Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sook Cha Lee Kennel Hall, 1925 to 2016

    Sook Cha Lee was born in 1925 in Seoul Korea, which at that time was ruled by the Japanese empire.    Back then, medical doctors were not accessible to ordinary people, so there was only a midwife and a fortune teller.  It's not funny, but Sue would joke about the humble story of her birth, and her family would laugh at this story.  Sue's mother was in labor three days, no doubt fearing for her very life,  and the fortune teller offered the following sage advice:  "If you wait one more day, the child will be truly great!"   When telling that story my mother would laugh.  "What kind of advice is that?  Are you kidding?  Even if it's true you can't ask a woman to stay in labor for another 24 hours!" 
    In any case, somehow Sue's mother persevered and Sue arrived to her very relieved parents.  Early on the parents realized that little Sue was linguistically talented.  At two years old she was able to go to the neighbors' house and relay messages from her mother.   
        Korean folk have a custom that at one year, the baby is presented with different items--for example, coins, a bowl of rice, and an ink brush-pen-- to determine their future.  If the baby chooses coins, then she will prosper financially.  If she chooses, rice she will be a glutton and get fat, so hopefully the baby doesn't choose that.  Baby Sue selected the brush pen, signifying she would become a scholar. Even though it is a silly superstition, she says she sort of believed it as a kid. 
      Sue's mother used to say, "If a word even touches my daughter's ear, she never forgets it!"   The family decided to send her to school a year early, because of her incessant questions and desire to learn things.  So she wound up going to school a year early in order to help feed her insatiable desire to learn. 
     In 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, the family decided to move to Japan when Sue was 8 years old.  This was right at the time that Crown Prince Akihito was born. Sue remembered that all the streetcars were decorated with beautiful flowers as the entire city of Osaka, and indeed the entire country, celebrated.  It seemed like a grand time. The next year,the family moved to Tokyo.  Sue's education was in the Japanese language, which is very different from Korean.
       By this time little Sue had started reading all kinds of books about far off lands including Europe and America.  One book explained the custom of Christmas, which excited her very much.  So she told her father about it, and explained that she was going to hang up her sock by her bed on Christmas Eve.  That evening, her father would have to pretend to be Santa Claus and give her a present.  The next morning, Sue was delighted to find a little mandarin orange in her sock!   
     Sue's cousin George Myeong came to live with their family at about that time. Sue always considered George to be like a younger brother.  But by about 1940, family fortunes had taken a turn for the worse and Sue's father ultimately abandoned them. Sue's mother ran a boarding house in Tokyo.  But Sue was able to get a job in a print shop to help make ends meet, and she completed her high school studies at night school.  She finished number two in the province of Honshu based on the graduation examination. She was one of the few Koreans to be accepted by Ochanomizu College in Tokyo. This was an amazing achievement in its own right, and even resulted in a small stipend of a few dollars a month, which she gave to her mother.  It was a happy time.  But in December of that year, radio newscasts informed the people that the Japanese Empire had been attacked by demons from the United States and Great Britain.  Newscasters warned that although victory was certain due to the Godly leadership of Emperor Hirohito, it would be a time of great hardship. Indeed, food became scarce.    However, finishing school was very important, and for that reason the two elected to stay in Japan so that Sue could graduate in elementary education, which at that time was a two year program, and George could finish high school.  Sue and George had to live under a bridge for a time along with many others who endured great suffering during the war, but nevertheless, she did not quit, and she persevered to graduate in 1943 with a teacher's certificate, and George graduated from High School that same year.    
     One of the quirks of Asian society is that children are implicitly blamed when bad things happen, perhaps based on the notion that God punished children for wrongs committed in a previous existence.  Perhaps for that reason, Sue did not like to talk about being homeless.  Then too, a great number of people suffered terribly in World War 2, not just Sue and her cousin.  She said that she never worried about not having a proper place to live, as long as they could receive a daily food ration and attend school. 
      Sue appreciated the rigorous training from the Japanese system.  In addition to academics, the entire student body had to run 4 kilometers each morning in their school uniform and then on to class.  There were no special gym clothes, no showers, just they just ran in street clothes and then on to class. In addition to academics, each semester they had a field trip to work for a week, planting or harvesting crops in the fields, or working in a factory.  In this way, they learned something about the way that real people must live their lives.     
     In order to escape the bombing in Tokyo, Sue and George returned to Korea in 1944.  Sue taught elementary school for two years in a small town in the Korean countryside, and George went to live with relatives and eventually attended college.  
     The Japanese Emperor was thought to be a God, who would appear in public only once a year outside his palace. Everyone attending his speech had to get on their hands and knees and bow and not even look at the Emperor lest they should die.  Sue said, "I knew it wasn't true."
      In August 1945, Emperor Hirohito unbelievably spoke on the radio to announce the surrender of Japan.  He was obliged to finally admit that he was a human being rather than a God. 
The Japanese occupiers were immediately expelled from Korea, amid great rejoicing.  Sue was happy that Korea could be free of Japanese government oppression, but also saddened at the inhumanity with which the Japanese people were forcibly evacuated.  She remembers them being packed like cattle on trains and unceremoniously  shipped out.  
     After the war, Ewha Womans College was officially recognized as a National University for women in Seoul and Sue was selected as one of the students.  But in 1946, Sue was orphaned as her mother died of Typhus.  She never really got over that blow.  She would recount, "My mother was always there for me, supporting me in everything and encouraging me.  When she left suddenly, my whole world fell apart."  Ewha became the replacement for her mother. She graduated number one in her class in 1947, and thus earned degrees from both Japan and Korea.  Upon graduating she became a student teaching assistant and worked directly for Dr. Helen Kim, the Ewha President. 

