Crouching in the night waiting for the change of guards at the 38th parallel, Sei Yong Cho’s family knew that fleeing to freedom was dangerous. With his toddler brother on his back, the 12-year old also shouldered fear of jail or death. Splashing through the water in no man’s land, he came out the other side into both freedom and poverty as South Korea prepared for war.
With some unusual divine intervention, the teenaged Cho avoided the hard conditions of the South Korean army, found the U.S. Army camp where he would become an interpreter and stepped into his future. He became the top interpreter in his unit in only six months’ time. As a foreign national, a bit older than a child, Cho would serve the U.S. Army so efficiently that he was put in charge of supplies and distribution for several camps. With the confidence engendered by this success with the Americans, Cho later applied to an exchange program in America. He left all he had ever known for what was literally, to him, the land from which freedom and opportunity came.
Born in Hungnam, Korea, on March 7, 1933, Cho came to America with nothing but his abundant intellectual ability (he knew four languages) and set his mind on his economics degree at the University of Oregon. Surviving sometimes on only a few oranges a day, he again pulled seemingly impossible success from adversity, culminating in his acceptance at the economic doctoral program of Columbia University in 1958.
On Claremont Avenue in upper Manhattan, he began his back breaking pilgrimage to the very top of the educational world. This five-year journey was his most difficult experience yet, challenging his academic ability, his writing ability, and his confidence. It may have been the first time he seriously doubted himself. During a rare upswing after landing an A in a particularly hard course, he took some time off and went square dancing. Across the room was a demure, modest lover of art, nature and children. She would change his plans in every way, leading him to give up his dream of a triumphant return to Korea, give up his homeland, and give up returning to his family. These two conservative and cautious thinkers jumped from square dancing that fall, to skating in Central Park that winter, to tennis in the spring, and to wedding bells in June! This relationship formed around activity would lead them to hiking and traveling and eventually bringing their children to the mountains and parks all across America and Canada. “There is no place in the world with as much natural beauty as America,” he would always say, eschewing Europe as if he were a proud farmer from the heartland.
Back in Manhattan, wife Katherine and even a few members of her family would help him push through his doctoral dissertation. Cho and Katherine also pushed through her mother’s initial disapproval of the idea of a mixed marriage. Growing roots in America, Cho would begin the process of bringing every member of his family here, one at a time.
Starting his career as a college professor, Cho changed his name to the “more American” Chorun and took the name Joseph while accumulating teaching experience at colleges around the country and growing his family. He found a career he was passionate and good at, settling down as professor of economics and finance at Adelphi University, which required many hours of commuting from the beautiful lakeside home he provided for his wife and family.
Dr. Chorun gave his entire Korean family a new country and future. He gave his own children and grandchildren security, ambition, education, and love of nature. To his wife he gave one of those rare lifetimes of uninterrupted companionship.
In his senior years Joseph bore the infirmities of age and illness with patience and dignity. He encouraged, supported, and was very considerate to his children who had become his ultimate concern (aside from the Yankees). One of his last and very intentional acts was to make sure to vote, wanting the best for the country that had become his homeland, had given him a new life, and given his offspring incredible opportunity.
Dr. Chorun was predeceased three years ago by his wife, Katherine, and his eldest daughter, Therese. He missed his wife very much. In his final days, he shouldered the cross of a two-week hospitalization, and by the grace of God, we believe he came out victorious on the other side, passing from this world to the next on his wife’s birthday, as divine providence would have it.
He is survived by his siblings, Jung Hee Cho (Kim), James Cho, and Tai Cho. His surviving children are Leslie (Reid), Philip, and Alan; and grandchildren, Alexandra, Elena, and Julia.
Feeling like the heart of the family is gone, those left behind look to his life, story, and example to guide and comfort them, reminding them that circumstances don’t dictate results. A memorial service will be held when all of his friends and family can gather safely to celebrate Joseph’s life.
Arrangements were made by C. DuPont Cochran Funeral Home in Hackettstown, N.J.