Margaret Chun, credited with quelling violence in West Willow, dies at 89
Editor's note: Margaret Chun's age has been corrected in this article.
In 1994, drugs and gang violence plagued Ypsilanti Township's West Willow neighborhood. Shootings were a regular part of life, and families no longer let their kids play outdoors.
That summer, then-Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department deputy Mike Radzik led a newly formed community police team charged with quelling the violence, but one obstacle was the distrust among West Willow’s residents of Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies.
Margaret Chun emerged as the leader of a core group of residents intent on taking back their streets, and she revived the neighborhood watch group, which would become the still-active and strong New West Willow Neighborhood Association.
Radzik credits Chun for helping to change attitudes in the neighborhood that eventually quelled the gang violence.
One afternoon, after several months of working with Chun to improve relationships, Radzik and several other officers made a high-risk stop of a known gang member. As a struggle ensued, a resident came out of his home with a baseball bat and offered assistance.
Radzik ordered the man back into his home, but he realized the moment's significance. A resident came out of his home to assist the police, and it signified a new relationship between authorities and the residents.
Soon, the neighborhood, which lies to the west of Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, and the deputies had brought an end to the violence through their collaboration.
“For me, that incident was the turning point in our community policing project and it never would have happened without Mrs. Chun's energy and insights,” Radzik said. “She was a remarkable woman who cared deeply about her neighborhood and future generations.”
Chun grew up in Hawaii where she took on the role of surrogate mother because her mother, a single parent, worked long hours to provide for her daughters. After marrying her husband, Kimball Chun, in 1944, they moved to Philadelphia, where Margaret Chun studied textiles at the Drexel Institute of Technology.
The Chuns moved to the Willow Run area in 1947 before buying a home on Nash Street in West Willow in 1957.
The Chuns had four sons, and Washtenaw County Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. was friends with Kim Chun, Margaret's eldest son, while they were growing up.
Sizemore recalled the Chun household as a positive place where a warm environment attracted neighborhood kids.
“Those were the nicest people, the nicest family,” Sizemore said. “They didn’t care who you were or where you came from. Anybody was welcome in their house.”
Chun served as a mentor for young women in West Willow, and friends and acquaintances said she was an inspiration and role model for countless youth in the area.
Ypsilanti Township Clerk Karen Lovejoy Roe said Chun worked tirelessly to improve education for kids in the area. Chun started after-school programs, started clubs and created a positive environment for young women to keep them off the streets.
“She was about ‘It takes a village’ before that was popular,” Lovejoy Roe said.
Chun launched and taught a program for gifted children at Kaiser Elementary School in the early 1970s. Each summer she taught programs at the West Willow Community Center and recently sponsored a music program for children there. The children in the program were able to burn a compact disc of their music.
Chun was also active in her church, St. Luke’s Episcopal, in Ypsilanti. There she was involved in the women’s league, bible study and a long list of community outreach projects.
When her four sons had grown up and moved out of the neighborhood, Chun still remained active in education and the community. The Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees appointed her to a citizens advisory board in 1994. It was created to review police services and make recommendations to the board on how to improve relations between the community and Sheriff’s Department.
Chun formed a focus group of concerned citizens to achieve that end. It was those residents who established the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, and she led the neighborhood against the gang violence.
“The many conversations with Mrs. Chun were instrumental in helping us understand that we had support from residents in the neighborhood,” Radzik said. “It seemed like Mrs. Chun was always right there, advocating for her neighborhood and especially the kids, offering our team advice about how to win the neighborhood's trust and how to use its positive energy to do good.”
Kim Chun said he is proud of his mom and touched by the outpouring of support from so many people in the community.
"Her legacy lives on in every life she touched," he said.