Illini Everywhere: Korean Illini, Since 1922

Since at least 1922, Korean students have been attending the University of Illinois. Some Korean Illini have included advertisers, business administrators, chemical engineers, chemists, educators, electrical engineers, human resources administrators, journalists, librarians, materials scientists, pharmacists, political scientists, and sociologists. Read on to learn more about early Korean Illini!

Early Illini in Korea

Before the March 1st Movement in Korea, on March 1, 1919, and before the arrival of many Koreans coinciding with the Korean War, Illinois connections with Korea began over one century ago. Some early Illinois graduates found work in Korea, while some Koreans visited the campus to speak with students, and at least one faculty member worked in Korea.


Marion M. Null, (B.S. 1900), of Blandinsville, Illinois, completed a medical program at the Illinois campus in Chicago, before becoming chief physician at the Mary E. Wright Memorial Hospital, as part of a Presbyterian mission, in Taikin, Korea, from 1903 until 1907. [1] In fact, Dr. Null’s wife, Dr. Nell Bernice Null (nee Johnson) was a physician and she worked at the mission too. [2]

Another physician was Ralph Garfield Mills, (B.S. 1903), of Lincoln, Illinois, who was Professor of Pathology and Director of Research at Severance Medical College (now Severance Hospital of the Yonsei University Health System), from 1911 until 1918. [3] In 1918, Dr. Mills joined the staff of the Peking Union Medical College in China.

Teachers, Missionaries, and Engineers

At least three students worked as missionaries. From 1908 until 1911, Anna Thompson (nee Riehl), of Alton, Illinois (B.S. High School Education, 1904), was a teacher in Songdo for two years and Wonsan for one year. While her husband, James Arthur Thompson, of Rushville, Illinois, (B.S. Agriculture, 1905), worked as a missionary for the Methodist Episcopal Church, until returning to Illinois for graduate school in 1914. Later, the Thompsons resettled in Mr. Thompson’s hometown. [4]

While the Thompsons were relocating to Wonsan, Ethel Nichols Taylor, of Bellmont, Illinois, (B.A. in Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1909) had arrived in Songdo. Later that same year, Ms. Taylor married Daniel Franklin Higgins and they relocated to China. [5] After the Thompsons and Higgins left Korea, a Mr. Arthur Eilert Drucker worked at an American mine in Korea for six years, during a longer international career in mining from Korea to South Africa to Mexico to teaching in Champaign-Urbana. In 1921, Dr. Drucker became an assistant professor of mining engineering at the University (1921-1926) where he often spoke about his experiences in Korea. [6]

Some of the first Korean guests in town were Korean missionaries. During the 1920s, Mrs. Induk Kim spoke about competing Korean youth movements, marriage, religion, and culture change in Korea. In the 1930s, it was Mrs. Induk Pak who spoke about the current role of missionary work in Korea.

Early Korean Illini

G. H. Kim

The first Korean student might have been G. H. Kim who attended courses from 1922 until 1924. Limited information has been located about Mr. Kim. What is known is that Mr. Kim spent his first winter with fellow undergraduate W. Willis Turner (B.S. Education, 1926), of Taylorille, Illinois. [7] Also, it is possible that Mr. Kim participated in an English discussion group organized by the local Y.M.C.A. too. [8]

Doh Shik Kim

In 1949, the first Korean student to graduate might be Doh Shik Kim (B.S. Pharmacy, 1949), who studied in the Pharmacy program in Chicago. Like the student before him, few records of Mr. Kim exist leaving his campus days a mystery.

The Korean War

Following the Korean War, Korean student enrollment increased as Korean students came to schools like the University of Illinois, to continue their education. In fact, the Illinois community welcomed and provided support for the new Illini as Korean students organized development programs to support fellow Koreans.

Korean Student Association

In 1955, the Korean Student Association formed to:

Since 1955, at least ten additional Korean student organizations have formed to meet the different needs of different Korean students on campus. [9]

Early Korean Illini were involved in developing campus community. During the Korean War, for example, student interviews were collected by Daily Illini staff and some Korean students wrote about the conflict. Graduate student Kyung Won Lee even wrote a three-article series on public perception of the war.

