Hard work and perseverance marked life of Bamboo Gardens owner

Steve Chapman

Kim Keun Milligan owned and operated Bamboo Gardens in Mt. Vernon for over 30 years, only stopping six weeks before her passing. (Photo by Steve Chapman)

Kim Keun Milligan was known to many as the owner of Bamboo Gardens, a Chinese restaurant on Mt. Vernon Boulevard in Mt. Vernon, or as her nephew, Joe Kim put it, “The lady at Bamboo Gardens.” However, while her restaurant was perhaps one of her proudest accomplishments, there was much more to her. Milligan, who passed away on Dec. 23 at 82, after a 20-month-long battle with cancer, was also a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and aunt who Kim said showed her family that “the American Dream is still there.”
Milligan was born Kim Keun in Pyongyang, a city that is now the capital of North Korea, on Nov. 22, 1936, to Juen Shik Kim and Kyung Sook Kim. During the Korean War, she and her family fled to South Korea to escape the brutal regime of Kim Il-Sung.
“They would travel at night through rough terrain to avoid North Korean soldiers,” Kim said. “These were some tough times. Many nights (they didn’t have) food and (were) always on the move.”
On the nights they traveled, Milligan carried her younger siblings.
“(It) just proved how much she loved her family,” Kim said.
In South Korea, Milligan met Eldon Milligan, an American soldier. They married, and Eldon brought her to Springfield. From there, she worked to bring her mother and siblings to the United States.
“Without (her), none of us would be here today,” Kim said.
Bamboo Gardens in Mt. Vernon was started by Milligan’s younger sister Jung Lim and her husband, Young Lim, in the early 1980s, and Milligan took over when they went to start another restaurant in Carthage.
“As a young child, I remember watching my grandmother, my parents and my Aunt Kim working at the restaurant which was located across the street,” Kim said. “Watching them work hard showed me what it takes to be successful. Hard work and determination lead to success.”
 Milligan continued to operate the restaurant for over 30 years, balancing time at the restaurant with family.
“In the 90’s, she did so much for her dying husband,” Kim said. “(She took) him to doctor appointments, to see family and (so forth) while still operating Bamboo Gardens. I remember these days which were tough on Kim in many ways. She committed herself to be successful with Bamboo Gardens working faithfully day and night; sacrificing time at home to give her daughter and grandchildren opportunities she didn’t have.”
Milligan also had an impact on people outside of her family. Kim said many people contacted him with messages of condolences after learning of her death.
“Since the closing the doors at Bamboo Gardens, the response and messages we received for (her) are indications of how special she was to so many,” Kim said. “Even current and former employees have come forward to express not only their sympathy but gratitude for what (she did) for them.”
In ill health, Milligan continued to operate her restaurant. Kim said he tried to encourage her to retire and enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle, but she wasn’t ready to give up working.
“I always asked her, ‘Why are you still doing this? Retire go enjoy life and live it up without thinking about egg rolls and cashew chicken.’ She always replied, ‘I keep working for my daughter and grandkids.’ You can ask anyone who worked with her. Nothing brought her more happiness then to see Jane, Henry and Olivia.”
Kim also said his aunt epitomized the level of success a highly-motivated individual can achieve in the United States.
“(She) accomplished so much on her own as an immigrant woman,” he said at Milligan’s funeral during her eulogy. “She did it right with hard work and determination. She successfully achieved the American Dream. All this and still being so humble. Never complained, always encouraged (us) to be the best. She always looked over her family even till the last few days. Her fidelity to her family will never be forgotten, and her humble character is how she will be known.”
Milligan’s family held a memorial service for her and buried her in Springfield at Rivermonte Memorial Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 30.
Kim said Bamboo Gardens in Mt. Vernon is now closed and currently on the market with Kimberly Rinker.


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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