Evelyn Becker McCune, 1907 – 2012

The staff and fac­ul­ty of the Cen­ter for Kore­an Stud­ies note with great sad­ness the pass­ing of Eve­lyn Beck­er McCune at her home in Merced, Cal­i­for­nia, on July 3, 2012. Mrs. McCune was for many years a friend and bene­fac­tor of the Cen­ter. Dur­ing a peri­od of res­i­dence in Hawaii in the 1980s, she was a reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pant in the Center’s activ­i­ties and made it pos­si­ble for the Cen­ter to become the cus­to­di­an of the books and per­son­al papers of her­self, her hus­band, and oth­er mem­bers of the McCune fam­i­ly. She is remem­bered by those who knew her here as a warm, gra­cious, gen­er­ous, and inspir­ing per­son and an ardent sup­port­er of Kore­an stud­ies in the Unit­ed States. 

Eve­lyn Beck­er McCune was born August 17, 1907, in Pyongyang, Korea, the old­est of three chil­dren of Methodist edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion­ar­ies Arthur and Louise Beck­er of Michi­gan. She grew up on the cam­pus­es of the first two col­leges in Korea where her father was a founder, admin­is­tra­tor, and sci­ence teacher and her moth­er was a music teacher. In 1914, the fam­i­ly moved from Pyongyang to Seoul to help found what is now Yon­sei Uni­ver­si­ty. Mrs. McCune attend­ed the Seoul For­eign School until her grad­u­a­tion in 1926, with the excep­tion of two mid­dle school years in Ann Arbor when her father was earn­ing a Ph.D. in physics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan.

She returned to the Unit­ed States for her high­er edu­ca­tion, grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, in 1930 with a major in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture and a minor in art. There­after she returned to Korea to teach at Seoul For­eign School for two years, after which she returned to Berke­ley to work toward her M.A. degree. While teach­ing at Seoul For­eign School she became reac­quaint­ed with George M. McCune, who was teach­ing at Soongsil in Pyongyang. The two were mar­ried on Maui in 1933.

George McCune, who received his Ph.D. in his­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, is remem­bered, among oth­er accom­plish­ments, for hav­ing devised, with Edwin O. Reis­chauer, a sys­tem of roman­iz­ing the Kore­an lan­guage while in Korea in the mid 1930s. When the McCunes returned to Cal­i­for­nia, he taught at Occi­den­tal Col­lege and she taught art at Poly­tech­nic in Los Angeles.

Dur­ing World War II, the McCunes moved to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where Eve­lyn was edi­tor of the Kore­an Sec­tion of the Robert’s Com­mis­sion and tech­ni­cal assis­tant to the Army Map Ser­vice while George worked as a researcher at the Office of Strate­gic Ser­vices, on the Board of Eco­nom­ic War­fare, and then as head of the Korea Desk at the State Depart­ment. At the end of the war, they returned to Berke­ley, where George taught his­to­ry and Eve­lyn was an edi­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty Press. George McCune died in Novem­ber of 1948 of a heart con­di­tion stem­ming from hav­ing had rheumat­ic fever as a youth.

After the death of her hus­band, Mrs. McCune com­plet­ed her M.A. degree at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia and in 1950, with out­break of the Kore­an War, moved back to Wash­ing­ton and became chief of the Korea Unit, Ori­en­talia, in the Library of Con­gress. In 1952, she was sent to Korea to help locate arti­facts and books “lost” dur­ing World War II and the Kore­an War. She returned to Korea in ear­ly 1953 as a liai­son offi­cer with the Unit­ed Nations Kore­an Recon­struc­tion Agency. Dur­ing this peri­od, she also taught Asian art and Far East­ern his­to­ry with the UC, Berke­ley, over­seas pro­gram in Korea and in Japan.

Back in Cal­i­for­nia in 1956, Mrs. McCune began teach­ing at Dia­blo Val­ley Col­lege and con­tin­ued until she retired in 1978. Dur­ing that time, she did research work on North Korea for the State Depart­ment, as well as writ­ing The Arts of Korea (1961) along with numer­ous arti­cles on Kore­an art and cul­ture. Dur­ing 1982 – 84, she returned to Korea, where she taught and did field work for her book, The Inner Art: Kore­an Screens. Her oth­er books include the children’s book Kim Rides the Tiger, pub­lished in 1951, and a nov­el, Empress, pub­lished in 1994 when she was eighty-seven.

A memo­r­i­al ser­vice is planned for 10:30 a.m. on August 11, 2012, at the Unit­ed Methodist Church, 899 Yosemite Park Way, Merced, Cal­i­for­nia. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion, see http://bit.ly/SsEEGV.