"I owe my success in business to this campus."
Sang Ik Hahn arrived in the United States in 1974 with a wife and three children, $8,000 in his pocket, and dreams of a better life. Two years later, having studied for a time in Texas and then earning a master’s degree from UW-River Falls, he was down to $2,000, but confident that what he had learned would make those dreams come true. Now, 30- plus years down the road, he will tell you that he’s lived the American Dream and that he owes much of his success in business to River Falls.
After earning his degree from UWRF, Hahn selected the newly burgeoning Silicon Valley as home base for his operations and invested in an apartment complex. Working 16-hour days as the apartments’ gardener, maintenance man, painter, manager and promoter, he was able to sell the complex for a $300,000 profit. He had developed a formula for success in the real estate business that would allow him to eventually share the wealth he had accumulated.
Born in 1938 in Japanese-occupied Korea, his early years were filled with struggle and uncertainty as his war-torn country became the frontline of the Cold War. During the Korean War, separated from his family, the teenage Hahn battled for daily survival in the streets of Seoul. The war impoverished the country, but Hahn managed to complete high school, work to save money, earn a college degree, and become a high school teacher. For years he harbored a desire to come to the United States for additional education and more opportunity for his children. Finally, in 1974, he brought his wife and young children--ages nine, seven, and five--to River Falls and delved into his graduate program in economics. It was hard work.
“I used all I learned here,” Hahn said. “I owe my success in business to this campus. I used what I learned here to devise a business plan. I don't have any magic. And I’m not all that smart. I just kept reinvesting. It may sound a bit funny, but it works. I've proved that this is the land of opportunity.”
In response to his success, Hahn has devoted more and more of his time to sharing the wealth he has accumulated.
"Because I owe so much to the United States and UW-River Falls, I'd like to return some of my wealth," he says.
Hahn says he has given generously to UWRF in order to help other students like himself in hopes of creating a greater focus on international students and globalization. His philanthropy has extended beyond UWRF and the United States, to include hundreds of orphans in Papua New Guinea, the “street boys” of Manila in the Philippines, a hospital in South Korea, and a generous gift to World Vision for tsunami relief.