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Korea’s First Family of Philanthropy

Posted January. 20, 2007 04:59,   


“More people than expected came and offered condolences to your grandfather. I appreciate it. I’d like to spend the condolence money doing good to commemorate his dedication as a life-long educator. Why don’t we donate it to build a scholarship for poor students?”

In September 2003, president of the Seoul National University of Education Seo Jang-seok died at age 80. After his funeral, his wife, Park Sang-eui (80), made an unexpected suggestion to her family who were still mourning.

The eldest son, Seo Dae-won (57), former ambassador to Hungary, and her other three children agreed with her. The bereaved family added some funds to it to build a 100 million won scholarship.

With the news of the foundation spreading, his students lined up to join the family. Seo Jang-seok, former president who worked for 23 years at Kyunggi High School, nurtured lots of high-profile figures. Among them, Lee Hong-goo, former prime minister, Seol Won-bong, president of Daehan Sugar Co., and Park Chan-mo, president of Postech. They raised another 100 million won for the scholarship.

To offer thanks for his former students’ support, the family members opened their wallet to add more and gathered another 100 million won for it. It was not something small for the middle-class raised by teacher’s lower salary. But they considered it as the badge of honor rather than a burden.

It is the history of ‘Aruemdri Scholarship’ under the Aruemdri Foundation. Some eight low income high school students received an opportunity to go to university as a result.

None of the late president’s family intervenes in its operation.

His eldest son, who has consistently joined the foundation’s campaign of “Sharing your 1%” said, “This is my father’s inheritance. He was always morally strict to himself and lived simply. He never owned his own car. He concerned his poor students like his own children. He taught us to live for our neighbors by being an example. His teaching is greater legacy than anything else.”

The donation history of his family goes back to Korean Empire. His great-grandfather, Seo Byeong-cheol, donated his 14-room house for the construction of a school. His donation was headline news then, and he was written about in the Daehan Daily newspaper on October 14 1908. The article says that his wife said, “As my husband dedicates himself to our nation and justice, I’d like to endure any economic hardship and raise my children for him. Considering his purpose, losing a house is a small thing.” This anecdote conforms with his family tradition. His great-grandfather and his family stayed in his relatives’ houses for the rest of their lives. And his grandfather was a fighter for national independence.

He is the only son-in-law of the late former president Choi Gyu-hah. The diplomat-turned-former president also taught him about integrity.

“My wife’s family is used to frugality and social contribution. My two daughters and sons-in-law are willing to share their income with society. I think it is due to family customs inherited from both families.” As for 30-year diplomat, he has always admired the donation culture of foreign countries. “In richer nations, more individuals return their wealth to society. Almost every person joins one or two donation campaigns. I hope we also take part in social contributions.”