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Beloved Flagstaff couple remembered as pioneers in forestry, photography and community

Yeon-Su Kim and Corey Allen were beloved Flagstaff residents and had far-reaching impacts in the worlds of forestry, photography and community.
Shane Knight
Yeon-Su Kim and Corey Allen were beloved Flagstaff residents and had far-reaching impacts in the worlds of forestry, photography and community.

The greater Flagstaff community is mourning the unexpected and untimely loss of two prominent residents. Yeon-Su Kim and Corey Allen were lost at sea Thanksgiving Day when strong winds blew their kayaks away from the beach in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, where they were spending the holiday. They had a young family and both had thriving careers. Yeon-Su made history as the first woman and first person of color to permanently head the School of Forestry at Northern Arizona University. Corey contributed to the region’s vibrant photography scene, creating an artistic workspace and thinktank for both professional and amateur photographers. Their sudden loss has created a far-reaching ripple effect of grief.

Yeon-Su Kim was passionate about science, economics and cultural diversity in her role as executive director of NAU’s School of Forestry. She created programs and wrote grants to encourage globally marginalized people to study earth sciences. In an interview with KNAU just a few weeks before her death, Kim spoke about a campus-wide initiative to embrace student diversity and unlearn racism.

“What do you see when students are not from the majority? So, they’re not a minority, they are minoritized, right? So, how do you see, our faculty see, the student when they come from different background, how we see that is a strength instead of weaknesses? They bring different cultural perspective that would enrich our program,” she said.

Kim was originally from South Korea. In her position at NAU, she constantly mentored students from across the globe and led natural resource management seminars with K–12 teachers on the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands. NAU forestry professor Jim Allen—no relation to Corey Allen—is Kim’s longtime friend and colleague of more than 15 years.

“She was really coming into her own as a leader of the School of Forestry and as a leader in our profession more widely as well,” he says. “You could characterize her as a very ambitious person. But that ambition is not to advance her own career, it was to advance what she saw as the needs of the forestry profession.”

At the time of her death, Jim Allen says Kim was in the final stages of putting together a $20 million grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further diversity and access in the field of forestry.

“And we definitely want to honor her legacy by picking up the pieces of that proposal and getting it submitted. As long as people remember her, and remember her leadership style, I think people will want to emulate some of that,” he says.

Kim’s husband, Corey Allen, who was lost with her at sea, was also a strong force in the Flagstaff community. He was a passionate, lifelong photographer and printmaker who, in 2001, co-founded Hidden Light, a studio, darkroom and overall photography mecca.

“Cory taught me the nitty gritty, the nose-to-the-grindstone, in the darkroom. I think it was the attention to detail that I struggled with, and that Corey taught me how to do that,” says Matt Beaty.

He is the current owner of Hidden Light and worked with Allen for years. He says Allen was a master of the 19th-century platinum-palladium process, a labor-intensive but vibrant printing style favored by art collectors. He was among only a handful of people in the world who did it commercially.

“He pioneered some of the use of the technology that we use in this process,” says Beaty. “He made his own sort of chemical alterations to the way he liked the prints to look, and so he created the look that we still use in the lab—there’s a specific way we do things and that’s Corey’s way.”

In addition to his photographic work, Allen was also a devoted volunteer at Pine Forest Charter School in Flagstaff, where his and Kim’s two children attended classes. Beaty says when Allen transitioned away from his work at Hidden Light, he put everything he had into his kids’ school.

“The community lost, one its greatest servants. Corey was a blast, and he was a great mentor of mine. And I’m gonna miss him,” says Beaty.

A public memorial for Yeon-Su Kim and Corey Allen will take place at 1 p.m. on Sat, Dec. 10, at the Cline Library Auditorium on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.