Kumi Alderman traveled all over the world as a Tour Conductor based in Tokyo, Japan. Learning about many different belief systems, arts, and lifestyles, she came to realize that people are essentially the same beneath their skin and their layers of culture.
In the last ten years of organizing the Knox Asian Festival, Kumi has manifested her passion of bringing the richness of traditional Asian arts and culture to the mountains of East Tennessee. She hopes to ignite imaginations and inspire, especially the younger generations, believing that mutual understanding is the foundation for world peace.
On November 20th, 2018, Kumi was presented with the Certificate of Commendation by the Consulate General of Japan in Nashville for her distinguished service in contributing to the deepening of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and Knoxville.
Currently, Kumi serves on the boards of the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Institute for Public Service and Knoxville Community Media. She is also a member of the Chief of Security Advisory Council on Diversity for Knox County Schools, and serves on the Counselor Advisory Board at Cedar Bluff Middle School.
Her dream is to build on the incredible successes of the Knox Asian Festival to create an Asian Culture Center in Knoxville.
Hailing from Ipoh, Malaysia, Mrs. Silavong immigrated to the United States in 1999. She brought extensive knowledge of Malaysian and Chinese cookery with her. In 2007, she acquired ownership of the Plum Tree Chinese Restaurant, and in 2013, she branched out and opened Thai’an, located in the food court of West Town Mall.
Leroy Kautz, a Sifu (Kung Fu teacher) under Great Grand Master CHAN PUI
After studying various styles of Martial Arts since the early 1970s, Leroy was introduced to the WAH LUM system in 1987, training for nearly five years as a professional student in Tampa, FL. He then continued his training under the strict guidance of Grand Master CHAN PUI at the Wah Lum Temple in Orlando, FL.
Leroy was granted the opportunity, privilege, and honor to open his own school and propagate this system, and in August of 1994, Leroy began establishing the Tennessee-based Wah Lum School in Knoxville.
Dave Alderman works as a lead auditor at UL DQS Inc. He participated in founding Asian Culture Center of Tennessee (ACCTN) and assisted in organizing the Knoxville Asian Festival. Dave frequently travels to Asia to support ACCTN’s mission. Dave is an avid runner and competes in local and national marathons.
Ms. LaCure has been teaching Japanese at the University of Tennessee for more than 20 years. She also works with students as an advisor for the university’s Japan Club. Before becoming a teacher, she worked as a tapestry weaver, selling her works through galleries. She is proud to be part of the Asian Festival in promoting and celebrating cultural diversity in Knoxville. When she has free time, she enjoys coordinating and wearing kimonos and playing the shamisen, a Japanese three-string banjo.
Lieutenant General Lawrence D. Nicholson
Volunteer Security Manager
Lieutenant General Nicholson was born in Toronto, Canada, and is a 1979 graduate of the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He holds an MS degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. From 1980-1982, Lieutenant General Nicholson served as a Platoon and Company Commander in the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. From 1982-1985 he was assigned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, where he served as a Series and Company Commander.
Following Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico, Virginia in 1986, Lieutenant General Nicholson served as a Platoon Commander at Officers Candidate School until joining 3/7 in the fall of 1986. He then served as a Rifle Company Commander for Lima 3/7 and subsequently Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines until May of 1990. From June 1990 to July 1993, Lieutenant General Nicholson served as a Company Officer and Instructor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Following completion of the US Army Command and General Staff College in 1994, he was assigned to the Middle East as a United Nations Observer for UNTSO Palestine. In 1995, he reported to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as the Executive Officer of the Wolfpack, 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
In 1997, Lieutenant General Nicholson assumed the duties as the 2d Marine Division, G-3 Operations Officer until taking Command of the WARLORDS of 2d Battalion, 2d Marines in 1999. Following a deployment to the Balkans with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he was re-assigned in 2001, as the Executive Officer of the 2d Marine Regiment. Upon graduation from the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy in 2002, he was assigned to NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium where he served as the Ground Forces Planner for the U.S. Military Delegation to NATO. In July 2004, Lieutenant General Nicholson reported to the 1st Marine Division HQ at Camp Blue Diamond, Ramadi, Iraq, where he served as the Division G-3. In July of 2005, he assumed command of the 5th Marine Regiment and deployed with them to Fallujah, Iraq in 2006.
