Goshen residents return to South Korea after volunteering decades ago
Posted: 07/05/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Marlys Weaver-Stoesz
“Back then after the war, South Korea was in shambles,” Don Klippenstein of Goshen said. “The transformation has been remarkable... South Korea is really a modern country.”
Klippenstein, along with his wife, Elizabeth, served in South Korea through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) from 1955 to 1958. They helped distribute food and supplies to those in need in the country following the Korean War.
Unexpectedly, the Klippensteins and five others from Goshen were invited by a Korean Christian television station to return to South Korea a one-week reunion in May with other MCC volunteers.
Our service there “was already 50 years ago,” Klippenstein said, “and it was remarkable that we could go back.”
Now 87, Klippenstein said they were thankful to be physically able to visit South Korean again. He was most impressed with the changes in the country. but the visit was somewhat overwhelming in other ways, too.
Mabel Brunk, 85, of Goshen served as a nurse in a children’s hospital in South Korea from 1959 to 1967.
After getting off the plane just several weeks ago, people greeted the Goshen group and other past MCC volunteers with three big banners welcoming them back to South Korea and with a large bouquet of flowers for each person. Each person also received a plaque of appreciation during the trip.
“I was just in awe, wondering where I was,” Brunk said.
Like Klippenstein, Brunk said she was also taken aback by how modernized the country had become.
A 10-story hotel building was built during Brunk’s service in South Korea — big news at the time, she said.
“That was a skyscraper then. Now, there are hundreds and hundreds” of taller buildings, she described. “The city is everywhere.”
While the landscape changed, Brunk said that not everything in Korea had.
“The people are the same — they’re generous and friendly and live life fully and love celebrating and are highly education,” she said.
John and Rosemary Zook of Goshen were part of the committee that helped organize the trip after they were contacted by Christian Television Systems. They had been back to South Korea a few times since their service from 1959 to 1963 at the Mennonite Vocational School. The school provided academic and vocational courses, including classes in agriculture and horticulture, construction and other areas, to middle school and high school boys to help them find jobs during a time when the country was ravaged. John, now 79, had been the school’s principal and Rosemary, now 78, was a nurse at the school.
Altogether, 80 MCC volunteers worked in South Korea, according to Zook. Of those, 25 returned for the trip this spring, seven of whom are from Goshen. Along with the Klippensteins, Zooks and Brunk, Ruth Keim and Paul Hochstetler of Goshen attended.