Montana State to award posthumous honorary doctorate to I-Ho Pomeroy

Honorary doctorates are the university’s highest form of commendation. They are conferred upon individuals who have excelled and made outstanding contributions to society. MSU’s spring commencement ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, May 10, at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“I-Ho Pomeroy’s connection to Montana State University and the Bozeman community runs deep,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “Her efforts have fed generations of MSU students and community members at her beloved I-Ho’s Korean Grill, and she broke barriers as the first immigrant and person of color to serve on the Bozeman City Commission. For giving generously to others, we are indebted to her and proud to call her a Bobcat.”

Pomeroy – who was born and raised in South Korea before moving to the U.S. with her husband, Derik, in 1988 – owned and operated the award-winning I-Ho’s Korean Grill in Bozeman for more than 25 years. The popular eatery started in 1997 as a food cart before moving into a brick-and-mortar space near campus in 1999 and then to a space near the Gallatin Valley Mall in 2015. In 2022, the restaurant moved into its current space at 321 W. Main St.

“For many of us, her restaurant was a weekly destination for lunch and a prime meeting location near campus,” her nominators wrote.

In January, Pomeroy was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s 2024 Outstanding Restaurateur Award in the Mountain region. The prestigious James Beard Awards recognizes chefs, restaurateurs, authors and journalists for their excellence throughout the United States.

Pomeroy also served for a decade on the Bozeman City Commission, first being elected in 2013. She won re-election in 2017 and 2021 and then stepped down from the role in 2023 after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor. City officials said she was the first immigrant and first person of color to serve as a Bozeman city commissioner.

In a letter supporting Pomeroy’s nomination for the honorary doctorate, Cyndy Andrus, then-mayor of Bozeman, called her a “dedicated commissioner and champion for the underserved.

“I-Ho has devoted her time on the commission to issues affecting nearly every Bozeman family,” Andrus wrote. “… The city of Bozeman has greatly benefited from her unique perspective as the Commission’s first immigrant and woman of color. That will be missed, but she has paved the way for a new generation of city commissioners.”

Andrus concluded, “You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has impacted our community more than I-Ho.”

In an interview that appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle announcing Pomeroy’s resignation from the Bozeman City Commission, then-Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham applauded Pomeroy’s efforts on the commission related to such issues as mental health services and affordable housing.

“She has been sort of the champion of the underdog, people who are not dealt the greatest hand, so that’s been her legacy,” Cunningham said.

Pomeroy was also known for her generosity, nominators wrote. Beginning in 2001, she held a string of fundraisers and benefits at I-Ho’s Korean Grill, with the proceeds going to both local nonprofits and international disaster relief efforts. All efforts have been born of a desire to do something to help, she said in a 2007 article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Proceeds from recent fundraisers have benefited relief efforts in Ukraine, the Bozeman-based nonprofit ROC Wheels, victims of a 2023 earthquake in Turkey and victims of the 2018 Horseshoe Fire near Clarkston.

“She has a reputation as one of the most generous spirits in Bozeman,” her nominators wrote.

At MSU, Pomeroy has shared her time and expertise by serving as a guest lecturer in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and on multiple panels, including a 2022 panel featuring female entrepreneurs of color in Bozeman.

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