Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday, Feb. 01, 2013

Therese Park - Love illuminates life

Special to The Star

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The world has been darkened by the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., in mid-December by a young man who was consumed by hate.

Almost daily ever since, we have been informed of shooting violence — in schools, in homes and on the streets. How much more darkness can we tolerate?

Luckily for me, the new year brought me good news and the darkness was somewhat lifted. On Jan. 7, I was at the Korean War Veterans Association’s monthly meeting in Lenexa to witness an act of love by a Korean dentist who practices in Kansas City.

Dr. Young June Chang offered the gray-haired veterans in the room free or reduced-cost dental work.

He then briefly explained why he was offering such a service. He said that he has been inspired by his fellow local Koreans’ loyalty toward the country they live in, particularly after attending a performance of the Korean Choir of Greater Kansas City under the baton of Bo-young Lee. The event was held to honor and thank the local Korean War Veterans for saving their country six decades ago.

Chang was born long after the Korean War but heard so much about it from his parents and teachers — that South Koreans had no chance against the North Koreans, who had been trained and supplied by the Russians. The more he realized what North Korea had become today, the more he appreciated the veterans’ sacrifices in his motherland at the most challenging time of her history.

A veteran from the third row stood up and thanked Chang. It was amazing, he said, to see how Koreans continue to show appreciation after so many years. Loud applause exploded in the room.

I was touched by Chang’s generosity; at the same time I was warmed by the veterans’ kind words about our expression of gratitude toward them for saving our lives. This was what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said that love illuminates life.

Actually that same choir performance that Chang heard inspired me to write a column in September. Like Chang, I, too, pondered what I could do for the veterans and my adopted motherland, and came up with a benefit concert. I immediately contacted my old friend Un Chong Christopher, with whom I had organized a successful benefit concert two decades ago for the Korean Language School that still exists.

After my retirement from the Kansas City Symphony in 1997, I drifted to writing, only playing the cello here and there, but Un Chong became a column of Kansas City’s music community, teaching voice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory and voice and piano at Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary.

We met for coffee one morning. Though we had not seen one another for more than two decades, our love of music glued us back together where we had been. I shared with her my involvement with the HOPE Committee — a small group with a big dream to revive the Blue Hills Neighborhood. I told her of the weary-looking people sitting on the St. Therese Church rectory’s front steps waiting for someone to open the door and hand out sacks of food and other essentials. I talked about the things the committee has been providing for Hogan Middle School students — school supplies, clothes and more.

I was reminded of Korea during the war six decades ago, when American GIs gave whatever they had in their pockets to people who needed handouts.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice, Un Chong!” I said. “I wish we Koreans could do something to help the poor people in the Blue Hills Neighborhood.”

A week later, Un Chong delivered grand news that all the musicians she talked to about giving a benefit concert for the Blue Hills Neighborhood offered their talent and time. Soon afterwards, the choir president Scott Ahn’s email reached me: “Honoring those who granted us freedom from the Communists’ oppression six decades ago is not our choice; it’s our duty.”

Ever since, the 30-member choir has been rehearsing for the “Benefit Concerts for Blue Hills Neighborhood: In Honor of Black Korean War Veterans in Black History Month.” The performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Cure of Ars, 95th Street and Mission Road in Leawood; and 3 p.m. Feb. 24 at St. Therese Little Flower Church. The Hope Committee is accepting donations mailed to the church, 5814 Euclid Ave., Kansas City, MO, 64130.

Beside the Korean musicians, Romanian violinist Cristian Fatu and a duet from St. Therese, M.K. Mueller and Ted McKim, will illuminate your soul with their loving spirits and talents.

Overland Park resident and retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea, “ is available at and Rainy Day Books.

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