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SEOUL — Mary Eisenhower took riding lessons from her grandfather when she was 7, and she has childhood memories of the colors of his bathrobe (khaki) and toothbrush (Army green).

So she never quite understood the “big deal” people made out of Granddad — Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States’ commanding general in Europe in World War II and 34th president.

In school, she came to know him more as a statesman and politician. But it wasn’t until she learned about her grandfather’s role in creating People to People International that she felt closest to him and his passion for helping people solve problems without interference from governments.

“With PTP, I’ve gotten to know the ‘third grandfather,’” said Eisenhower, PTP’s president and chief executive officer, during her first visit to South Korea.

People to People works to promote friendship and cultural exchanges among nations around the world. It removes land mines from farmers’ fields, runs summer camps for kids and organizes exchange programs with American students, Eisenhower said.

“They’re all trying to nurture that common threat,” Eisenhower said of the projects she supports. “They are concerns to all of us.”

On Friday night, for example, she was expecting to receive a $10,000 pledge toward building a vocational school in Cambodia.

“I’ve got to have the best job on the planet,” she said.

People to People was founded in 1956 by President Eisenhower, in the midst of the former general’s two terms as president. South Korea has participated for nearly 40 years, said Kwak Il Hoon, the group’s national chairman in South Korea.

The nonprofit organization is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has grown to include offices in 125 countries, including 23 offices in Korea. The group depends on more than 80,000 volunteers to run programs in 125 countries, Eisenhower said. The organization’s $2.5 million budget depends on individual donations, she said.

In South Korea, the group started as a way for American soldiers to feel more at home, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, Kwak said. Over the years, it’s become a group that is more concerned about humanitarian needs.

Some of those good feelings have eroded over time, both Eisenhower and Kwak acknowledged.

“I understand the anti-American sentiment, and it’s not unique to this area,” she told a group of American and Korean journalists at the Korea House on Friday. “We’re here because it’s based on promises made in friendships a long time ago.”

Kwak acknowledged that younger generations of both Americans and Koreans don’t feel the same automatic friendship and respect toward each other as those from his generation.

“We’re trying to invite young [Korean] people to do things with the military,” said Kwak,64. “That will benefit them both.”


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