Elderly couple donates their entire fortune to KU
“We hope students can work toward achieving their dreams without financial pressures.”
The couple donated plots of land and buildings worth 20 billion won and will soon donate property valued at another 20 billion.
▲ (From left) Chairman of the Korea University Foundation Jae Ho Kim, husband and wife Yung Seok Kim and Yung Ae Yang, and KU President Jaeho Yeom
“We are glad that we are donating the fortune for which we have toiled for over 50 years. Rather than squandering it, the greater pleasure comes from the fact that we can donate it to the best private school in the country.”
On Oct. 25, at 5:00 pm, a donation ceremony took place at the Main Hall of Korea University, with an elderly couple – Yung Seok Kim (aged 91) and Yung Ae Yang (aged 83), who live in the Cheongyangni district – the most important guests of the day.
The couple's slow entry to the venue, Mr. Kim in a wheelchair and Mrs. Yang with the aid of a cane, helped the ceremony attendees grasp how much hardship they had gone through for all those years.
The couple donated 5 lots of land and 4 buildings located in the Cheongyangni district, worth 20 billion won in total, to the Korea University Foundation in the hope that their donation will be used to educate students and develop the university. They also expressed their intention to soon make an additional donation consisting of another 6 plots of land and 4 buildings, once more worth 20 billion won.
On behalf of Mr. Kim, who has reduced mobility and difficulties in communicating, his wife, Yung Ae Yang told the attendees their life story. “Our lives were poverty-stricken. We did not even finish our elementary education, but we are glad that we can donate to a university. We want nothing more than for our donation to be used to bring some security and happiness to students who are in a financially difficult situation,” she said.
Yang was born in Sangju, Gyeongangbuk-do, as the second of six children. She was the brightest child among her siblings, but as she said, she could not finish her elementary education. “You will do better than your brothers and sisters without further studying at school,” her father told her. Following his wish, she left school and started working as an errand girl at an early age. Yang met her husband at the age of 23 with the help of a matchmaker. Kim, born in Nam-myeon, Pyeonggang-gun in Gangwon-do province, lost his parents when he was only 15. Two years later, he decided to defect to South Korea. When he left his two siblings in his hometown, he told them, “I will come back with money.” However, he could never go back to his home. After defecting to South Korea, he underwent all sorts of hardship, including backbreaking labor when he worked as a farmhand in Yangpyeong. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he enlisted in the Korean Army and later received recognition for his service to the country.
Yang earned a livelihood by taking on a range of jobs such as housekeeper and kitchen maid. In the early 1960s, she and her husband started selling fruit from a handcart on Jongno 5(o)-ga road. After working as street vendors for a couple of years, they rented an empty space with the help of their acquaintances at the market in Jongno and started their fruit business proper. At the time, trucks loaded with fruit crates arrived at the Jongno 5(o)-ga market at night. While other vendors came to the market around 4 am to buy their fruit, the couple arrived at the market four hours earlier to purchase fruit of better quality. There was a tram running from Cheongyangni, where they lived, to Seodaemun, the nearest station to the market, but they did not take it to save on travel expenses. Instead, they walked for about an hour from their home to Jongno 5(o)-ga every day. Due to the dusk-to-dawn curfew in effect at the time, several times they were stopped as curfew violators on their way to the market by a police officer. Despite all those difficulties, they strove to get fruit of good quality and sell it at a fair price, in the belief that people should live life to the full no matter what they do.
“We rented a house located in a poor hillside village for 15 years. I bought this 30 years ago,” said Yang, pointing at her shirt. This frugality allowed them to commit themselves to their business, and thanks to their committed efforts, the rumor began to spread that they sold high-quality fruit, which earned them a good reputation. Years later, they finally opened a store with the help of vendors at the market. Every day, three to four hours after opening, all the fruit they stocked for the day was almost sold out.
▲ (From left) Executive Director of the Korea University Foundation Myung Sik Park, Chairman of the Korea University Foundation Jae Ho Kim, Yung Seok Kim and Yung Ae Yang, KU President Jaeho Yeom, and Vice President for Development and External Affairs Byung Hyun Yoo
For the 30 years they worked as fruit vendors, they exercised thrift and deposited most of their income in the bank. They did not even enjoy the pleasure of shopping for small things such as socks or shoes, but instead accepted secondhand clothes from others. Using their savings as seed money, they got a bank loan and bought their first building in Cheongyangni in 1976. They kept working hard at their fruit store and saved enough money to pay off the loan. Meanwhile, they took out another loan to purchase more buildings located near their first one. While paying back the principle and interest, they didn't have enough money to celebrate their own birthdays or go on trips, but they did not mind this at all. As landlords, they were kind to their tenants, if possible not raising rents, as they believed those tenants had a lot more difficulties than they themselves. had had Keeping the rent as low as possible allowed their rental business to run smoothly over time. Vendors at the market who knew the couple said, “This is the only building where the tenants have been able to stay so long without any conflicts over the rent with the landlord. They deserve respect from all of us.”
