Hyun Sook Han, affectionately known as Mrs. Han, passed away peacefully on November 5, 2021.
“Mrs. Han will be remembered for the impact she made to so many thousands of families and our Minnesota community. Her passion for helping children born in Korea find forever families included ensuring those children, families, and communities knew their Korean heritage. Her legacy includes a forever changed face of Minnesota,” says Lance Novak, Board Chair, Children’s Home Society of Minnesota.
Mrs. Han was born in Korea during the Japanese occupation and was a child during the Korean War. Her family fled Seoul on foot, an experience that stuck with her throughout her life. As she fled her home, she passed thousands of abandoned children, making a promise to come back to them as soon as she could. She knew she would find a way to help.
Steadfast in that commitment, she resisted family pressure to become a lawyer or politician and instead began a lifelong career in Social Work. Mrs. Han earned her degree from Ewha Women’s University. After pioneering domestic adoption and birth mother counseling in Korea, her journey would eventually land her at the forefront of international adoptions in the U.S.
Mrs. Han accepted the job of social worker at Children’s Home in 1975, which required her family to sell their house and land in Korea and move to America. Over the course of several decades, Mrs. Han poured herself into her work. She connected with Korean officials, advocated for adoption, prepared anxious families, and oversaw child placements. But her dedication didn’t end when the adoption process was complete.
Mrs. Han helped open new programming for teens. She supported families and children who were struggling. She championed Korean culture. Before there were many Korean restaurants in the area, she would cook traditional food for children who missed the tastes of their homeland. She created cultural learning opportunities such as Korean Day and the Korean Benefit Dinner, which became beloved traditions.
She listened to adoptees as they grew, and invested countless hours facilitating connections to foster and birth families in Korea. She not only translated but empathized — and was often moved to tears. Mrs. Han remained a strong advocate for adoption throughout her life.
Heidi Wiste, President of Children’s Home is one of the many people touched by Mrs. Han’s work, saying “My life was changed because Mrs. Han cared deeply about children. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked at Children’s Home at the same time as the social worker who assisted my family through their adoption process. Mrs. Han’s dedication leaves a lasting impression as we honor her commitment to helping children join adoptive families.”
There were many awards and recognitions during her tenure, notably a 1987 award from the president of South Korea for her contributions to child welfare. In 1989, Minnesota’s governor issued a proclamation for Hyun Sook Han Day. In 1990, Children’s Home nominated Mrs. Han for the Child Welfare League of America’s Outstanding Social Worker award, which she excitedly accepted in Washington D.C. She returned several years later, in 2007, to accept the Congressional Angel in Adoption Award. After her retirement, Mrs. Han continued to share her experience and passion as a Children’s Home board member until 2011.
Mrs. Han was known for her strong will and determination. It seems an immeasurable task to sum up the impact her life had on others. It is best left up to the tenacious social worker herself, in her memoir, Many Lives Intertwined, Mrs. Han says, “One of my greatest blessings is that I have held and been close physically and spiritually to thousands of children. I have been there at the beginning, seen them grow into college graduates, become wives and husbands. I have counseled, laughed, and cried with them and their parents. I always believed I worked for the children and parents, and that was what I was best at.”