Graduation at Ewha University, 1947.

     Years later, Sue's granddaughter Natasha once asked her what was the proper age to date.  Sue's answer was, "In Korea, the girls went to school on one side of the mountain, and the boys went to school on the other side of the mountain, and we never saw each other till after graduation and then only as arranged by the parents!"  Sue's son Elliot advised Natasha, "There are certain questions you should never ask a Korean grandma."  
     In any case, by 1948, the Methodist Church was interested to sponsor Korean women to study in America, and Sue was selected for this opportunity.  She would attend Baldwin Wallace College in Berea Ohio. Somehow, arrangements were made for several Korean women to a ride on a US Navy ship to San Francisco, and then by train to Ohio.  On a way they encountered a tropical storm, and everyone became very sick.   Sue said "at first we were afraid we might die.  Later, we became afraid we might not die."  But eventually things calmed down.  The Navy sailors were all very, very respectful to the young women, but communication was very difficult.  Sue recounts that the cook asked them if they wanted eggs "sunny side up." They couldn't understand this at all.  How can eggs be like the sun in the sky, they wondered?  That made no sense.  Well, better get used to it.  Lots of things in America made no sense to Koreans.  Sue liked to quote Rudyard Kipling:  "East is east and west is west, and the twain shall never meet!"
    Baldwin Wallace was a great culture shock.  Although Sue had learned to read and write in English, there had been no opportunity to speak with native speakers during the war.  So basically she arrived not being able to communicate. Learning spoken English proved to be much more difficult than speaking Japanese.  Moreover, she was also obliged to learn Old English to read the classic Beowulf, as well as French. Though she never achieved great proficiency in French, she would continue to practice with her friends in French Club in Berea, and would spend summers in France with her second husband Vernon Hall.

Sue and Bessie Rutemiller, Japanese American from Hawaii, 1950.

