Story by Alana Hernandez and Photos by Denise Cathey

As an owner of two businesses with years of experience serving on numerous boards, Lillian Cantu Kim has always felt it is important to give back to the community.

Upon returning to the Valley from Seattle, Lillian decided to go into business on her own by starting Key Mortgage, LLC on April 1, 2000.

“I was 30 years old at that time,” she said. “With Key Mortgage, we get a lot of first-time homebuyers, and clients that we financed 20 years ago that come back to buy their second or third home financing for their children now. That’s always a real treat to see.”

Lillian has also owned a medical equipment company called Lillian’s DME for the past 11 years.

“On the medical side, it’s really hard to ever feel like we’re doing really well because that just means you have that many sick people, so we try to be as sensitive as possible,” she said. “From the person who delivers the equipment or any medical supplies, they do it as compassionately as possible because we know it’s like our grandmothers and grandfathers that we’re delivering to.”

Lillian’s inspiration and life decisions were heavily influenced by her children.

“My decision to start my own business at the age of 30 as a single parent was motivated by the desire to provide for them,” Lillian said. “I took a risk and never looked back. It wasn’t always easy, as self-employment is a roller coaster of ups and downs.”


For Lillian, getting involved with the community was something she picked up when she first became self-employed.

“I knew I needed to let the community know that I was here to give something back not just to take in their business, but to give back to the community,” she said. “So, that was always important for them to know that I appreciated the business as much as giving back to them.”

The first organization Lillian joined was the Rotary Club of North Brownsville.

“At that time, there were around 36 members and I think only three of us were women,” she said. “Now, it seems like it’s primarily women at that rotary club.”

Lillian said from there, she became involved with different organizations.

She was chairman of the Workforce Board more than 10 years ago. Additionally, she has been involved with the Harlingen Community Improvement Board.

In Brownsville, she was involved with the Chamber of Commerce, and most recently, she’s on the Harlingen Medical Center Board and is president-elect of the Humane Society of Harlingen Board.

Lillian Cantu Kim


For Lillian, much of her inspiration to continue to forge ahead during the rough times in her life came from her loving son.

“As I tried to convey to my son how proud I was of him for all of his accomplishments, big or small, he would often tell me he was proud of me too and that often left me speechless as it was difficult to understand how my son was observing how I was managing my day-to-day life in both my professional work and the work I did in my community,” Lillian said. “I drew an enormous amount of inspiration from my son as I became aware that he was watching.”

In June 2017, Lillian began serving with the Humane Society of Harlingen.

“It was during a fundraiser that got my attention,” she said. “I pretty much realized that it was something that brought the community together and saw how much Harlingen really loves their animals and how much they mean to them.”

Lillian said she felt the experience she had serving other boards could help the shelter reach a no-kill status.

“At that time, when I first joined, they were bringing in about 6,000 animals a year and about 75% of them weren’t making it out. They were having to euthanize them,” she said. “I really didn’t know much about the animal world. I just ran businesses, but I figured with that experience I could help them.”

On March 12, 2018, about a year after serving with the humane society, Lillian’s 24-year-old son, Kevin, died in a tragic accident.

“He went on a hike to Mount Rainier in the spring when there was still a lot of snow and I lost him,” Lillian said as she began to wipe her tears away with a tissue. “It is his loving memory that continues to inspire me daily to continue.”

Lillian Cantu Kim

The Humane Society of Harlingen was the last volunteer project Kevin supported Lillian with before he died.

“At that time, I didn’t think I would be able to continue, however, it is his encouragement that keeps me going,” Lillian said. “I want to ensure that all the goals that were set out to make a difference in so many lives connected to HSH are accomplished. I want him to know that my contribution to this work continued in his honor to make him proud.”

Lillian said during a period of time after her son died, her daughter, Kelsey, was attending school in Austin and so she was left alone with her shiba inu dog named Keno, which she has had for the past 14 years until he died this past June.

For Lillian, Keno became more of a therapy dog not just for her, but also for her mother and brother, who she was staying with for a couple of weeks before returning home.

“I realized that Keno’s purpose was more than just wagging his tail and licking people’s faces. It was to give us comfort,” she said. “This little creature took care of me during the most painful time of my life.”

Lillian felt like she needed to find purpose outside of the norm, especially with her daughter back at school.

She said she couldn’t go back to work for a couple of months, and just remembered how much her son loved his dog.

So she went back to continue serving on the Humane Society of Harlingen Board, and felt it was with a lot more purpose than when she originally started.

“At the end, I realized it ended up saving me by bringing me more comfort than I thought I could give them,” Lillian said. “I think a lot of times people were surprised how I could keep going and didn’t realize I needed to keep going in that sense.”


Lillian said it took about a year after that to get to where the shelter needed to.

“When the shelter first started, it started with two ladies that were from out of town — Marilyn White and the late Susan McCarthy,” she said. “They were the true trailblazers of the humane society.”

She also said they started the shelter in the late 80s, early 90s because Harlingen didn’t have something like that at the time. She said they were there for about 10 years. Then, another group of board members came along for another 10 years or more.

“That was a very innovative group,” Lillian said. “They had started things that the community needed, like spay and neuter and vaccination clinics, but their biggest challenge was trying to save more than 25% of the animals.”

Lillian said her former role with the humane society as treasure and chairperson of the nominating committee was to seek new board members, which she did and it now has a brand new board.

Lillian Cantu Kim

“Within those three years, we were able to make changes that got us to where we are today, and that’s basically saving over 90% of the animals that come in,” she added.

Lillian said currently, the shelter is receiving a lot of support from an organization called Best Friends.

“They truly live up to their name,” she said. “They’re here mentoring our staff and supporting us. As a board, we’re so much more at ease knowing that they’re there behind the scenes helping our staff.”

Lillian said nothing she’s accomplished has ever been done by herself, including her work with the humane society.

“The folks that I nominated and put on there, they’re the decision-makers,” she said.

Lillian said with her community involvement and also her businesses, she can’t make them successful without the people who have been there.

She said it feels extremely rewarding to see her businesses grow, and that it couldn’t be done without her team.

“Both of my managers, one for Key Mortgage and one for Lillian’s Medical Supply, have been with me, one for 21 years and another for 20 years, so they’re more like family,” Lillian said. “They take care of the business like family and they take care of me like family.

We’ve been through everything together so I can basically say it’s a family business.”

[email protected]