Soorah Ahn Buffum, Dedicated to Ease the Burdens of her Mother
Soorah, the fourth child of Dosan and Hye Ryon Ahn was always regarded by her family and friends as the person who would always furnish love and generosity.
After she had graduated from the University of Southern California, Cum Laude, in 1948, she found her job as a social worker not what she had visualized, and pursued other venues. Along the way, she befriended a fellow worker, who had connections to the Chinese restaurant industry and proposed to her the idea of starting a Chinese restaurant.
This inspired a vision for Soorah to start a family business that would keep her brothers and sister together, but more importantly, to afford her mother a comfortable circumstance during her mother’s final years.
She then proposed the restaurant concept to her brothers. The eldest, Philip was a motion picture actor, the second eldest, Philson, was an Aerospace executive, and the youngest, Ralph was a school teacher and actor. They would pool their talents and capital together to start a Chinese restaurant in the then growing San Fernando Valley. Without having any restaurant experience, the brothers agreed to take the risk.
When going about the business of starting up the restaurant, she found that brother and actor, Philip, was well known as “Phil”, and brother Philson, was also well known in the aircraft industry and was also known as “Phil”. Needing to take advantage of any start up merchandising, she named the restaurant, “Phil Ahn’s Moongate”.
The restaurant’s success was immediate. Under Soorah and Philip’s leadership, the restaurant went from a 135 seating capacity to a larger restaurant with three banquet rooms, to a 500 seat capacity. The business also went into real estate investment.
When Soorah married Television producer/writer, Ray Buffum, Soorah decided to incorporate the family business. She would issue five shares of stock among the siblings, giving a fifth share to her older sister Susan, who was raising a family and working in Virginia. Soorah’s project of a family business was sold in 1990 after thirty six years of successful operation.
From the days of being a young child, Soorah, had a mission of being supportive of her family, especially her mother. Being just twelve years of age, she took on the duty of driving her mother back and forth to the family fruit stand in Van Nuys, California from their home in Los Angeles.
As a young teenager, she worked at fruit stands that were owned by her father’s friends, who were Hung Sa Dahn members. They marveled at the way the petite little girl could lift crates and stack produce. And when she got her pay, she took all of it her mother.
In 1938 after the her father’s death, her family encouraged her to join her sister Susan in San Diego to attend college. However, after a period, Philip’s movie career, was in a slump, and Philson’s chemistry degree was not yet opening his opportunities. Being in depression times even menial jobs were hard to attain. Aware of this, Soorah, dropped out of college, returned home to help the family financial situation.
One day, her mother asked her to drive her to a Chinese laundry shop where she had heard of a job opening. While she waited in the car, her mother came out saying she didn’t get hired because she was too old. Hearing this, Soorah got out of the car and went in and applied for the position and was hired. It was during this period, older sister Susan was away at college, younger brother Ralph was in grade school. and older brothers, Philip and Philson, were having difficult times finding work. Soorah, working long hours in the laundry, sustained the family for close to a year.
The brothers were always grateful to Soorah for sustaining the family with funds from this arduous job of long hours. In return, she reminded them of the support they gave her when she was in need.
She always took care of her mother’s medical and social needs. For most of her mother’s life, though chauffeuring duties for the mother was shared by all the family, it was Soorah who took on the larger duty of driving her mother to Hung Sa Dahn and Korean National Association meetings.
Even in her final days, Soorah would shed tears when asked to recall the travails of her mother who raised the family without the presence of her political prisoner husband.
Soorah’s devotion to her mother was demonstrated when she took on the difficult task of gathering and organizing the papers and paraphernalia her mother had laboriously saved for over sixth years regarding Dosan’s activities. She accepted her mother’s word that some day the papers would serve the interests of Korean history. The papers are now in the Korean National Independence Hall as part of the Dosan collection.