    Sue had never intended to stay in America, but the Korean War made going home impossible.  Accordingly, she studied at Western Reserve College in Cleveland, and obtained a Master's Degree in English.  Sue met Byron Kennel at a dance sponsored by the Cleveland Council of International Affairs.  One time Byron decided Sue needed to learn about American culture, and took her to a thing called Hillbilly Jamboree at the old Circle Theater in downtown Cleveland. The warmup act was a young kid who wiggled and shook a lot and poor Sue had no idea what all the commotion and yelling was about.  She was kind of mad at Byron for taking her to this uncivilized affair. It turns out this kid was named Elvis Presley, and that concert is marked by some historians as launching the rock n roll era, and is part of the reason the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland.
     Another time Arthur Bisguier, the United States Chess Champion, known as the Dean of American Chess, came to Cleveland and played simultaneous exhibition against all comers. Almost all of them were men, although Byron brought his smart Korean girlfriend along.  Perhaps Grandmaster Bisguier did not take her seriously at first, but after she took his queen he started to pay more attention.  In any case, the Champ prevailed against every one of the challengers--except for Sue.   

Lilly Rosenbaum, Sue and Byron Kennel, Linda Lee was the flower girl, daughter of Rev. Julius and Yolanda Lee.

      In 1956 Byron and Sue were married and children Elliot and Nancy came along, and Sue basically withdrew from academia for several years.  But in a few years, Cuyahoga Community College made it possible for Sue to return to academia. Could someone from Korea teach English in America?  Well, Sue did.  She was particularly skilled at explaining the mysteries of grammar and diagramming sentences. Virtually all students hate grammar and diagramming sentences.  But Sue would tell the students, "If I can do it, you can do it!" That logic apparently was persuasive.  Many students took it to heart, and really believed that they could learn it if Sue had learned it. And they did.   
 Tri-C friends  Veronon Hall at lower left.  

 Sue and her cousin; Nancy Lee and Stuart Anderson, 1980s. 

