Retired University science researcher remembered

Philip Ahn was a translator, educator and University researcher.

by Vincent Staupe

For more than 30 years, scientist emeritus Philip Ahn worked in the University’s food science and nutrition department as a researcher.

He died Nov. 19 of complications from leukemia. He was 78.

In addition to his work at the University, Philip Ahn translated Korean and Japanese for the U.S. Department of State, often traveling for a month at a time to ensure dignitaries could communicate effectively, according to his wife, Betty Ahn.

“He felt that he was benefiting both countries,” Betty Ahn said. “He was showing the U.S. to Korean visitors; he was very happy to be able to do that.”

Philip Ahn was born in Pyongyang, Korea in 1928, but in the 1940s, due to war and conflict, his family fled to Seoul, where he received a pharmaceutical degree from Seoul National University.

American troops stationed in Seoul during the Korean War taught Philip Ahn to speak English.

With help from a friend, Philip Ahn came to Minnesota in 1953 to attend Macalester College. He graduated in 1957 with a chemistry degree.

Originally, Betty Ahn said her husband, who was fluent in Korean, Japanese and English, translated Japanese scientific transcripts for the University at the Hormel Institute in Austin.

In the early 1960s, Philip Ahn came to the Twin Cities campus, where he researched omega-3 fatty acids and proteins in the food sciences and nutrition department.

“He was very thankful to have the opportunity to work on these problems,” Betty Ahn said.

Aside from researching, Philip Ahn aided graduate students in the department. He received the Gordon Starr award in 1991 for his dedication to the students at the University.

The day he retired from the University in 1992 was proclaimed “Philip Ahn Day” by then-governor Arne Carlson.

Soon after retiring, Philip Ahn took a job with the Department of State as an interpreter, mainly escorting Korean officials on their trips to the United States, according to his son, Peter Ahn.

“It was the opportunity both to serve his adopted country and his native home country,” Peter Ahn said. “That was what he really enjoyed, and translating was how he was able to do it.”

Philip Ahn received a commendation from the Department of State last year for his work in translation, Peter Ahn said.

In addition to his other work, Philip Ahn served as a member of several boards, including Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the International Institute of Minnesota.

In the end, Betty Ahn said her husband’s life work focused on people, whether he was guiding students, researching or translating.

“If you were to ask him, he would say he was an educator,” she said.

Philip Ahn is survived by his wife; sons Peter of Minneapolis, Paul of Maplewood and Chip of Lake Elmo; brothers Samuel of Virginia and Daniel of Mechanicsburg, Pa.; sister Soon Ja Ahn of South Korea; and four grandchildren.

Services were held Wednesday.