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.