“In this envelope, there’s a check for a $1,000 Thank You America Scholarship,” said the Rev. Ernie Davis, pastor of St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church in Kansas City’s Blue Hills neighborhood. “This gift is from the local Koreans who are grateful to American troops for granting them freedom from the Communists six decades ago, particularly African-Americans.”
By THERESE PARK
Special to The Star
It was Aug. 11, at the 9:15 a.m. Mass, before the final benediction. Standing before Davis was Aaron Hudgins, a clean-cut 2013 graduate of Lincoln High School who would be leaving for Iowa State University in a few days to study mechanical engineering. Next to them were Youngjune Chang and his wife, Helen, along with 5-year-old twins Daniel and Gongju.
Hudgins took the envelope, thanked the church and received a colorful bouquet from the twins to loud applause.
An essay from Hudgins printed in the bulletin talked about the student orientation he attended in May, as well as his ambitions:
“The geographical diversity in the room caught my attention — students from Chicago, California, Guam, and even Hawaii... They will be spending the next four years with me, and furthermore, help me achieve my goals in college. In the Department of Mechanical Engineering, I began envisioning myself as a leading engineer in design... In high school, I played music, spoke for the debate squad, and played football for a while. My favorite activity, however, was the solar-car team activities... By the end of the school year, our team made second place in a race in central Kansas. Life in college will give me the opportunity to accomplish my past passions as well as the goals of my adulthood. I am encouraged to work harder than ever before.”
I know Hudgins only as a musician. Since I joined this church two years ago, he played the trombone, sometimes baritone, every Sunday with a velvety tone and unmistakable musicality. Last April, his band Brass Symphony performed at Carnegie Hall for the second time.
Later, I learned that he sometimes played other “instruments,” too. In summer, he played the lawn mower and in winter the snow blower to raise money for college. I had no idea how well he played the latter instruments, but one Sunday last winter, Father Davis thanked him for his excellent work of clearing snow on the church ground. I believe he plays anything well.
Chang came to the U.S. in 1987 with $362 in his wallet. At age 30, he had tasted the world from different areas of South Korea — first in law school in Seoul, then in South Korean army bases as a squadron leader, and later in the School of Botany-Seoul National University, which allowed him to visit the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., several times. Two degrees in botany from American schools later, Chang jumped into a totally new field for him — dentistry! This was after a Korean ophthalmologist advised him that man’s knowledge and skills must help mankind rather than plant-kind.
Today, he not only is a successful dentist but a philanthropist who established a scholarship fund at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry in 2003 with Daniel Tira, then associate dean of the school. Tira had helped Chang obtain student loans based solely based on his academic records at a time when foreign students had to cut through much red tape to secure a loan.
I met Chang in January when he offered free dental exams, cleaning and X-rays to members of the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park. A month later, we local Korean musicians gave the Benefit Concert for the Blue Hills neighborhood and Chang became one of our sponsors.
And after Hudgins received his scholarship at Mass, I yet discovered another side of Chang. I overheard him offering Hudgins a free dental exam and cleaning before he departed for college, like a father would offer his son!
I take pride in knowing these two talented gentlemen — one already successful and the other who will be, down the road.
Retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea,” is available at Rainy Day Books.