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Illinois State University Alumna Wonsook Kim Tells Why She Loves ISU

Wonsook Kim as a student.
Charlie Schlenker
Kim said that she hopes her gift makes Illinois State University "a little bit more fun to be in and work with."

“Illinois State University is where I started. Why ISU? Because this is where my heart is at.”

Wonsook Kim earned three degrees at Illinois State in the 1970s and experienced her first dates, first job, and first experience with dorm life there. Her love for her alma mater is why she and her husband decided to give the school a $12 million donation last Thursday, the largest individual donation in the school’s history. For her generosity, ISU President Larry Dietz announced that the College of Fine Arts and the School of Art will both be renamed after Kim.

Kim said she hadn’t realized the meaning and impact of her time at the institution until later in life.

“The impression (of ISU) was there,” Kim said. “It was just that I was not aware of that. They say that youth is wasted on young people. The impact was there of the teachers who suggested and guided me through different things.”

Kim had three professors who had a great influence on her life. The passion for life and art that Harold Gregor, Harold Boyd, and Ken Holder had on Kim took into her career after college, she said.

“It is an incredible wealth that I have to have (a professor) like that I can still copy,” Kim said of one of Boyd.

With Kim’s donation she is supporting more than just the art field she has spent her life with but also arts like music, theater, and dance. Kim said art “does not exist in a vacuum; it comes in a package.” She said that because she had more funds, she wanted to extend it to education in things that “these are all the things that make life a little better than what it can be.”

Kim describes her art as storytelling and narrative.

“Stories are important to me,” Kim says. “Names have a story, persons have a story, stations have a story and those stories can be in a visual art form. For me art is communication and what you are communicating is important.”

Kim was humble when discussing what impact she hopes her gift to have. 

"Illinois State University from the conception, it is a solid education institution. I don't think I created anything or added anything ... hopefully I made it a little bit more fun to be in and work with ... There isn't a whole lot to change. We just need to make it a little bit more fun." 

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.