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Martha Circle’ lends half-century of support for Korean orphan

The Martha Circle – a women’s group whose members are part of the Presbyterian Women’s Association – sponsored Ee Soon Choifor 52 years. From left: Raedelle Heckman, Pat Roland, Patty Schrenk, Marilyn Fandrey, Carolyn Hennen, Marianne Bohner, Bobbie Main and Shirley Bonebrake. Not pictured: Barbara Few, Charmalee Prechtel, Bev Rogers, Diana Moore and Kathy Drake. Original or early members included the late Martha McReynolds Sr., LaVae Robertson, Sharon Hanson, Jackie Dowdy and Nina Petersen. Gini Davis/The Chronicler

CRESWELL — For more than 50 years, the Martha Circle – a small group of women from Creswell Presbyterian Church – helped make life more comfortable for a Korean girl under the care of Holt International’s Ilsan Center in South Korea.
The same Korean girl.
While most sponsorships end upon completion of the child’s K-12 education, the Circle’s support of Ee Soon Choi only recently ended, upon the developmentally disabled woman’s marriage to another former resident of the Center, which emancipated her from Holt’s care.
Ee Soon’s came into care on Oct. 18, 1963, at about a year old, and the Circle began sponsoring her in 1967. Documents sent to the Circle do not specify whether she was orphaned or surrendered by her parents because of her disabilities (identified as “trainable” mental retardation and some medical conditions). But the Martha Circle women specifically chose her to take under their collective wing.
“We chose her because we knew she was going to be there for a long time,” said Barbara Few, an original member still active with the Circle, which meets monthly.
The resulting half-century of support and friendship was initiated because the Circle, which began as a Bible-study group, “got to thinking that we needed to put some of these things into practice, too,” Few said. “We needed to ‘put feet on our prayers.’”
Seeking a meaningful ‘step’ to take, Circle members were drawn to Holt International, started in 1956 by Harry and Bertha Holt of Creswell.
“We were trying to think of a mission, and the Holts were from here and it was so interesting how they started that,” Few said.
One of the Holts’ daughters, Suzanne Peterson of Creswell, said her parents felt called to adopt after learning, in the wake of the Korean War, about Amerasian children born of Korean mothers and U.S. soldiers, who were ostracized in Korea; the Holts adopted eight of these children to join their six biological children.
But the Holts were also concerned about the orphaned/abandoned/surrendered children who were not adopted – particularly those with profound medical and developmental conditions. So, in the early 1960s, they constructed the Ilsan Center, where such children attend school, receive therapy, and develop life and job skills. An onsite workshop allows those remaining in care as adults some self-sufficiency.
The Martha Circle sponsored Ee Soon with $35 per month and sent birthday and Christmas gifts of clothes, toys and, as she got older, money to purchase personal and décor items.
“It seemed like the least we could do,” said Circle treasurer Bobbie Main. “I think we’ve sent $100 the last four years for her birthday and $85 for Christmas.”
In return, the Circle received regular letters from Ee’s “bomo” (housemother), written in Korean and translated; annual reports on her personality (she can be “stubborn” but “sweet”) physical and mental development (limited reading and speech, yet helps those less verbal than she), medical condition, etc.; photos and “kamsahamnida” (thank you) notes; and even a drawing from Ee herself.
These mementos were collected into a scrapbook by the late Martha McReynolds Sr. – another original Circle member.
“My mom was the holder of that file for years before she passed, and I grew up seeing each letter come in, with pictures and everything,” said her daughter, Creswell city councilor Martha McReynolds Jr.
Now with Main for safekeeping, that scrapbook – and a folder with enough material for a second scrapbook, which Main intends to compile – provides a fascinating glimpse into not only Ee’s life but the “life” of the institution itself. Reports trace Ee’s movement among Center group homes based on her age and medical/developmental needs, assessing her obedience, helpfulness and progress in personal care, household chores and self-sufficiency.
Although she recently left her workshop job because of back pain, Ee Soon is an accomplished knitter who now makes and sells knitted cushions, kitchen scrubbers, etc.
Her “circle” of sponsors couldn’t be more proud.
“It’s been interesting and neat to watch her grow up and as an adult be able to do some work that has helped her become self-sufficient,” Few said. “And now she’s married. It’s a neat ending to a 52-year story.”



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