Oakland Chinatown leader remembered for decades of community service

An Oakland Chinatown leader is being remembered for his decades of community service helping young people and immigrants

Walter Yin Chinn died last month.  But people who knew him said his legacy lives on through his work.

Chinn's daughter and son described him as a great father not only to them, but to the many young people he mentored.

They said he brought out the best in others.

"This is my dad's proudest achievements and awards," Deborah Chinn said, as she proudly pointed to the wall of accolades her father received for decades of public service to the city of Oakland and the Chinatown community. 

He died last month at the age of 99, but his children said he only pulled back from his volunteerism in the last few years.

"He was most passionate about his heritage, and that we were Chinese Americans," said his daughter.  

It's a passion that he directed at mentoring children and building a bridge between the Chinese community and law enforcement.  

He helped to create the police substation in Chinatown to serve immigrants.

"People didn't like to work with the police. Immigrants came over. They're frightened of authority. He created an environment where people felt like they could talk to them, said Chinn's son, Randy.  

Chinn co-founded  the Asian Youth Services Committee and the Asian Advisory Committee on Crime.

"None of this was paid, all volunteer," Oakland Deputy Police Chief Clifford Wong said he's known Chinn for more than 20 years and that he was impressed by his tireless community service.

"We say the word dedication a lot.  Sometimes, it's used very loosely. Walter was really, truly dedicated," said Wong. 

"This is my father Walter in 1941 at Oakland Technical High School," Randy said, pointing to his father's yearbook.

After graduation, Chinn, an Oakland native enlisted in the U.S Navy as a reservist and worked as a machinst during World War II. 

He became the first person of color to manager several stores for the Payless drugstore chain where he started as a warehouse worker.

"Not only was he accepted , he was celebrated and promoted and became a major force in that whole organization," said Randy.  

Chinn's family said his ability to work with and bring people together is his legacy. 

He married a white woman when interracial marriages had just become legal and faced racism. 

His children said he used his life experience to help his family and others.

"It's all about family for him and he saw a lot of the community as his family as well," said Deborah.  

The family plans to hold a memorial service for Chinn at the Renaissance Plaza in Oakland Chinatown in March.

The public will be invited. Among those paying tribute to him will be the Oakland Police Department.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU