Woolard returning to native Vietnam|Local woman joins medical-mission venture this month

Published 3:26 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lifestyles & Features Editor

In 1965, Kim Nguy arrived in the United States ready to marry the man of her dreams.
She left behind her life in Vietnam to start a new one in Beaufort County. Now, as Kim Woolard, she’s preparing to return to her native country as part of a mission trip with a humanitarian medical team.
The story begins when Woolard, then a young hotel clerk in Can Tho, Vietnam, met a young man who was working in Vietnam as an advisor with Special Operations Team 96 in 1963-1964. Mitchel Woolard, a Beaufort County native, was enamored with the beautiful young Vietnamese woman, and he quickly proposed marriage. There was no time to waste since he was scheduled to return to the United States in three days.
The couple went to the American Embassy, but their plans to marry were thwarted because, as luck would have it, the day they had chosen for their wedding was a Buddhist holiday and no one was available to perform the ceremony.
The prospective groom returned home, leaving his bride-to-be behind in Vietnam. During the next year, they courted via telephone calls and letters.
Finally, plans were made for their reunion in the states. The woman from Vietnam traveled to her fiance’s hometown during a vacation, and the couple planned their wedding. The bride-to-be visited several downtown Washington shops, but because of her diminutive size she wasn’t able to find a wedding gown for the big day. Luckily, a cousin of the groom had a cocktail dress that fit her.
“INS gave us two weeks to get married,” Mitchel Woolard recalled. “She was Catholic, and we were turned down by different churches that had different reasons. I just realized in recent years that, because we were different races, it would have been illegal in some states for us to get married.”
His parents attended First Christian Church in Washington, so the couple approached its minister. He gave his blessing, and on May 6, 1965, the couple were married in a ceremony in the Diamond Chapel.
Nearly 45 years later, First Christian is still their home church.
“That’s why we ended up going to church there,” Mitchel Woolard said. “They accepted us.”
The couple settled down, eventually welcoming daughters Catherine and Cynthia to their family. In time, both girls married, and the Woolards are now the grandparents of two boys and three girls.
Catherine accompanied her mother on a trip to Vietnam in 1974, and Cynthia plans to join her mother on the upcoming journey. Joined by volunteers from across the United States, they’ll depart from San Francisco on Sept. 16 and return in early October.
Kim Woolard has signed on to be an interpreter with Vets With a Mission, which sponsors several trips each year to Vietnam to provide medical treatment to the poor and underprivileged. Woolard will work with a pediatrician, and she plans to take along plenty of candy and chewing gum, rare treats for Vietnamese children.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Vietnam again, to see how it’s changed,” she said. “I haven’t seen my brother in 30 years, but we stay in touch with e-mails.”
Woolard said she is grateful for the opportunity to introduce her daughter to Vietnamese culture. In fact, although she has immersed herself in the American lifestyle, Woolard has heeded the words of her elderly grandfather.
“My grandparents raised me,” she said. “We had a simple life, a good life. My grandfather told me to keep my customs.”
Want to help?
It costs Vets With a Mission approximately $1,250 each day to provide medicine and other health-care supplies for its programs.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to VWAM, P.O. Box 202, Newberry, S.C. 29108-0202.
Donations payable to VWAM may be made to Kim Woolard, 106 Holly Circle, Washington, N.C. 27889.