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Obituary for Insook Moon Matthews

Insook Matthews died on July 17 at The Bird House in Iowa City following a long illness. She was 88 at the time of death

Insook (Moon) Matthews was born in Haeju which is now in North Korea on January 4, 1929. Her father, Dr. Moon, Chang Mo (Chang Mo Moon) was a prominent medical doctor who worked closely with early missionary doctors to combat tuberculosis and other diseases. He was also an active Lay Elder in the Korean Methodist Church. Late in life he became a member of Korea’s National Assembly. When he died he was given a state funeral and publicly hailed as Korea’s Albert Schweitzer. Her mother was Lee, Hee Joo (Hee Joo Lee), an early graduate of Ewha Girls High School. Insook, the oldest in her family had one sister and one brother, a retired Korean Army Colonel.

Insook attend grade school during Japan’s colonization of Korea. Her teachers were all Japanese and she learned the Japanese language as well as English. When the Korean War began in 1950 Insook and her family were living in Seoul where her father was Director of Severance Hospital. Because of his prominence as director of a large Christian Hospital he was on the elimination list of the communist authorities who took over rule of Seoul and was forced into hiding until the city was freed by United Nations forces. When Seoul was re-captured, this time by Chinese forces, the family fled the city and took refuge in Pusan where Insook worked for a time doing secretarial work and translating for the U.S. Army while completing a degree in English Literature at Ewha Woman’s University.

In 1952 she was accepted as one of Korea’s first Methodist Crusade Scholars and in 1952 traveled to Nashville, Tennessee where she enrolled in Scarritt College for Christian Workers earning a Master’s degree in Social Work in 1954. Upon her return to Korea she worked at Tai Wha Christian Community Center in Seoul, eventually becoming Director of the Center. She held this position until her marriage in 1959 to Gene Matthews, then serving in Korea as a missionary of the Methodist Church. She and Gene spent the next three years in Evanston, Illinois where Gene attended seminary at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Seminary) and Insook worked at Encyclopedia Britanica Films.

Following completion of Gene’s seminary training in 1962, She and Gene returned to Korea where she taught at Ewha Woman’s University for two years while Gene completed language school. She then spent five years in Pusan where she engaged in various forms of social work, including work with young girls forced into prostitution and mixed race children, until she and Gene returned to Seoul in 1969 where she again began teaching Social Work at Ewha University. She continued in this role until retirement during which time she wrote, edited, translated and contributed to numerous Social Work text books. She also founded and served for a time as director of a Social Center attached to Ewha and, shortly before her retirement, founded a Mental Health Institute.

Insook and Gene retired from Korea in 1997 and lived in Iowa City, Iowa where she kept in contact with her numerous former students. In retirement she has volunteered at Mercy Hospital, the Extend the Dream Foundation and the Disabilities Enterprise Foundation. She also knitted prayer shawls for distribution through St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City. She has also enjoyed traveling with members of the Hills Bank Friends Club.

Insook was preceded in death by her parents and both siblings. She is succeeded by her husband, Gene, three children, Mark (Gail) Matthews now living in Flowery Branch, Georgia, Paul, living in Iowa City, and Maria (Todd) Cleppe living in rural Chelsea, Iowa, five grandchildren and one great grandson.

A farewell service is scheduled for Saturday, July 22 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City. The family will greet friends beginning at 10:00 am, with the service beginning at 11:00 am. A reception will follow. Pastor Sean McRoberts will officiate the ceremony. All are welcome to attend and celebrate Insook’s life.

Memorial gifts may be designated for The Bird House in Iowa City or the Prayer Shawl Ministry of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City.


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