A Gift Inspired by the Generosity of Others
UB Philosophy Professor Funds Scholarship With an IRA Charitable Rollover to Help Students Today
In 1998, 30 years after he first came to UB as a visiting professor of philosophy, Kah Kyung Cho, by then a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, was honored by philosophers around the world with a festschrift, a collection of essays written to celebrate a scholar’s career.
A testament to Cho’s international reputation, the festschrift included articles by five German philosophers, four Japanese scholars, three Americans and one Austrian.
It was the serene culmination of a life’s work that had begun at a time of harrowing uncertainty. Cho was a university student in Seoul when the Korean War started. To escape the brutal North Korean occupation of Seoul, he walked at great peril down the Korean peninsula to the port of Pusan, hoping to make his way to Japan to continue his education.
In Pusan, Cho, who spoke English, was given a rifle and a pistol and pressed into service as a translator between a unit of Korean high school students attached to the US Army and their American officers.
One of those officers befriended him, released him from his duties after just a week and wrote a letter of recommendation to support Cho’s application to a government program sending Korean students to study in Europe.
That program eventually took Cho to Heidelberg University in Germany where he completed a PhD in philosophy in 1957. He still treasures the letter of recommendation, now brown with age.
“My life as a college student was certainly full of tragedy and sorrow,” he said in a 2018 interview, “yet in the midst of such misfortune, God still opened a door for me.”
He had only $10 a month pocket money during his first years as graduate student. Later he found a job in a flooring factory to help pay his tuition.
Those experiences led Cho, now an emeritus professor, to establish the Dr. Kah Kyung Cho Excellence Fund to support the Department of Philosophy at UB, with preference given to the needs of undergraduate and graduate students who are studying contemporary Continental European Philosophy.
Settled in Seoul and teaching philosophy, Cho visited the US as a Fulbright scholar in the 1960s. He spent a year at UB where Marvin Farber was building one of the largest and most celebrated philosophy departments in North America. Farber urged Cho to stay in Buffalo.
“I explained to him that the Fulbright program required me to return to my home institution and teach at least double the number of years I spent in the U.S.,” Cho remembered in 2018. “Besides I thought that Buffalo was too famous and too rich a school for me, anyhow.”
After a yearlong campaign, Farber prevailed and Cho came back to Buffalo to join the department where he would spend the next 50 years, still active into his 90s.
Kah Kyung Cho, who started life with no advantages, made his mark in philosophy through the originality of his scholarship. That he found his way around the world to develop that scholarship was thanks to support from family, teachers, generous individuals and programs that encourage and nurture promising students.
And that, in turn, is what his gift will do for coming generations of talented students at UB.