        Sue's simple advice was "Find out what you like to do, and do it for the rest of your life!"   By the same token, Cuyahoga Community College is known informally as Tri-C. Sue like to call it "Try and See."  Try college and see if there is something there you like.  When you stop to think about it, it is a mind blowing concept.   In Korea, going to college was about as difficult as making the Olympic team.  In America, the benefits of college were being extended to almost everyone with the capability and desire to learn.  Everyone can learn to see other points of view, and make friends with other people from other backgrounds. Everyone can think and even make decisions about who the leaders would be in America, rather than being ruled by an Emperor like in Japan.    
     In the mid 1970's, Sue really hit her stride, as she proposed that Cuyahoga Community College would be one of the first institutions of higher learning to teach a new subject, "English as a Second Language."   Prior to that time, foreign students were usually sent to remedial English classes.  But in reality learning a language as an adult is not the same as learning a first language as a child, and even very gifted scholars may struggle to catch up with a foreign language.  Sue also understood the homesickness and the culture shock that accompanies learning to live in a foreign country.   
      Foreign students presented special challenges because of their diverse backgrounds.  Early on, some of the students from paternalistic countries were uncomfortable being tutored by females and demanded male tutors instead.  Well, you can imagine that Sue was not very sympathetic with this blatant male chauvinism, culturally dependent or not.  "This is America.  Everyone gets a chance here," she responded simply, and that was it.   Perhaps that summed up her political philosophy.  One might suppose that this is overly simplistic, but Sue really believed it.  "This is America. Everyone gets a chance here."  With ESL, the students realized that they could earn that chance.     
    Needless to say this program became extremely successful.  It was then and is now the largest college credit ESL program in Ohio. For many students, Sue was not just a teacher, but the "American mom" to students from many diverse cultures. 
        Eventually she took a sabbatical and finally was able to return to her beloved Ewha University in Seoul, where she lectured Korean students for a semester in a variety of capacities.  She had been gone for more than 30 years, but they remembered who she was and welcomed her back.  At that time there were a series of political crises in Korea, and Sue acted as a  translator for CBS and BBC.
        Sue remarried  in 1983 to Vernon Hall, who was also an English professor, and he also wound up lecturing at Cuyahoga Community  College for a number of years.  Sue had met Vernon in Korea, and they were drawn together by their common love of English literature--and the Benny Hill show.  In reality Sue found it very difficult to understand English and American humor.  She summarized herself in this Yogi Berra-esque way, "Oh, I have no sense of humor. I'm just naturally funny."
       At about this time, Sue realized that there was an emerging need to study Japanese language at the college level.  This was especially true because Cuyahoga County is a major industrial manufacturing center, and many companies were interacting with their counterparts in Japan. Sue proposed that Tri-C offer a course in Japanese language.
      Japanese language instruction at Tri-C was immediately successful and Sue's courses were always filled, soon resulting in the hiring of other teachers to handle the demand.  
      Sue was never interested in making great sums of money, though avoiding poverty was very important.  What Sue liked most of all was to have great friends.  
    She had an amazing number of friends, staying in touch with her friends from Ewha, Her friends included Sung Hee Kang, who became a famous playwright, Sora Kim, a classical musician, Professor Young Kyoung Yoon, who taught music at Ewha and was also the niece of the Korean President.  Sue was not the only one that endured hardship to attend college.  One friend, Sookney Lee had to sneak across the border from North Korea and walked all the way to Ewha, and arrived at the college with her shoes soaked in blood.  Sookney eventually became the Dean at Ewha. 
      Sometimes her Ewha friends would come to visit and they would eat Korean food and reminisce about the old days and how poor they had been, and would laugh and laugh.  "I don't know why we laugh so much," Sue would say.  "It's certainly not funny to be poor. But now we remember how poor we were and we laugh our heads off!"
       Sue enjoyed many friendships at BW and Western Reserve with Margie Dwyer, Constance Weinstein and Nancy McArthur and many others.  She continued to participate in a book discussion group over 60 years, with Mr and Andy and Marilyn Sparks, Mel and Ruth Schochet and many others,  as well as Tri-C with Jo and Helmut Dehn, Ethel Laughlin, Dick Matthews, Jim Leonard, Cathy Honesty Pulliam, Shirley Campbell, Dana Synder, Oscar Crawford and many, many others.             
     She was also great friends with neighbors like Sue and Frank Nakamura, Jim and Nadja Johnson, Carl and Marge Norgren, Dick and Mary Ashbrook, Susan Depould and her son Jamie and his wife Anna, and many many others.  
     Sue eventually returned to the United Methodist Church of Berea, where she had first worshiped as a student in the 1940s.   Sue jokingly called herself a rice Christian. "I'm just here for the food," she would say.  Well, the Methodist Church is not a bad place for that.  She liked serving meals to students from Baldwin Wallace University, here at the church, and working with friends like Roy and Fran Seitz and many many others.  In particular she was very impressed with the influence that Roy, who years ago had been Elliot's baseball coach, had had in getting young men to try college and apply themselves.  Let's face it, youngsters, and especially the fellows tend to be mainly interested in sports, girls and parties, and it is only via a miracle of God that they become interested in college and Church and serving others. In that way, God uses baseball coaches as much as or more than academics.   
    Especially in the early days, she knew almost all of the Koreans and Japanese people that lived in Greater Cleveland.   Lee Cerny was one of the first to settle to Berea, followed by Hilson Cho and many others.  
      Sue continued to teach at Tri-C into her 80s as Professor Emeritus, and finally moved to a retirement community in Beavercreek Ohio.  Her last years were mainly happy ones spent near her son Elliot and daughter in law Daphne, and their two children, Natasha and Brandon.  She was able to travel to Washington every year, as recently as Christmas 2015 to visit her daughter Nancy and son in law Stuart Anderson. She made many friends at the retirement community as well, including Helen Schweller who came to visit her every day at the hospital after Sue suffered a stroke. 
    Sue would not want people to remember her with sadness. Sue loved to be surrounded by interesting people, sharing conversation and good times.  

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