Mr. Kim and Mrs. Yang have never made a donation before. “We have never had a single moment when we've had cash in our hands because we had to buy fruit, pay for plots of land and buildings, and pay back the loans,” said Yang. It was when both of them realized that they had become elderly and that illness and infirmity were increasingly present in their lives that they started to think about donating their fortune to a university. “My husband’s mind started to wander, and I was diagnosed with a cerebral infarction. We thought we should make a decision before it became too late. A couple of months ago, we finally made up our mind,” she said. Mrs. Yang continued, “There is nothing that makes us happier than making this donation. It seems far more valuable to us because we always did our best not to waste a single won.”
The reason they chose Korea University as the recipient of the donation is partly because of their son, who graduated from the Department of Civil Engineering at Korea University. The couple also thought the university, which is located near where they live, could be a central part of the development of the district, and could ultimately be a lynchpin in the development of the nation. They said they were inspired by the story of Inchon Kim SungSoo, the founder of Korea University, who purchased a lot and constructed buildings there in order to found the university. Over the years he spent running the university, he saw many talented students become leaders of our society. This story, which Mrs. Yang and Mr. Kim heard when they were young, reminded them of how rewarding it would be if they donated their fortune to the nurturing of young students.
Respecting the elderly couple’s wish, Korea University will utilize rents from the donated buildings and lots to establish a scholarship fund to support financially challenged students. KU President Jaeho Yeom pledged to live up to the expectations of the donors. “I sincerely thank Mr. Kim and Mrs. Yang for their decision to donate all of their hard-earned fortune to the education of students and the training of great professionals. With the help of this donation, we will exert the utmost effort to ensure the development of our university,” said the president.
The donation ceremony was attended by Chairman of the Korea University Foundation Jae Ho Kim; President of Korea University Jaeho Yeom; and Vice President for Development and External Affairs and Vice President for Capital Planning at Korea University Byung Hyun Yoo, who gave the couple a certificate of donation and a plaque of appreciation.
Korea University began with financial support from the public in its nascent stage, and throughout its history the donation culture of the university has been very strong. Today, the number of current donors has reached approximately 49,000. Among them, 539 have donated more than 100 million won.
In March 2015, Korea University established the Office of Capital Planning with the aim of systematically planning the university’s future fundraising efforts and designing a special program which would fully recognize the contribution donors make to the life of the university. As part of the program, the university has held fundraising events such as a Scholarship Donor Appreciation Night and a special event held on Nov. 11 in commemoration of Korea University’s 111th anniversary, which donors were invited to. In addition, to redouble its efforts to make donors feel they are respected members of the Korea University community, the university established the Crimson Honors Club, whose members are those who have donated over 100 million won to the university. For the members of the club, the university has established a seamlessly designed program and plans to hold donor events on a regular basis. For those who have donated over 1 billion won, the university offers an exceptional program that is distinct from those of other universities, including a total exemption from any medical expenses which they incur at the Korea University Medical Center.
In addition to donation programs aimed at attracting large givers, the university has also run a small-amount donation campaign, called ‘KU Pride Club,’ since May 5, 2015, when the university celebrated its 110th anniversary. The campaign associated with this club started with the aim of attracting donations of over 10,000 won per month from 300,000 alumni members, faculty and university staff, parents of students, and the general public. The donation fund has been used to provide scholarships which support students with their living expenses, and exchange students with their travel expenses. Every year, more than 1,000 students are granted a chance to recoup the time that until then they had to devote to part time jobs. As a result, they have been able to concentrate on their studies and expand the scope of their experiences.
Only 4 months after the commencement of the donation campaign, the number of donors exceeded 1,000. As of Oct. 25th, 2018, which marks the 3rd year of the campaign, there are 4,640 donors and 15,093 accounts have been opened. A total of 4.5 billion won has been collected to date, which shows how enthusiastic those campaign participants have been. Korea University will strive to fulfill the expectations of everyone who has continuously supported the university and its students, and at the same time, it will focus on firmly establishing a culture of donations and to disseminate the virtue of sharing to its students.
In 2015, Korea University carried out a major overhaul of its scholarship system, abolishing merit-based scholarships and instituting needs-based scholarships, which support students who desperately require financial aid. Based on the income quintile they belong to, students receive a scholarship which may cover their tuition, their dormitory fees and possibly their living expenses, or all of the above. The overarching purpose of the new scholarship is to remove financial obstacles in the paths of students so that they can devote their time and energy solely to their studies. In addition to needs-based scholarships, the university also has scholarship programs dedicated to exchange students, the KU Undergraduate Research Student Scholarship, and the Global KU Scholarship to support students in identifying their career paths and becoming future leaders.
According to a survey conducted in 2017, among the 27,000 currently-enrolled students at Korea University, students who fall into the bottom four income quintiles (the zero to third income quintile groups) amounted to approximately 4,700, or 17% of the total number of students. Along with large donations like the one made by Mrs. Yang and Mr. Kim, the small but meaningful donations made through ‘KU Pride Club’ allow students to spread their wings and realize their dreams.