UPDATE: A memorial hosted by friends of Kungshi will be held in his honor at Avery Park on Sunday, May 28 at 6:30 p.m.
The LBCC community faces a second tragic loss this year after the drowning of a beloved international student, coming quickly after the death of student-veteran Tom Dakota Tyger in April.
“Kungshi” Kung Shing Yau was an international student from Hong Kong studying science and conservation. He made many friends at LBCC and Oregon State University, attending both schools during his time as a student.
“He was very delightful, very kind, honest, and open,” said Kim Sullivan, LBCC’s international advisor, who worked with Yau during the winter and spring terms. “I feel really lucky to have met him; he was just a joy.”
Yau lived in OSU’s International House, a living community in Corvallis for students from around the world. Recently, Yau made his passion for “Mother Earth” abundantly known with an editorial published in the April 26 edition of The Commuter entitled “Key to the Future: Conservation.”
“My name is Kungshi, a marine biology science student, and I believe in the power of nature,” wrote Yau. “Mother Earth is full of potential and mysteries; she can give life or take it away as simple as a snap. However, I also believe mother nature needs to be conserved so as to maintain its awesomeness. It is every man’s duty to protect the environment and save our planet.”
Yau’s childhood hero was television’s crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, a world-famous naturalist and conservationist who lost his life while filming a documentary called “The Ocean’s Deadliest.”
Much like his hero, Yau passed while rejoicing in the natural world for which he cared so deeply.
On Monday, May 22, Yau went swimming at the Three Pools Recreation Site on the North Fork River east of Salem with several other international students and two of his roommates. During the excursion, at about 4:30 p.m., he jumped from a cliff into the water and did not resurface.
“He was just going to go up there and have a good time with some friends,” said Sullivan. “They went there to swim but that water is way too cold right now.”
Three Pools is a popular summer swimming hole located in the Opal Creek Wilderness, often becoming overrun with crowds of people during the hottest months. However, after long rains and snowmelt, the water is currently ice-cold and running high.
Marion County Sheriff’s Department searched for Yau for two days, but the department suspended their search after Tuesday due to “high waters and treacherous conditions.”
“We located him this morning,” said Marion County Lt. Officer Chris Baldridge on Thursday, May 25.
On Wednesday night a kayaker in the area called the county sheriff and alerted them to a body believed to be Yau’s. At 9 a.m. today, a water rescue team, in cooperation with the Salem Fire Department and Jefferson Fire Department, retrieved Yau from the river.
“It is a tragedy,” said Bruce Clemetsen, vice president of student affairs at LBCC.
Clemetsen has been working with the Marion County Sheriff chaplain and the Chinese Consulate to locate and notify Yau’s family in Hong Kong, but so far they have been unable to reach them.
However, efforts are underway to collect memorabilia from campus related to Yau to send his family.
“When a student dies, the library purchases a book dedicated to the student and they purchase it within the field the student was studying. I’m sure they will pick something around conservation and environmental issues and then I will include the name of the book, title, and author in a letter to the family, so they know we have something here dedicated to him,” said Clemetsen.
This term Yau was enrolled only at the Benton Center and leaves behind an empty seat in three classes. According to Sullivan, his friends and roommates are planning a memorial but a location, time, and date have not been set.
“I think in times like this it’s really important to talk about your feelings towards him and share that with somebody who will listen,” said Clemetsen. “Do that to both satisfy your own heart and celebrate his life.”
Yau held a trusting and passionate outlook on life, according to Sullivan.
“I can still see him standing in my office,” she said. He’d been robbed of an expensive laptop over spring break.
“I told him, ‘Kungshi, you have to remember you can’t trust everyone,’” said Sullivan. “He didn’t let that [theft] get him down.”
Sullivan asked him to attend a leadership meeting and share his experiences as a student from Hong Kong this past Friday.
“He was more than happy to come to campus at 8:30 a.m. to help,” said Sullivan. “That’s the kind of person he was.”
Yau intended to dedicate his life to conservation and spreading the awareness and his love of nature to the people around him.
“I am an adventurer, and to explore pristine ecosystems, whilst potentially even discovering new species and aiding in the conservation of both endangered wildlife and Mother Earth would be my greatest achievement in life,” wrote Yau.
Emergency counseling services have been set up in Takena Hall and the Benton Center for any students and staff experiencing the grief of Yau’s loss. Anyone needing an open ear is encouraged to come in, including those students who may not have known him well but miss his presence in their classes. Students can seek counseling services in the Advising Center in Takena and receive referral to a “comfort session” through the Benton Center’s front desk between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. tomorrow.
According to Clemetsen, students interested in organizing a vigil at the Benton Center should contact Jeff Davis, LBCC’s regional director for Benton County. The phone number for the Benton Center is 541-757-8944.
Further questions can be directed to Commuter@linnbenton.edu.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office released this statement regarding safety in recreational wilderness areas:
With memorial weekend closing in, the Sheriff’s Office knows that our wilderness area will see an increase in visitors. Residents and visitors should be aware that river waters are still very high, cold and full of debris. If you are planning to visit these areas, below are a few tips you can use for a safe outdoor experience:
1. Never swim alone
2. Avoid alcohol and marijuana use around water
3. Wear a lifejacket
4. Know how to perform CPR
5. Know how and where you can call 911
Story and photo by Emily Goodykoontz