Kyung Won Lee

Mr. Kyung Won “K.W.” Lee, (M.S., Journalism, 1955), has distinguished himself as a journalist, an educator, a mentor, and a lecturer. [10] Following graduation, Mr. Lee worked as journalist for multiple U.S. newspapers and one of his most prominent accomplishments was the investigation of the wrongful conviction of Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee. Mr. Lee’s efforts supported a retrial which overturned the conviction too. Later, Mr. Lee founded the Koreatown Weekly (1979-1982) newspaper for Korean Americans. During the early 1990s, he established the English Edition to the Korea Times in Los Angeles which covered the April 29, 1992 Los Angeles riots. Mr. Lee was the founding president of Korean American Journalists Association and he has been an editorial board member of Color Lines Magazine too. In retirement, Mr. Lee has been a journalism lecturer at multiple University of California campuses and an advocate for Korean American communities. In 2003, Mr. Lee established the KW Center for Leadership in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles to support future leaders.

Researchers interested in Mr. Lee’s early career should be sure to see his many publications in the Daily Illini and The Korea Messenger. Mr. Lee self-produced The Korea Messenger while he was an undergraduate at West Virginia University (includes Volume 1, 1952) and a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (includes Volumes 2 and 3, 1953-55), which are available at Stanford University Libraries. Of course, interested researchers should visit the University Archives which holds his M.S. thesis about the history of Korean journalism prior to 1919 too.

Chung Sul Youn

Ms. Chung Sul Youn, (B.S. Chemical Engineering, 1955), holds the unique honors of being the second woman to complete a chemical engineering degree at the University of Illinois and the first Korean woman to do so at Illinois too. At her graduation, while standing with her mother and University President Lloyd Morey, Ms. Youn received a gift from the First Lady of South Korea hand-delivered by Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph R. Smiley. In 2016, a biography about Mrs. Chung Sul Youn Kim was published with the title Can Do!.

Korean Student Aid Committee

In 1954, under former College of Education Dean (1931-45) and Education Professor (1931-62) Dr. Thomas Benner, (Record Series 10/1/21) the Korean Student Aid Committee was formed to coordinate and to fund raise tuition scholarships for Korean Illini. The organization hosted multiple dances, social events, and a guest lecture by Preston Bradley on campus. In fact, Professor Benner’s connections with Korea preceded these events, as he had recently served as a UNESCO educational consultant in Korea for the years 1950 to 1952 too.

Other organizations arranged local fundraising events for Korean students too. [11] The Wesley Foundation Wesley Players organized a 40-student member variety show. The Hillel Foundation hosted a film screening of “Almanac of Liberty” with a discussion led by Political Science Assistant Professor Richard Baird. The Seabury Foundation sponsored a film screening of “Children of of the A-Bomb”. All film screenings included donation collections from attendees.

The Oh Family

Among the Korean Student Aid Committee members was Duck Choo Oh (B.A., Sociology, 1956), who holds the unique honor of being the first Korean homecoming queen at the University of Illinois. [12] Ms. Oh, her brother Jae Keun (B.S. Political Science, 1956), and her cousin Yung Ja Paik all completed their studies at the University within one year of each other too.

The Oh family was prominent in Korea. While working for UNESCO, Education Professor Dr. Benner met their father, a former president of the Korea Trust Bank and a former member of the Korean National Assembly, the Daily Illini reported. [13] In fact, both men’s friendship was so strong that for the 1953 Dad’s Day, Professor Benner attended Ms. Oh’s sorority house banquet in place of her father who could not attend. [14]

Korean Orphan Clothing Donations

Illini support for Koreans did not end with the 1950s. In 1959, some sororities and other women’s organizations began organizing fundraising for Korean orphans. The Alpha Epsilon Pi sorority wrote weekly letters and sent food and clothing to one boy. [15] The women residents of Allen Hall North did the same for one girl too. [16] The Delta Sigma Phi fraternity collected 10,000 pounds of items and received a special thank-you acknowledgment from the U.S. Army and Ralph Duggan (Special Assistant to late President John F. Kennedy) the 1959 Illio reported. [17] The Kappa Delta sorority participated too. [18] From 1961 until 1967, annual Korean Orphan Clothing Drive fundraising dances were organized by multiple fraternal organizations By 1965, even the greater Champaign County was involved in donating to Korean orphans. Central Illinois Korean War veterans organized a clothing donation drive in Champaign County to send clothes to distribute to Korean orphans, the Daily Illini reported. [19]

Local Koreans

While many early Korean Illini were born in Korea, over time, the children of Korean immigrants would attend the University too. In some cases, Korean immigrants themselves came to the United States to raise their children here and some of those children became Korean Illini too. In 1975, a local Korean mom, Ok Lyun Lee was selected as Queen Mom for Mom’s Day weekend. Ms. Lee was a widow who ran a local grocery store and supported her three children to attend the University.