As a General Officer, he has served as the Deputy Commanding General for Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico; the Commanding General of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Helmand Province Afghanistan; the Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense in Washington, DC; the Operations Officer for the ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, Afghanistan; the Commanding General of the legendary 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California; and the Commanding General of the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan and the Pacific region.
Lt Gen Nicholson now calls Knoxville Tennessee home, is active in local Veterans affairs organizations, serves on the advisory board for the Spirit of America, Still Serving Inc, and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow for the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and the Asia-Pacific Institutes’ Military Statesman’s Forum. He has been married to Deborah for 41 years and has 3 sons, 2 on Active-duty USMC, and 9 grandchildren that he and Debbie enjoy spoiling at every opportunity.
Ruth Dray was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ruth earned her Bachelor of Economics from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia before obtaining her Master of Business Administration in Finance from Lincoln Memorial University. Ruth currently works for Hearthside Bank as Loan Officer Assistant/ Loan Administrative Assistant in Knoxville TN.
Living in a developing country with a large economic gap helped Ruth understand the importance of compassion. She is very passionate about giving back to the community. She joined multiple volunteer efforts in Indonesia, including the Salvation Army Indonesia. Since her arrival in the United States, she has continued her charity work whenever possible. Most recently, she has focused on charity events sponsored by Volunteer East Tennessee. She is also a member of the Middlesboro Ladies Golf Association.
Ruth enjoys traveling. Through travel, she learns about the many different things life can offer. Travel lets her experience different food, people, languages, race, cultures, and ways of living in different places. The most important thing she has learned is that compassion brings peace, harmony, and unity through diversity, which is the Mission of the Knoxville Asian Festival.
Dr. Kathie Shiba
Maryville College Communications Manager
Dr. Kathie Shiba is the Assistant Dean of Institutional Equity and Professor of Psychology at Maryville College. She moved to Tennessee in 1994 after graduating with her Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside. In her own words, “As a Sansei whose parents, grandparents, and other relatives were incarcerated during WWII, I have been interested in understanding the impact of racism, especially across generations. I study the impact of microaggressions on college students’ lives, focusing on racial, sexual, and gender microaggressions. In addition, my research examines student and institutional characteristics that promote positive outcomes such as resiliency, coping skills, and mediation. I appreciate the opportunity to volunteer at the Asian Festival each year and have been impressed with the tremendous growth over the years. It is exciting to see so many people who are passionately learning about Asian cultures.”
Professor Eric Franklin Amarante
Eric Franklin Amarante is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he focuses on nonprofit and small business law. Eric received his J.D. from Cornell Law School and his B.A. from the University of Texas.
Jula Connatser is a leader of One Community Services, Inc. Her company is a certified minority and women-owned business enterprise in Tennessee (MWBE).
In her own words, “Living outside of Thailand is keeping us away from our cultural activities with friends and families. The Knox Asian Festival brought Asian people in town together. Now we have the opportunity to bring back our fun cultural environment. At least once a year we can wear traditional outfits, sing, dance, and share our cultural wisdom at the festival with everyone in the Knoxville community.”
Amudha Vaz is a passionate and creative Pre-K teacher who aims to foster curiosity in children through various fun activities. With her experience as an ESL teacher, she has a knack for teaching and engaging with children of all ages. As an active member of the Knox Asian Festival since 2014, she enjoys sharing her heritage and learning about other cultures. Amudha also loves cooking and teaching Indian cuisine to others. In her free time, she loves playing with her furry friends Prince and Lucie, traveling with her family, and meeting new people.
