Businessman Veerasak Kunplin of Bangkok has watched Terre Haute grow — from a factory town with a distinct, unpleasant smell to a bustling college town.
A 1975 graduate of automotive engineering, Kunplin returns to the Wabash Valley regularly as a board member of the Indiana State University Alumni Association.
He first learned of Indiana State after his sister first enrolled in St. Mary of the Woods College and then transferred to State.
“At the time, I was enjoying myself, playing golf on the West Coast,” he said. “I was in Long Beach for about a year, when she said, ‘Come on, our parents pay for us to go to school and not enjoy ourselves, okay?’”
Kunplin lived in the residence halls his first year and became “a farm boy” because of the influences of his roommates.
“I needed a bed and food (during summer break), so they offered me a place to stay, but I had to drive a tractor long hours. I didn’t mind,” he said. “It could have been a good experience or a disaster, you know? But I enjoyed it very much. I learned how to drive, how to plow. And then after that, I enjoyed myself out shooting, hunting, fishing, racing cars and racing motorcycles. I still remember all the good times. I enjoyed it very much.”
His freshman year roommate — James M. Lisanti, ’71 — helped Kunplin perfect his English by introducing Kunplin to speech pathologists at State.
“I owe making a living to speaking English correctly,” he said. “(At Indiana State), my (speech class) classmate may have been 5 years old, but it was one of the most memorable times in my lifetime. Now, I talk to people or talk to someone in business or do public speaking because of that.”
After more than four decades, Kunplin is still in contact with his roommates, who have all gone on to successful careers.
“You know, some schools have nice buildings, a nice view or an impressive river or big lake. Looks good. The most important (quality at State is the) personal contacts. I keep contact with all my roommates.”
Overcoming homesickness wasn’t optional for Kunplin. Back in the early ’70s, Skype or iMessaging wasn’t an possibility.
“A telephone call home would run you at least $60 dollars for three minutes. My dad didn’t want me to call home. He said, ‘If you call home, only in case of emergency. Otherwise, I don’t want to hear from you,’” he said. “So the only answer was to send mail. That’s all. And for a letter to go from the U.S. to Thailand takes at least 10 days.”
After graduating, Kunplin worked for his family’s precious metal mining business.
“At the time, my dad operated and owned six mining sights, which are in southern Thailand and northern to the tip of the border of Burma. He said, ‘Okay, you haven’t gotten enough experience. You sleep and eat with all the workers there. (And later,) now it’s time for you to go outside the country and trading — become a trader, sell all those minerals. It was a good experience.”