For almost one century, Korean students have been attending the University of Illinois. Some students returned to Korea. Some students remained in the United States. Some students were born in Korea. Some students were not. Regardless of who they were or where they go, they are all Korean Illini who’ve contributed to the development of community on campus and beyond.

Are you an Korean Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!


[1] Some of Dr. Null’s 1903-1907 Korean experiences can be read in early missionary publications like “The Korean Ch’im or Needle” by Marion M. Null, M.D., The Assembly Herald, Volume 10, Number 11, 1904. Also see: Alumni Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 1, January 1907, page 47.

[2] For more general information, please see: “Marion Michael Null”, Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, page 133.

[3] “Ralph Garfield Mills”, Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, page 185.

[4]”Anna Riehl”, Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, page 211; “James Arthur Thompson”, Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, page 233; and “Varsity Given a Rest from Practice Grind,” The Daily Illini, October 12, 1907, page 7.

[5] “Ethel Nichols Taylor”, Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, page 363.

[6] Professor Drucker took an administrative position at Washington State University. In their University Archives, researchers can find Mr. Drucker’s collection of 120 photographs from Korea and Japan.

[7] “Foreign Students To Spend Holidays With Faculty, Townsmen and Memories“, The Daily Illini, December 23, 1922, page 6.

[8] “Foreign Students Revive Old Man Aesop’s Fables in Conversation Course“, The Daily Illini, October 10, 1922, page 1.

[9] Some Korean students have included: Korean Undergrad Student Association,1984-90; Undergrad Korean Student Association, 1985; Korean American Students Association, 1987-96; Korean Coalition for Communal Life, 1992; Korean Student Association in Civil Engineering, 2001; Korean Accounting Student Society; Korea Campus Crusade for Christ; Korean Cultural Center; and Korean Economics Students’ Organization. For more registration information, please see: “Student and Faculty Org. Constitutions & Registration Cards, 1909-2002”, Record Series 41/2/41.

[10] There are at least 10 Daily Illini articles about Kyung Won Lee. “Enthusiastic Korean Grad Student Handles 2 Full-Time Occupations”, Daily Illini, 14 January 1954. For a detailed biography, please see his website: “Who is K.W. Lee?”,  K.W. Lee Center for Leadership Los Angeles, CA, (

[11] There are at least 7 Daily Illini articles about the Korean Student Aid Committee. “Korean Aid Group to Sponsor Night”, Daily Illini, 13 January 1955. “Student’ s Original Skit to Highlight Wesley Foundation’ s Variety Show“, Daily Illini, May 6, 1955, page 6; “Hillel to Sponsor Douglas Book Film”, Daily Illini, January 7, 1956, page 1; “Foundation Notes”, Daily Illini, January 13, 1956, page 4.

[12] There are at least 21 Daily Illini articles about Duck Choo Oh. “Duck Choo Oh Named Queen”, Daily Illini, 27 October 1955.

[13] “Duck Choo Oh Comes to America to Receive Education” by Jane Pritchett, December 9, 1953, page 3. For a front page Daily Illini article with a portrait photograph, please see: “Duck Choo Oh Named Queen“, October 27, 1955, page 1.

[14] “Professor ‘Dad’ of Korean Girl“, The Daily Illini, October 31, 1953, page 3.

[15] “Alpha Epsilon Pi”, Illio, 1959, page 316.

[16] “Allen Hall North”, Illio, 1959, page 371.

[17] “Delta Sigma Phi”, Illio, 1966, page 466. They more than doubled their donation at 25,000 pounds and $1500 for 1967. “Delta Sigma Phi”, Illio, 1967, page 482.

[18]”Kappa Delta”, Illio, 1967, page 365.

[19] “For Korean Orphans…To Begin Clothing Drive” by Judy Stewart, The Daily Illini, November 6, 1965, page 3.

[20] A Korean exchange student report about studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (In Korean). 교환학생/방문학생/SAP경험보고서. Yonsei University Office of International Affairs. Fall Semester 2003.

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