Dr. Robert Yim remembers when Carson Valley was like the Old West
When Dr. Robert Yim walks into a room, the whole world smiles. Or at least that’s how it seems. A wide grin, a firm handshake, and all at once you know that this is someone you should like.
Although visiting from Baltimore, Yim is no stranger to the Carson Valley. His father owned a dry goods store in the Carson Valley and Yim grew up in Gardnerville.
“My father’s store, Capitol Dry Goods, was on the corner of Eddy Street and Main,” said Yim. “We rented the building and our family lived over the store.”
That was in 1932, when Yim was just a small boy. The country was heading into the Great Depression. Civil rights were an unheard of concept. And Yim moved from Reno to a small farming community.
“The store had a wooden sidewalk and a hitching post.” Yim laughed. “Doesn’t that sound like something out of the Old West?”
– Mom and pop. The store was a general mom and pop operation that sold mostly dry goods. Every member of the family worked at the store as responsibility to the family was part of the Chinese work ethic, and the core of Yim’s upbringing.
“One of my chores was to haul hot water from the Joyland Cafe owned by my Uncle Wallace,” said Yim. “When I asked my father why, he told me that the restaurant had stoves. We used them to heat our water and save money. I remember one day my father telling me, ‘We took in 35 cents today.’ It was a good day.”
In 1939 Yim’s father moved the store and changed the name to Capitol Dry Goods and Grocery. The brick market stood until it was demolished to make way for the offices of The Record-Courier.
“The family kept growing,” joked Yim. “So I guess the store had to as well.”
Again, the family lived on the premises which, Yim said, led to some interesting situations. His sister, Margaret was only 3 or 4 years old. As everyone had a job, her job was to let the family know when a customer came into the store.
“There was a stanchion with a buzzer by the front door,” said Yim. “My sister sat in there all day. Her directions were to press that button when a customer came in. Can you imagine a child today sitting still all day long? But it was expected of us, and we did it.”
Work often came between a teen-ager’s freedoms and family responsibility. Yim vividly remembers the day that all of his friends were going to Lake Tahoe. He had to stay and paint the store.
“Our lives could be very isolated,” said Yim. “Not just because we were Chinese, but because of my father’s philosophy. It was difficult growing up in that environment when all of your friends lived differently.”
And yet that different philosophy endeared Mr. Yim to other members of the community. According to Yim, his father was the unofficial banker for the Indians. Mr. Yim was trusted, because he treated the Indians with respect.
After the disastrous fire in Dresslerville on Christmas Day, 1947, Mr. Yim delivered food and provisions to the families.
“I’m not sure we could afford it,” said Yim. “But there was never a question in my father’s mind that he had to help.”
Yim has four brothers and sisters, Florence, Billie, Margaret and Dan, and two older half siblings, Edna and Fawn.
According to John Henningsen, a Carson Valley rancher who graduated from high school with Yim, the family is comprised of achievers.
– A remarkable family. “They are a remarkable family,” said Henningsen. “Not only smart, but personable. Bob is still one of my close friends.”
A 1943 graduate from Douglas High School, Yim claims the class had a bond that will never be repeated.
“When we had our 50th reunion, every member of the class attended,” said Yim. He sat back in the chair and grinned. “All 22 of us, plus three teachers.” The grin rolled into a laugh. “I know, I know, it was a small class. But don’t you still think that is pretty extraordinary after 50 years?”
Although family responsibility kept Yim busy at home and at the store, he still managed to find time for school activities. The 1943 edition of Garminada, the Douglas High yearbook, lists Yim as being involved in sports, band, plays and student government. During his senior year he was also an editor of Tiger, the school newspaper.
“Dan Shawe and I were the editors,” said Yim. “Dan’s father was the principal, and I owe everything I am today to H.B. Shawe. He talked to my father and said, ‘Let him go.’ He convinced my father that I should have the opportunity to go to college. Thank goodness, because I had to get away from that store.”
– Navy veteran. Yim attended one year of college before enlisting in the Navy. After serving our country he returned to college, using the GI Bill. Scholarship money helped a little bit as well. In June 1948 Robert Yim was awarded a Max C. Fleischmann scholarship for the “promise of effective citizenship, good scholarship and qualities of leadership.”
Yim attended the University of Maryland Medical School, and decided to stay in Baltimore when he became a “hostage of love” and married his sweetheart, Shirley, in 1954.
He is a pediatrician and said that kids he had as patients are bringing their kids to him. He is also a member of the teaching staff at the university. The Yim’s have three children.
“Do you just want to know about my children?” said Yim. “I have a lot of bragging to do about the whole family.”
– Proud parent. Bonnie, Yim’s oldest daughter, was a fashion designer for 13 years before closing her shop and “finding her second life.” She graduated from nursing school as a registered nurse and is currently a mid-wife in New York.
Susan is a molecular biologist and a researcher for the U.S. Army. Yim said that he never asks her about her work. “She once told me that I didn’t want to know,” said Yim, “because then she would have to kill me.”
Michael is a third year medical student at the University of Maryland, and married to a medical student. “But his wife elected to go to school in California,” said Yim. “They meet during semester breaks and have many honeymoons.” His eyebrows wiggled.
The Yim’s have one grandchild. “Straight A’s of course,” said Yim with a straight face.
To list all of the achievements for the rest of the Yim family would be almost impossible. Yim’s brother and sisters have all graduated from college in diversified and specialized fields. Many have received post graduate degrees. And their children are carrying out the family tradition.
“We are all doing pretty good,” said Yim, finding humor in his understatement. “Even the ones that decided to be lawyers.”
After 40 years of practicing medicine, Yim said that the time to retire would come when he doesn’t have that crusader feeling anymore. So far, that hasn’t happened. In the meantime he returns to the Carson Valley every few years to visit family and his close knit circle of friends.
“I think our friendships have become better as we’ve aged,” said Yim. “Things have changed. Do you know that the first time Mrs. Yim and I came to visit we weren’t legally married? There were laws against Orientals marrying a Caucasian.”
Yim leaned back and smiled. “All in all, knowing what I do about childhood development, it’s amazing how good I turned out.”
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