Hyun Sook Han never tired of her role as matchmaker, connecting thousands of Korean children to American adoptive families for four decades in Minnesota.
Her work as a social worker and international adoption pioneer fulfilled a promise she made to children she saw abandoned in snow banks as she fled her home on foot during the Korean War. .
She vowed to return one day to help them out – and made building a family through adoption the work of her life.
Han, 83, died of kidney cancer on Nov. 5 at her Shoreview home.
Han was born in Seoul in 1938 and lived during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War.
After graduating from Ewha University in Seoul with a degree in social work in the early 1960s – despite her father’s wish for her to become a lawyer – she set out to help orphaned children find homes.
She helped start a foster home program and encouraged Koreans to adopt Korean children at a time when both were new ideas, her daughter, Shinhee Han, said.
She married her husband, Young Han, in 1962 and soon gave birth to Shinhee. She and her husband, a North Korean orphan himself, complemented each other, Shinhee Han said.
“He really supported his mission,” said Shinhee Han, psychotherapist and assistant professor at Columbia University. “He and my mother had a common vision.
Both wanted to emigrate to the United States in the 1970s – Han to better support Korean children after adoption and her husband because he believed being American would help her reunite with her biological family, she said. declared.
Han participated in a social work exchange program in Minnesota in the early 1970s; in 1975, the family moved permanently to the Twin Cities. By this time, they had added an adopted son named Mike, and Han began working at the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota.
There, she helped launch the Korean Program, the agency’s first intercountry adoption initiative, said Heidi Wiste, president of the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota.
Han has also created initiatives to help families after adoption, including cultural support groups for pre-teens and teens. She cooked so that the children could have authentic Korean meals, and she also helped start a Korean culture camp.
“I think she helped keep Korean adoptees connected to their culture… and know the importance of being Korean in an adopted family,” said Wiste, whose adoption as a child was facilitated. by Han.
Wiste recalled Han’s “fantastic” smile, sense of humor and revered status at work, where spotting her “was like seeing a celebrity in the office.”
Although he retired from the children’s home in 2004, Han continued to work for several years, reforming policies in Indian orphanages. A fervent Christian, she also engaged in retired missionary work.
Her daughter said that even when Han was ill, she still took phone calls from adoptees looking for biological families.
“She was very clear that we all live with purpose,” Shinhee Han said.
Han received a 1987 award from the President of South Korea for his contributions to child welfare and a proclamation for Hyun Sook Han Day in 1989 by Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich.
She is survived by her daughter, Shinhee Han, of New York; her son, Mike Han, of Bloomington; and four grandchildren. She is also survived by her sister, Hyun Yoon Shim, of New Brighton and her brother, Mike Shim, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Services have taken place.