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Jonesboro native becomes bank manager
Former refugee cherishes life in the U.S.

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Song Keovongsak, branch manager of the BB&T bank in Jonesboro, has spent almost his entire life in Jonesboro.

He attended Lee Street Elementary and later Kilpatrick Elementary, and played basketball at Mundy's Mill Middle School and Jonesboro High School.

The first six months of Keovongsak's life, however, were spent in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand. His parents fled to Bangkok from their native Laos after post-Vietnam War strife made it unsafe to live there.

"People think the Vietnam War ended when the U.S. pulled out their troops, but it had long-lasting effects in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos," said Keovongsak. "Thailand was like the only country that was a safe haven for those immigrants."

Keovongsak was born in the refugee camp and could have been there much longer than six month, if not for the work of catholic missionaries who sponsored his family to come to Jonesboro. Shortly after arriving in the city, his father took a job as a custodian at Kilpatrick Middle School and the family converted to Christianity.

For the last 25 years, Keovongsak and his family have been members of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. Keovongsak said that while the neighborhood he grew up in was very diverse, he started to feel out of place when he started attending school. In order to find some solace, Keovongsak excelled in sports.

"My biggest challenge was just trying to fit in, and sports helped me do that," said Keovongsak. While running the mile and half mile for the track team, and playing safety for the football team at Mundy's Mill Middle School, Keovongsak said that he also shined as a point guard for the Mundy's Mill Middle School and Jonesboro High School basketball teams.

"That was my refuge," he said. "It helped me fit in because of the fact that nobody saw me as the Asian kid. It took the focus off of that."

Keovongsak graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1999 and attended the University of Georgia. In 2003, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in finance and took a position with Wells Fargo in Stockbridge for one year.

After working for Wachovia Bank in East Point for three years, Keovongsak jumped when the opportunity came for him to take a managerial position in his hometown.

"It's getting back to a community that has helped raise me pretty much," said Keovongsak. "This is all I've known for the 27 years I have been here, so I have a special place in my heart for Jonesboro."

In August, Keovongsak will begin attending night classes at UGA's Buckhead campus to earn his Masters in Business Administration degree. While believing his future to be bright, Keovongsak cherishes the opportunities he has in the states.

"We still have a lot of family [in Laos]," said Keovongsak. "The pictures we get from them over there are a constant reminder of how lucky we were ... how easily things could be different."