I heard Ann Farris speak at a recent meeting of a local service organization about the importance of cultivating the place in which we live.
She based her talk on the example of 86-year-old Sung Tag An, who lives in a small house attached to the back of a strip mall at the corner of Second Street and Avenue G in downtown Killeen.
Coloring the otherwise drab ’60s-style downtown mall of vacant studios, Asian trees and bushes shaped with Sung’s signature twists and flairs line the parking lot.
But these plants are only the bread crumbs leading you around the corner and into the hidden treasure of downtown — Sung’s front garden.
Like the mind of its caretaker, the garden spins with the colors of meticulous trees, painted pinwheels and the statues of warm Christian saints.
“He’s created a space for himself in the place where he lives,” Farris said. “It is not a highly trafficked area, but it is just his and he has shaped it into the context that he enjoys.”
Farris, a Killeen city executive and member of the Killeen Place Design Team, said Sung’s gardens benefit the city not only with “senseless beauty” but as an example of Killeen’s rich cultural diversity.
“Our strength comes from our differences,” Farris said. “(Sung) has shown us the power of the individual.”
Sung, who does not speak English, moved from South Korea 30 years ago after he was hired as a minister at a Presbyterian church in Dallas, said his daughter, Sonny McKenzie, who lives in New Jersey.
McKenzie remembers her father grafting and reshaping trees when she was young. Once he created his own fruit from a Fuji apple and an Asian pear, she said.
“When he was young, that was his habit,” McKenzie said. “He is fascinated doing this. It’s what he does.”
At McKenzie’s suggestion, Sung moved into the Avenue G home 11 years ago from Dallas because of Killeen’s rich blend of military and Korean culture — two things he enjoys.
Although his wife lives in South Korea, where she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Sung has chosen to stay in Killeen.
“I told him why don’t you move back to South Korea and he said he doesn’t want to because he loves Killeen,” McKenzie said.
At 86, Sung has a very sharp mind and is still able to climb trees, McKenzie said.
With his tree projects expanding down the block of Second Street and Avenue G, McKenzie said in another decade her father may soon decorate the whole of downtown — if people let him.
“He could go farther but the rest is city land,” McKenzie said.