Butler County Times Gazette
  • From Korea to Kansas, student, star share link

  • Life for Ricky Kim is a continual journey of self-discovery.
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  • Life for Ricky Kim is a continual journey of self-discovery.
    Currently a reality TV star in Seoul, South Korea, the 30-year-old spent his formative years in Kansas.
    For Min-Jae Kim, a Korean foreign exchange student at Hutchinson High School, being told he looks like Ricky Kim is a pretty cool compliment. Min-Jae has that Ricky Kim look about him, with a haircut known in Korea as a "two-block."
    "He is very handsome," said Min-Jae, who his spending the school year with Rob and Taliatha Holmes and their five children. Min-Jae is aware of Ricky Kim's background, having heard him talk on Korean TV about feeling like an outsider as a child because he was half American and half Asian.
    "He was sad, because in America they think he is Korean and in Korea they think he is American," Min-Jae said.
    Currently the tall, handsome, Ricky Kim, who is a U.S. citizen, stars in a popular reality television series.
    "It's about surviving in the jungle," said Min-Jae. Translating the title from Korean, he said it's called, "The Law of the Jungle."
    Meanwhile, speaking by Skype from his home in Seoul where he lives with his wife Jessi, and young daughter Taylor, Ricky was flattered to hear there was a Korean exchange student in Hutchinson who knew who he was. But, it also doesn't surprise him. He's the guy who can't walk through a park in Seoul these days without a 100 kids racing over to him.
    "They call me the president of the junior kids," Ricky said, laughing. "Wherever I go, kids mimic me."
    And for that very reason, it's important for him to be a positive role model. He considers it an honor, and his goal is to have a positive influence on Korean youth.
    While his popularity is soaring in Seoul, back in Kansas he is known as Ricky Neely, the younger brother of David Neely, of Olathe. The brothers grew up in Dighton, a place their father, the late Bill Neely, decided to raise them, surrounded by relatives. Their father was American and their mother, Kim Ouye, was Korean.
    "After my parents divorced, my dad brought us back to his home," Ricky said. "I was related to half of Dighton. That small town is the foundation for who I am today. My father was young, inexperienced, but he did the best he could bringing us up."
    Ricky and David were active in sports. It was a way to stand out and not be picked on because they weren't white-skinned, blue-eyed and freckled like the other kids. Summers were spent in Hawaii with their mother.
    Then, when Ricky was 14, his dad was killed in a grain elevator accident.
    Page 2 of 2 - "When our dad died we grew up quickly," Ricky said. But, they remained in Dighton thanks to their aunt and uncle, Pam and Barry Ingalls, who jumped in to help raise them.
    "All the hardships make me who I am, and help me be a better person," Ricky said. Growing up in Dighton is part of his foundation.
    Min-Jae agrees that Ricky is a positive role model to many young kids.
    "I really want to meet him," Min-Jae said. "He has become more famous since I've been here."
    The meeting will have to wait until the end of the school year when Min-Jae returns home to Suwon, which is about 50 miles south of Seoul. It's a city of more than one million people. For the time being, Min-Jae is enjoying the change of lifestyle living in rural Reno County, where he helps Rob Holmes care for the family's flock of chickens and chops wood on weekends.
    It's that outdoor life of the Midwest that Ricky says he misses, now that he works in the crowded city of almost 11 million people.
    In western Kansas, "You can breathe the fresh air and see the stars at night. And it's clean dirt, you don't get sick from the dirt," Ricky said.
    "The best thing about Kansas is the dirt under your fingernails," Ricky said. "It makes you a better person."
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