Half a century’s worth of changes evaporated as Hong Sik (Peter) Park (BS ’62 dairy industry, MS ’64 dairy industry) climbed the stairs of Iowa State’s Food Science Building. Here was the place he had called home for five years, a familiar façade amidst a transformed campus.
Originally from South Korea, Park’s path to Iowa State and the dairy industry seemed like a long shot. He grew up poor, the eldest son of eight children in his family. Park was just 13 years old during the Korean War and spent three months under communist control in Seoul. “There was no food, no freedom,” Park said. “Men were hiding, literally hiding underground because they knew if found they would be sent to the front lines.”
When General Douglas MacArthur and the United States soldiers marched though and liberated the city, Park recalled people pouring into the streets, crying and thanking them. “That’s why I did everything in my life,” Park explained, “To give back, to pay back everything the United States did for Korea.”
By 1959, Park was well on his way to giving back. He had completed two years of study in agricultural chemistry at Seoul University as well as a year of military service and qualified to study in the United States.
A heartfelt discussion with one of his professors convinced Park that he needed to study dairy industry. Korea’s dairy industry at that time consisted of less than 1000 head of cattle in the entire country. Park recognized that boosting dairy production could help bolster the Korean economy while also providing better nutrition to the county’s citizens. Iowa State’s dairy industry major, which ranked as one of the top programs nationally, was where Park landed.
“When I came to the US I hardly had any money,” Park said. He spent his first quarter as a student at ISU living on eggs, peanut butter and bread that he kept in his room. Those who knew him insisted that he needed to eat at least one hot meal a day and becoming a bus boy in Friley Hall made that possible. Park recalls sitting down to his first hot breakfast in months and feeling overwhelmed by the kindness of others.
Over the next four years Park threw himself into his studies and activities. He worked hard to improve his English skills and vocabulary. He completed internships and learned more about the production of milk, cheese and ice cream. He created a program called Calves for Korea in hopes of raising enough money to purchase a dairy herd for his home country.
Park agreed to add one additional activity to his already full plate when in March of 1963 he became the instructor for Iowa State’s newly formed judo club. He assumed he would have one student and was shocked when more than 200 students turned up for the club’s first meeting. Rather than turning students away, Park led three classes each day Monday through Saturday to meet the demand.
In the years after he left Iowa State, Park pursued his career in the dairy industry, ultimately becoming the vice president of research and development and quality control at Marigold Foods, the largest dairy company in the Midwest. After retirement, Park served as a technical advisor to the Seoul Dairy Coop where he was able to advance Korea’s dairy industry as he had always hoped. “That success was from my education, industry-wide,” Park said. “I was very lucky, the Iowa State campus did that for me; the foundation was here.”
This summer, more than five decades later, Park revisited campus for the first time. As a student, Park lived for five years in the basement of the Dairy Industry Building (now known as the Food Science Building) free-of-charge while providing security for the space. As he explored the building today, much has changed beyond that familiar façade. The rooms are different, the building has expanded, but Park’s emotions remain steadfast. “My main memory is people’s kindness,” Park said. “I met so many nice people who helped me when I needed it. This place did that for me.”
— Coreen Robinson