Tribute to Dr. Eyoungsoo Park
It is with heavy hearts that we share the sad news of the death of one of KAAN’s founders, Dr. Eyoungsoo Park, on January 4, 2020.
Dr. Park worked closely alongside KAAN’s first president, Chris Winston, from the organization’s beginnings in the late 90s until her retirement from the role in 2010. He then supported KAAN’s second president and executive director, Stacy Schroeder, for several years as needed. As a Korean-American psychologist who emigrated from South Korea to the United States in his adult years, Dr. Park was well equipped to advise on matters of language, culture, mental health, and emotional experiences. He was committed to helping adoptees and their families. However, it was his kind heart that exceeded all other assets he brought to this community.
Dr. Park’s funeral takes place on Monday, January 13 in Yuba City, CA, his hometown of many years. Various leaders from KAAN’s early years will be there in honor of this great man.
You read more about Dr Park via his obituary and these collected remembrances of some of his friends and colleagues at KAAN.
How do I describe someone who so materially changed my life’s path that I can’t imagine the person I would be had we not met? College friends ask me, “When did you become so outgoing, confident, assertive, and ready to fight for whatever you believe in? You were so quiet back in college.” Some of it is the personal growth that comes with aging, but the catalyst for that growth has often been Eyoungsoo. Meeting and connecting with Eyoungsoo changed me, my husband, and my family, always for the better.
Eyoungsoo was the sort of person I could have a discussion with, mostly at the top of my lungs, without changing the relationship. Often, he challenged me. I could never change his mind unless I thoroughly convinced him. He was solid, knowing what he believed and why. Sometimes I would tell him that my diagnosis of him was “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” People would think that we were fighting, but we weren’t. What a treasure to have such a brilliant mind as a sounding board.
It’s not that all of his ideas were good, some were definitely crazy. That’s where the creativity came from, his being able to think outside the box. He continuously gave me creative ideas that I could implement, resulting in supporting my own children’s identity, building Friends of Korea – a local Sacramento organization, and finally building KAAN a national support organization.
Once my children were grown and they were able to manage their heritage connections as they chose, I stepped back from leadership in the adoption community. Our family did not step back from the relationship with Eyoungsoo. The deepest of friendships had developed and it became reciprocal. We travelled so many places together and gradually it was as likely that he was sharing his personal struggles as it was that my husband and I were sharing ours. Especially during his struggle with cancer, it was a gift for us to be able to give back to him. This grief we are feeling is the price of the privilege having had such a friend. We will miss him so much!
Goodbye my old friend, appearance/age of a kind grandpa to me, but crazy and outgoing in heart/mind/personality like a crazy fun-loving uncle.
I have such fond memories of Dr. Eyoungsoo Park. Dr. Park was an indispensable early leader in KAAN, an individual who provided Chris Winston and the organization with Korean-American cultural and intellectual perspectives that helped us all. He was also an incredibly kind and thoughtful person.
Dr. Park and I had a special kind of interaction. Especially in the early years of the KAAN Conference, there weren’t too many male adult Korean adoptees participating regularly, and it was for me a special honor to feel that he saw me as a Korean-American, not just as an adoptee. He understood that many Koreans from South Korea and many Korean-Americans found it difficult to view us adoptees as members of the community.
And then, Dr. Park and I had a really special conversation during the KAAN Conference in Seoul in 2006. I had shared with him about going through some paperwork from my adoption, and how in my documentation, it cited my ancestral home as Miryang, seat of the Park clan. My Korean name is Park, and Dr. Park said to me, “You should be proud to be a Park! Park is the most Korean of all Korean surnames. And you should visit Miryang.” We had just arrived in Busan. Chris Winston, wonderfully generously, got train tickets to Miryang, and we took an express train there. Miryang only has one significant cultural site, but it is a beautiful one—a Joseon Dynasty-era pavilion called the Yeongnamnu Pavilion, overlooking the Miryang River. Since I do not know for certain where I was born in South Korea, it was immensely meaningful for me to visit that site. I’ll never forget that moment when I was able to visit the Pavilion.
And then when we were together on a KAAN-sponsored motherland tour in 2008, Dr. Park spent a day helping a fellow adoptee do birth search research, and that evening, we all had dinner at a lovely restaurant in Busan. Dr. Park shared some perspectives on visiting South Korea. I was amazed that he also felt foreign there, and that South Koreans perceived him as being foreign. To me, he had always seemed ultra-Korean, culturally and psychologically. But he revealed that Koreans could tell that he was not up on the latest patterns of speech. That one conversation provided me with real insights into identity and culture.
Dr. Park was a Korean-American who truly embraced us adoptees and made us feel part of a larger community. His generosity and wisdom have rippled out beyond his immediate sphere in many ways; it has formed a part of how I interact with everyone in the transracial adoption community and world. I will never forget him as a leader, or as a human being.
He always knew the words he needed in times of great stress and turmoil. Usually when I heard them, I thought he was totally nuts. Then the words would settle in my brain and I would get what he meant. Truly he was one of a kind
When I think of him, I think in words and phrases rather than specific memories:
· Giver of tough love
· Intellectually curious
He was truly one of a kind, someone I'm grateful was in my life. I'll always think of him as a renaissance man, interested in everything and everyone. That alone makes him unique, and a treasure to everyone who knew him.
I think of his commitment to the adoptees who were returned to Korea. That always left me in awe of how hard he worked to help them and as a volunteer.
I did not get to know Eyoungsoo as well as those who worked with him from KAAN’s beginning, but I knew him well enough to observe how much he cared. When Eyoungsoo spoke with you, you had the sense of being truly seen and of knowing he was there to help you. I am so grateful for his time and leadership.