Ling Hidalgo-Catuncan is a licensed Physical Therapist with 24+ years of experience & is currently working at Shannondale Retirement and Assisted Living Centers. Originally from Navotas, Metro Manila, she migrated to Knoxville, TN in 1994. She is affiliated with Filipino American Christian Community of East, TN (FACCET) whose mission is to promote charity through service, time, and talent and assist in realizing spiritual potential in our community. Ling is also an active member of the Philippine American Association of East TN (PAAET) & assists with Fil-Am activities supporting the community. She enjoys dancing, singing, hosting, and playing the guitar. She is married to Paul Catuncan, also a physical therapist, with two smart kids, JP & Jos
Knoxville Area Korean Association President
“My name is Gina Wilson I was born in South Korea. I graduated from Young San Technical High School in 1983 and worked at Samsung as a Semiconductor. Came to the USA in the 80s and worked at AT&T as a technician and manager. Retired from AT&T as an Engineer in 2014
I am amazed to see the sight of beautiful Smokey areas every day all-around Knoxville Area. It is healing itself just be able to have a chance to be in it.
I started my involvement with the Knoxville Area Korean Association in 2019. I believe as a Korean-American, it is my obligation to volunteer for the communities.
The first time I was volunteering was at the ALS Clinic in Emory Clinic and I stayed with them for almost 10 years. I realized that so many of us need someone to show them we care for them and love them to find comfort that will be a positive motivation in our everyday lives.
I am proud to be in the United States, where we embrace different cultures and races. There are so many things we can learn and share with everyone of us because we all are from different cultures and country and has unique individuality. And doing so we will understand and accept our unique characters and build a strong connection among all of us in our communities.
I hope we will continue to construct a positive relationship over the years to come in our great smoky area communities.”
Dan Wang is a Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Tennessee. She joined UT in 2015. Before coming to UT, Dan had worked at Duke University for eight years. She has taught Chinese language courses at various levels, led Study Abroad in China Summer sessions, and developed an online Mandarin course.
Dan has participated in Asian Festival for many years. She also worked with UT Chinese Cultural Club, UT Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Knoxville Chinese Cultural Organization, and East Tennessee Chinese School to hold cultural exhibition booths and organize performances at the city or local community cultural events.
Michael Smith has produced the East Tennessee Chinese New Year Festival for the past 7 years. Held each February on the UTK campus, this event gives the audience the experience of new year celebrations in China. Michael is also the coach of the East Tennessee Wushu Team and East Tennessee Tai Chi team, has won 9 gold medals in martial arts competitions in China, and has been teaching Chinese martial arts to kids and adults in Knoxville for 12 years. For more information, visit him at the Knoxville Chinese Culture booth at our Festival!
Grace Wu is a certified Chinese and ELL teacher of the USA, business owner of Mrs. Grace LLC., education officer of the Civil Air Patrol, and the President of the Taiwanese Association of America East Tennessee Chapter. In her own words, “I moved to Tennessee in 2016 for my graduate degree. I love this state a lot and consider this place as my second hometown. I was working as a market planner for over ten years back when I was in Taiwan. Now, I am an educator, but I still like to be involved in public affairs. I have a passion to introduce Taiwanese culture to the USA, I enjoy hosting cultural events. I am also working on introducing American educational philosophy to Taiwan. My Facebook page “單媽美國奮鬥記” is mainly for introducing American newest education information and already has over 10,000 followers.
10th Anniversary Knox Asian Festival Emcee
Azsha White is a full-time Voice Over Artist, Actress, and Event Host, living in Knoxville, TN. In 2014, Azsha was an emcee at the Knoxville Asian Festival. She uses her professional and artistic skills to promote the event via interviews, speaking on television, radio, or live events. In addition, Azsha is a host for Amazon Live on a bi-monthly show for PetSafe.
Besides hosting and public speaking events, Azsha has been professionally trained in voice-over acting. Her in-home studio provides top-of-the-line equipment for any client’s recording needs. Currently, Azsha not only works with local Knoxville businesses but with clients in over 14 countries. She specializes in Character/Animation, Commercial/Radio, Video Narration, and Phone Systems.
When Azsha is not in her studio working on recording projects, you can rest assured she is running around doing something else amazing. If spotted in the wild, you may catch her shooting a local/national television show or commercial. Depending on the season, you may even find her on stage for a cultural or other live event. But when she is not working, you can count on her being a crazy dog lady, and find her at one of Knoxville’s many dog parks with her two pups.
A dynamic, motivated entertainer with diverse experiences spanning platforms from television and radio productions to voice-overs and event coordination, Azsha is a dedicated performer with a savvy business sense continuing to inspire audiences near and far.
