Late KU Donor’s Family Donates Entire Inheritance to KU
In honor of the late donor, family members decide to bestow their inheritance to KU.
The 5 Talent Scholarship Fund lives on…
▲ Chunja Lee (left) and Byung Hyun Yoo (Vice President for Development and External Affairs and Vice President for Capital Planning)
“Thank you for being our shining star by giving back to society. You are the light in a society where greed and darkness dictate all.” -Jin Shin (’15, Department of English Language Education)
“When I cross the rainbow bridge one day, I will tell you all about how I shared the five talents you gave me.” -Ha Kyung Kim (’11, Department of Sociology)
“Your life story was my beacon of light. The stories of your hardships and struggles in a faraway land helped me to overcome my sorrow and challenges.” -Jun Hyuk Kang (’12, Department of Korean Language and Literature)
These messages are heartfelt letters from the beneficiaries of a scholarship fund created by the late Dongwoo Lee (’53, Department of English Language and Literature) who passed away at the age of 83 on October 26, 2016. Filled with genuine respect and gratitude toward a mentor who had shown support, concern and care, these thank you notes are far from formal letters written out of courtesy.
After graduating from KU as an English Language and Literature major, Lee worked for 15 years as an English teacher at Seongbuk High School. Then in 1970, he moved to the US with the dream of contributing to the society as an entrepreneur. He entered Chicago University College of Engineering and worked his way through university, pushing through more than eight hours every day at a restaurant while staying in a church dormitory. Living under these difficult conditions, he contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized against his will in a sanatorium. It was there he promised himself to help struggling students when he could.
He finished his degree thanks to his unwavering determination and went on to start a steel plant business in Los Angeles in 1980. The company known as HI·TECH IRON WORKS is now a leading steel company.
As it became clear his business was on a successful track, he focused on giving back to society. Based on “The Parable of the Talents” from the Bible, where a disciple with five talents continued to work hard to save and share talents with others, he created the 5 Talent Scholarship Fund in 2011.
Starting in 2012, Lee awarded $50,000 to ten KU students each year. He did not select awardees by school grade or economic status, rather he chose students who were ready to share his or her talent with the rest of the world. He personally selected each awardee after reading application letters detailing why each candidate believed he or she should receive the scholarship.
The scholarship was not just about financial support. Dedicated to mentoring the students, he came to Korea annually to talk to each awardee whenever a new batch of awardees was selected. The students sought guidance from him in times of hardship. He would communicate with the students from the US through handwritten letters. He would often tell the students, “I have worked hard throughout my life. You will face many hardships in life and may feel burdened. I’ve been through them too, so contact me when you need a shoulder or if you have any good news to share.”
Graduating university was a challenge for him, but he believed that helping young students through his scholarship fund was a way to return his gratitude towards those who helped him through his hardships.
Lee sent handwritten letters to the ten students who were chosen annually to receive his scholarship. The awardees would reply back with sincerity.
“The 5 Talent Scholarship didn’t just pay for my tuition, it became my anchor to push ahead toward my life goal. Your letter helped me stay strong and kept me on my path to being a doctor.” – Anna Kim (’10, School of Biotechnology and ’14, College of Medicine)
“This is my third year of receiving your scholarship and my GPA was 4.32. This was all possible thanks to you because your scholarship let me focus solely on my studies.” – Guri Choi (’12, Department of English Language and Literature)
The late donor kept these letters in the living room and would often read them with joy.
His warmth carries on through the hands of his wife, Chunja Lee and his family members. Mrs. Lee donated $200,000 to KU for the scholarship fund, including the condolence money collected for Lee after his passing.
“Every year my late husband went to Korea to meet young students, but now it is no longer possible. Rather than giving the inheritance to our children, we will donate it to KU following my husband’s will. Our two sons and daughter respect his lifelong commitment to spread good and were happy to make the donation,” said Mrs. Lee.
KU President Jaeho Yeom expressed his condolences adding that “The students praised the late donor as a true educator, who sincerely cared for their spiritual and academic growth, and I could not agree with them more. As the president of KU, I will do my utmost to help our students become pioneering intellectuals leading our society.”
Byung Hyun Yoo, who is the Vice President for Development and External Affairs and the Vice President for Capital Planning of KU, held a donation ceremony with the late Dongwoo Lee’s family on April 22 at the Oxford Palace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Vice President Yoo thanked the family saying, “His deep dedication and love made him possible to touch each and every student. We will forever uphold the late donor’s will to care for the students. As his wish, we will use the funds to help students who will grow into talents who will contribute to this society.”