The Volunteer who wrote songs for Korean children — Mary Kim Joh (Liberia)


Mary Kim Joh Liberia (1977–78)

Mary Kim Joh, also known as Che Sik Chu, was a Korean-American music composer and medical research specialist. She is best known for writing “School Bell” in 1945. This children’s song is taught to pre-school students in South Korea. It is often referred to as a “Korean National Anthem”.

Joh was born in Seoul in 1904. She was the daughter of Kim Ik-seung, founder of Korea’s first joint stock companies, and a niece of Kim Kyu-sik. She graduated from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, and in 1930, she was awarded a Master’s degree in music at the University of Michigan.

Later, while teaching in the music department at Ewha, she was asked by the South Korean government to compose children’s songs after the end of Japanese rule over her country in 1945. At the end of WW II, the Koreans had no Korean-language school materials. Her 1950 book on Korean folk songs is one of the very few published on the subject — even today!

Mary  moved to the United States after the war, and for some time she continued to teach music, but then changed professions and began a second career working in microbiology and biochemistry. Later in life, she earned a M. S. degree in science from Wayne State University. 

In 1977, at age 73, using her new clinical talents, she became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia where she worked in a hospital 600 miles from the capital of Monrovia. In 1978 the Peace Corps was asked to leave Liberia, and Mary settled in New York City. Devoted to the people of her Peace Corps country, she began a program called “Spoons for Liberia” that sent sanitary medical utensils to the country in an effort to curb tropical diseases.

Mary died in 2005 at the age of 101.

Given her long career in music where her work remains active in South Korean schools, and her subsequent second career as a medical specialist in Liberia as a Volunteer, she richly deserves recognition for a Profile in Citizenship.

Jeremiah Norris

Colombia 1963-65.

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