Arpakorn (Tom) Walker
Director of Operation for May 13th Fund Raise Event
“I am a personal chef, former market executive, and all-around food lover. After years of being inspired by the food I grew up with in Thailand and all the flavors I encountered traveling abroad for work and play, I fully immersed myself in the culinary world. I received a culinary diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education and set out to create, cook, explore, and experience all things culinary.
My culinary experiences have ranged from recipe testing, sushi making, teaching cooking classes, and catering chef in FL, NYC, and Kansas City. My ethnic background has helped me develop my own sense of flavor when it comes to creating unique and artistic food. I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled far and wide in North America and Asia. My travels have had a huge influence on my palette, educating and inspiring me to experiment with diverse flavors and ingredients. Most importantly, I love to have fun with my menus and create a memorable experience that not only tastes great but is also uniquely presented.”
Melissa Teng Towle
Director of Operation for May 13th Fund Raise Event
Melissa is the daughter of Thai-Chinese immigrants and a hobbyist cook. A graduate of Auburn University with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, she has 15 years in the architecture field designing a range of healthcare and commercial buildings across the Southeast. Her work experience as a Healthcare Design Research Consultant has helped healthcare facilities better design their spaces to improve workflow efficiencies and effectiveness in a variety of departments in hospitals throughout the US. Growing up in New Orleans, her father was an active member and past president of the Asian-Pacific American Society (APAS).
Melissa is now taking the torch and committed to focusing her efforts to help the continued development of the Asian Culture Center of Tennessee being a major community contributor in Knoxville. She enjoys helping others learn about the AAPI community and the diverse cultures it encompasses (especially Asian food & cooking!). She and her family live in Knoxville and enjoy travel, food, movies, and sports.
Elena Sonbok McMillan M.F.A., M.Ed., M.A.
Director of Community Outreach
Professor Emerita Elena Sonbok McMillan is an accomplished artist, educator, and leader based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
As an artist, Elena has a deep appreciation for creativity and innovation. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and has received numerous awards and accolades for her work. She understands the importance of fostering a creative environment that encourages experimentation, risk-taking, and growth.
Elena is also an experienced educator with a Master of Education degree from Hyles Anderson College. She has taught as a Professor of Art at multiple Universities throughout the United States and has developed an innovative curriculum and teaching methods that engage and inspire her students. Her passion for education and her commitment to promoting art and cultural understanding is a driving force for her non-profit work.
Finally, Elena holds a Master of Arts degree in English from Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, and has had a number of her art pieces added to museums and was selected as the head artist for a number of large installations and art pieces in museums in Southern California.
Elena’s leadership, creativity, and passion all come together in her love of culture and community with her non-profit work. As a two-term President of the Korean Association of Knoxville and Council Woman of the National Unification Council of South Korea. Elena is no stranger to the demands of public office and providing strong leadership in difficult times.
Elena’s faith and passion for her community are what drive Elena forward each day to help make the world a better place.
Director of Community Outreach
Michael McMillan is the Executive Chairman of United Bridge Group, Founder and CEO of Bizsprints, Advisory Board Member of ArenaCX, and author and TEDx featured speaker. For over 25 years, Michael has been building companies from the ground up as the founder and part of the executive leadership teams. Over this period, Michael has successfully raised almost 100 rounds consisting of Pre-Seed, Seed, and Series A, B, C, and D. Along with this, Michael has had 3 successful exits of companies he started from the ground up.
Today Michael focuses his attention on helping business owners go from where they are to where they want to be while not sacrificing their relationships with family, friends, and spiritual life. This mission for Michael now penetrates everything he does and invests his time and money. This focus on growing the business owner while scaling the business has resulted in many of the companies involved in the program experiencing 10x – 20x growth and has saved countless marriages.
Fun Fact: In 2002, Michael weighed in at just over 420 pounds. A year later, he crossed the finish line of the Chicago Triathlon at 310 pounds. Today he stays in the low 200s and has completed numerous long and short-distance triathlons, multiple full and half marathons, century(100 miles in one day) bike challenges, and more 10k’s and 5k’s than he can count.