Suzan Paek makes sure her four children know they are loved

Born in Seoul, Korea to a designer mother and real estate entrepreneur father, Suzan and her just-born sister Patricia moved to the U.S. when she was two years old. Sister Linda quickly followed. Settling in Arcadia, Suzan grew up there, studied psychology at UC Irvine and married Richard Paek in 1990.

Richard and Suzan began their family in 1992 with the birth of their daughter Jessica, and Grant, Robert and Nathan quickly followed.

After 25 years of motherhood and an amicable divorce, Suzan has some good advice for parents:

“Nobody has a perfect family,” she says, “but everybody should focus on raising a great family.” Continuing, she says, “We have to love our kids. If we don’t, the next generation is doomed. Above all, kids need to know they’re loved. If they know that, they flourish. If not, they look for acceptance elsewhere.”

Suzan says they moved to Orange County because of Jessica, now 25.

“We needed to find a school where Jessica could thrive,” she says. She was reading ninth grade level in third grade, and Pegasus School in Huntington Beach was the answer. Since then, she graduated with honors from Chapman University, with double majors in history and English literature, and today is associate editor of E Sports League (ESL).

“I’m so proud of her,” Suzan says.

Suzan says that Grant, 22, is her creative child.

“He loves fashion and is a tremendous skateboarder. I think he’ll be a great fashion designer one day. Right now, he’s working and planning on attending arts school.”

Robert, 20, according to Suzan, was born with terrible allergies.

“He could never eat school meals because of his allergies,” she says. “I call Robert ‘Mr. Gregarious.’ He is so loved because he empathizes with people and especially those that suffer. Through all his hardship, he has developed a huge compassion for people.”

Robert is now in his second year at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Nathan, 16, a student at Corona del Mar High School, is Suzan’s sports child.

“From age three, he wanted me to read him the sports stats,” she says. “When I couldn’t do it all the time, he learned to read in a week so he could read them. He excelled at both hockey and baseball for years and was ranked at the state level in hockey at age 14 until he had to make a choice because of competitive practice and game times. He chose baseball. At 6’ 1” and 180 pounds, he’s a terrific catcher,” she says proudly. “Richard and I are there for his games.”

When the kids were all at home, this amazing mom always prepared home-cooked meals.

“I love to cook for them,” she says. “And, because they disliked school lunches, especially Robert with all his allergies, I prepared packed lunches every day for years.”

“My kids always equate love with food,” she laughs. “Nathan says that when you eat home-cooked meals, you know it’s always prepared with love.”

“I’m not the best cook, but they all love to come home and raid the fridge.”

Suzan says if she has to be out of town, Jessica comes to the house and cooks for Nathan.

Suzan’s life has become quite busy since 2011, when she launched Suzan Lee Designs, a fashion label that specializes in exotic leather bags and accessories for women and men. Slowed down by her father’s health and eventual death, her bags and accessories are now available throughout the country and online. Just launched in The Webster this May, they will be available in Neiman Marcus soon.

Suzan’s philanthropic efforts are worldwide. Locally, she has been a longtime supporter of Second Harvest Food Bank and its support group Harvesters, The Dream Guild for JDRF, UC Irvine Dean’s Leadership Society and Women of Chapman. UC Irvine School of Social Science Dean’s Development Board, Orange County Museum of Art, and Young President’s Organization count her as a former spouse board member.

A local project, dear to her heart, came about when Suzan spoke to Head Master Troy Moore of Mariner’s Christian School in Costa Mesa. He told her about the kids creating and making things as part of a design curriculum. She suggested a design competition, where the kids draw a handbag, she selects the top two, and creates the handbags to be auctioned at the school’s fundraiser.

“The kids are over-the-top excited about the competition,” she says.

Through her business contacts, Suzan is working with the likes of Ralph Lauren, David Yurman, John Varvatos, Fendi, Christian Dior, and more. She parlayed those contacts into the labels hosting underwriting parties for the Harvesters of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Suzan’s national and international philanthropic work includes the Vatican Foundation for the Family USA/board president, 2014 to the present; Aglobe International, which helps countries with food security/board chairman; Council of Korean Americans, INSPIRE Gala Co-Chair 2018; US National Prayer Breakfast member and co-organizer of first Asia Summit at NPB in 2018; Korea National Prayer Breakfast in Seoul, Korea, US representative.

But, rest assured, wherever this amazing woman is, her heart is with her kids.

“One thing that really makes me proud. If I were my kids age, I’d want them to be my friend,” she says.

That clearly sums up this mother’s heart.

“Above all, kids need to know they’re loved. If they know that, they flourish. If not, they look for acceptance elsewhere.” – Suzan Paek