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Global handbag king hands $5 million donation to Concordia's Korean Language Village

Since 1999, more than 1,600 young people from all 50 states have attended sessions at the Korean Language Village. Special to The Forum1 / 3
The Korean Language Village is currently housed out of the Russian Language Village. Kenny Park's donation will support the first phase of construction of a culturally authentic village with architects from Seoul, South Korea. Special to The Forum 2 / 3
Concordia Korean Language Village, located northeast of Bemidji, Minn., will celebrate its 20th summer of immersion programming with a $5 million donation from Kenny Park, the largest designer and producer of luxury handbags in the world. Special to The Forum 3 / 3

MOORHEAD — The handbag king who brings the world luxury labels like Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Coach and Tory Burch just made a $5 million donation to Moorhead's Concordia Language Villages.

Executive Director Christine Schulze said she was thrilled to announce Monday, April 2, the gift — the single-largest donation supporting K-16 Korean language education in North America — from Simone Corp. CEO Kenny Park. Simone is the largest designer and producer of luxury handbags in the world, headquartered in South Korea.

Schulze said Park has been donating to the Korean Language Village for about the past decade ever since Park heard the Villages' founding dean, University of British Columbia professor Dr. Ross King, during a radio interview while the professor was on sabbatical in Korea.

Park was riding to work when he overheard the interview and was so inspired by what King had said that he invited King to meet him personally, Schulze said.

"He (Park) really made this point that for Korea to advance as a country, it needs to invest in others learning about it," Schulze said.

Schulze said what started out as a "serendipitous" connection has been sustained over the years. When she had the pleasure of meeting Park a couple years ago, he told Schulze that he would make a major contribution on the 20th anniversary of the Korean Language Village.

With 2018 marking the anniversary, "he certainly followed through with that," she said.

Park said in a newsletter that he considers the Korean Language Village "to be a perfect model of how best to create global citizens."

Concordia Language Villages of Concordia College currently has seven villages offering 15 languages to 10,500 youth and adults from all 50 states. Villages are located throughout 875 acres of property Concordia has owned since the 1960s northeast of Bemidji, Minn., on Turtle River Lake.

The Korean Language Village will be the eighth addition and the first Asian Language Village. Over the past five years, King said in a newsletter that Korean has had the fastest-growing enrollments of any world language program in the U.S. The village — offering Chinese, Japanese and Korean — reflects that trend, he said.

Korean language programs have previously taken place in the Russian language site. Each village is set up like a summer camp with 12- to 16-bed cabins, an industrial kitchen and dining as well as indoor and outdoor activity space.

With the Korean village, martial arts is a very important activity, Schulze said, so a gymnasium-style building will be part of the design. She also envisions a traditional Korean pavilion as part of the village.

"This is a critical investment in strengthening what has been a pipeline of interest for those passionate about Korean culture," she said.

Schultze said officials recently met with architects in Seoul, South Korea, who will draw on contemporary and traditional Korean design elements.

She hopes for a groundbreaking ceremony this summer and, within a year or two, operations could be up and running.

For more information on Concordia Language Villages, visit " target="_blank">www.concordialanguagevillages.org.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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