The King of Clubs

Meet David Kha, Tucson's most prominent club catalyst

Born in Hanoi, my friend David Kha came to this country 45 years ago to attend college in Minnesota. A decade later, he traveled to Tucson to work with children at a summer day camp, and decided to stay.

Kha originally ran a small gift shop and later worked at a bank, but for the last 20 years, he has operated his own computer sales and repair business. His real passion, however, is organizing clubs, especially for children.

Looking back, Kha is struck by how children's activities are viewed in this country, compared to his native land. Take soccer, for example, known internationally as "football."

"In Vietnam, kids just played," Kha says. "You didn't need leagues or coaches there. But everything has to be organized here."

Along with the late Martha Cooper, Kha established the Midtown Neighborhood Association in 1995. The same year, he helped organize a computer club at a local refugee center, with which he still assists.

"Everything I do is to get things rolling," Kha says. "I give them a push to get going. I'm not running the clubs, but I act as a coordinator."

In 1996, Cooper and Kha started a summer youth work program in their neighborhood--a program that still exists today. Cleaning yards, stenciling street numbers on curbs and painting decorative mailboxes, the middle school and high school participants earn a small wage while also generating funds that go back into the program.

In 1997, Kha helped start a chess club at Wright Elementary School near his home. Then, when he had a flat tire and didn't have the equipment to fix it, began a bike club for kids with the help of a friend. The club met in his back yard, where he taught maintenance and repair skills.

"After an article in the Star about the club," Kha remembers, "my back yard became a mess of bikes and parts."

The club still meets in his back yard, but it will soon be moving, and Kha has relinquished some of his duties. But with the assistance of City Council Member Fred Ronstadt, Kha plans on holding periodic bike workshops at the new Ward Six council office, located near Speedway Boulevard and Country Club Road.

"I train the supervisors now," he says of the bike club, "not the kids. This is just not about David Kha."

By 2001, Kha saw that some children were bored with bikes, so he began assisting his acquaintance Misha Chernobelskiy with the formation of a Lego Club. This effort, which has resulted in 200 members and monthly gatherings now held at the Flandrau Planetarium, was aided by Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar.

"Kids have to use their imagination," Kha says. "If you want to make a dog (out of Legos), you have to figure out where the head goes, how the belly fits."

Last year, Kha asked origami master M. Craig to give a workshop on the Japanese art of paper folding, and 10 people attended. Now the group meets on the first Saturday of each month at the Wilmot Public Library and has 70 members.

"Many children don't use their hands," Kha says. "But like Legos, (with origami) you must create your own art. You learn how to coordinate the figures while also learning about another culture."

In 2004, Kha began a gardening workshop at his house, because he thought senior citizens might like an outdoor activity. Having planted numerous herbs such as Vietnamese cilantro and a kaffir lime tree in pots in his backyard--an effort he insists will expand once the bikes are gone--Kha distributes recipes using the plants to those interested.

Also last year, in cooperation with a bonsai master, he helped organize workshops that offer the opportunity to learn the ancient skill of dwarf tree propagation. "Older people can do it on top of their table," he offers, "while enjoying a cup of tea or coffee."

What has all this club activity gotten David Kha? He thinks for a moment, and then, with an infectious laugh, says, "I'm very good at fixing bike tires now."

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