gum tree because it was near Fine Arts, Ellis Library and the Memorial Union.
“It was really fitting because of the great love he had of music, the library and the international community,” said Sang Kim, director of the Asian Affairs Center, at the dedication ceremony. “This exactly indicates his passion and who he was during his life here in this community.”
MU Vice Chancellor Jackie Jones, who helped get a bronze plaque now placed by the tree, said afterward the important thing to remember was the many ways in which Im was honored at the dedication.
“You had the total person honored today. You had the family man, the husband, the father, the friend, the professional colleague, the mentor and the teacher of students.” Jones said. “And then you had the whole campus community represented by Dr. (Chancellor Brady) Deaton. I think that says a lot about this man.”
Hsiao-Mei Wiedmeyer, president of the Columbia Friends of China, said afterward that Im was a quiet man and that although she did not know him well, she has served with Soo Ihm on the Pan Asian Faculty Staff Association for a couple of years.
“A living tree is such a memorial,” Wiedmeyer said. “Because it was such a tragic death, with a living tree we will be more celebrating his life.”
At the ceremony, Soo Ihm — who addressed the gathering on behalf of her mother, who was present, and her sister, who wasn’t — spoke so quietly that even though she used a microphone, the bustle on Lowry Mall nearly drowned her out. She quoted a translation of one of her father’s favorite poems, Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” used in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony:
“All the world’s creatures
Draw draughts of joy from nature;
Both the just and unjust
Follow in her footsteps.
She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend unto death;
She gave the joy of life to the lowliest,
And the angels who dwell with God.”