As Seon Chun-Burbank shares how she and her husband gave up their dream of sailing the world so they could put 27 kindergartners through college, threads emerge that reveal how they came to such a bold decision.
Chun-Burbank, a professor at Vanguard University, grew up one of five children in Seoul, South Korea. It was a time when struggling families such as hers spent what little money they had educating boys.
Growing up in Huntington Beach, her husband, lawyer Marty Burbank, had a far different life growing up with two sisters.
Yet both their journeys help explain why this couple will end up giving an estimated $1.1 million to help an Anaheim classroom of strangers graduate from college.
In some respects, their decision seems simple. With tears in his eyes, Burbank says, “When these kids go home, their parents struggle to pay for food. We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to solve that?’”
But behind their decision are significant events, difficult decisions and strong values.
Flipping through a flurry of smartphone photos of sailing trips, Burbank barely pauses over one that jumps out. It is black and white and grainy. The old newspaper photograph shows a little boy handing over his piggy bank to the president of the Westchester Jaycees to help feed the hungry.
Below the photo, the caption identifies the boy: Marty Burbank.
During an afternoon at the couple’s ranch-style home on a cul-de-sac of a modest Fullerton neighborhood, the professor and the elder law attorney talk about love, the mystery of faith and the kids they call their “spiritual children.”
Chun-Burbank’s father had to quit elementary school to work full time. Her mother had to give up formal education in middle school.
Her father supported his family working as a bricklayer. Chun-Burbank was a star student. She had been admitted to Ewha Womans University in Seoul, akin to being admitted to Harvard.
But with five children, there wasn’t enough money for Chun-Burbank to go to college. The family reached out to an aunt and uncle in Mexico City. Could they help? Her aunt and uncle agreed to pitch in.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Chun-Burbank taught in Singapore. But she wanted to go deeper into education, to mentor others in teaching young children. She scrimped and saved to reach her goal. Yet when she heard about a mission in Indonesia that needed $600 for a roof, she paid the entire bill.
She was admitted to the University of Northern Iowa, where she earned her master’s and then her doctorate. Later, she received a master’s in public administration from Cal State Fullerton.
Her first job in the U.S. was in Juneau, Alaska, at the the University of Alaska Southeast. There, she built statewide partnerships with school districts, community organizations and colleges.
After Juneau, Chun-Burbank taught at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, where she served as a consultant for the Center for Constructivist Education in Seoul. Along the way, Chun-Burbank joined an outdoor club that offered everything from hiking to sailing.
On May 22, 2006, she drove along Bayshore Drive in Newport Beach, parking near the Galley Restaurant and climbing aboard a rental Hunter 36-foot sailboat. The skipper was a stranger. His name: Marty Burbank.
Burbank grins recalling that day. “Seon followed me around the boat.”
The 44-year-old professor laughs. “No, no, he followed me around.”
Source: Orange County Register | DAVID WHITING