A Korean American Rotarian on Giving Back

What do Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Colonel Sanders, and a humble Korean American like me have in common? We are all Rotarians! How did I become involved in this rather lofty sounding organization? You might be surprised.

Have you ever thought about getting together a few of your close friends and starting a club? That’s how the Rotary Club got started 115 years ago when a Chicago lawyer named Paul Harris held the first meeting with three friends to form an organization for local professionals. The club now has 1.2 million members in more than 32,000 clubs in 180 countries.

first rotarians
On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris (far right) gathered a few of his friends in downtown Chicago and held the first Rotary Club meeting. They decided to call the new club “Rotary” after the practice of rotating meeting locations.

What does the Rotary Club do?

“Rotary is an organization of business and professional persons united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world.” 

As an example of just one of its many global projects, the Rotary has been on a mission to eradicate polio from the face of the earth. In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined Rotary in its commitment to ending polio, and with matching funds from the Gates Foundation, the Rotary has contributed more than $1.6 billion to this effort.

Recently I was the speaker at the Edina, Minnesota, Rotary Club. It was a very timely event for me. Here is a video of my speech below:

The Rotary Club in Korea

You might be surprised to hear that the Rotary has 7 official languages and Korean is one of them. The others are English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The Seoul Rotary Club received its charter in 1927, and today, Korea has the fourth largest Rotary club in the world with 1,616 sub-clubs and 19 district clubs, with over 62,300 Rotarians.

Ambassadorial Scholarships provide the opportunity for young adults to study abroad and this is where my Rotary story begins. The Rotary Scholarship was created in 1946 by Rotarians in the Chicago area. Think about it. These folks also lost their family members, money, office buildings, their church, hospital, etc. but they had the courage to create a scholarship, during the most difficult year in their lives!

It soon became the largest scholarship fund in the world by benefiting over 40,000 scholars from over 120 different countries. I am one humble recipient of this scholarship!

I came to the United States as an international student. I arrived here on August 15, 1990, and this year marked the 30th anniversary of my coming to this country. So what happened since I came here? Quite a bit. I finished my studies at the University of Minnesota Law School (Juris Doctor, class of 1993), married, became a lawyer, became a Rotary Club member, still married to the same wife, have two grown-up daughters and a dog.

I served as an advisor to the president of South Korea on the subject of reunification of the two Koreas. I also served the president of the University of Minnesota (Nils Hasselmo and Mark Yudof) as the Chair of Asian Advisory Committee. When I was the Chairperson of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) during the Jesse Ventura administration as the Governor or Minnesota, I helped raise over 1 million dollars by convincing the then Senator Paul Wellstone. I served as President of Minnesota Korean Association. Since 2012, I served as a board member of the Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota for two terms (6 years). I served as President of Seoul National University’s Alumni Association MN Chapter. I served as President of Edina Rotary Club. I wrote 5 books. They are:

  • How Far Did I Come?
  • Basic Principles of the US Law
  • 150 Questions and Answers to Understand the US Law
  • My Rotary Journey
  • The Last Train Ride With My Dad

I am not interested in boring people with my trivial achievements. I am more interested in telling you that, if I achieved anything, it is purely because I received a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship in 1990, without which I would not be here today.

Long Live Scholarship! Long Live Rotary! Long Live Love for Humanity! Long Live Service above Self!


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