Dr. Stella Xu, President Michael Maxey, Consul General Seijoong Kwon, Consul Bong Joo Kim and Seung Pil Shin, administrative staff. Courtesy of Roanoke College.

A delegation from the Embassy of Korea in Washington, D.C. visited Roanoke College on Wednesday. The three-person group came to Roanoke College to learn more about the college’s connection to Kim Kyusik, an important historical figure in the development of an independent Korea and one of Roanoke College’s most influential graduates.

The visit comes more than 100 years after Roanoke College was honored with a visit from representatives of the Republic of Korea.

The group met with Roanoke College President Michael Maxey and Dr. Stella Xu, John R. Turbyfill Professor of History at the College. The delegation included the Consul General Seijoong Kwon, Consul Bon Joo Kim, and staff member Seung Pil Shin. At the College’s Fintel Library, the group viewed photos of Kim and yearbooks from his time at Roanoke. They also visited the Kim Kyusik Virginia Historic Marker and met with Salem’s Vice Mayor Jim Wallace.  

Kim was recognized recently by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) with a historic roadside marker. The Kim Kyusik marker, located on the Roanoke College campus on Maxey Way (formerly High Street), was dedicated and unveiled in March. 

Kim Kyusik (1881-1950) was born in Korea and graduated from Roanoke College in 1903. Kim became an orphan as a young child and was adopted by Dr. Horace Underwood, a Presbyterian missionary. It was through Underwood that Kim came to Roanoke College, a Lutheran-related institution. 

“There’s no exaggeration, this is probably the Roanoke graduate who’s had a greater influence on world affairs than any Roanoke graduate,” President Maxey said at the marker dedication. 

Kim served the Provisional Korean Government based in China as secretary of foreign affairs, and later as minister of education and vice president. He advocated Korean independence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, promoted the Korean cause in the United States as chair of the Korean Commission, and helped organize the Korean National Revolutionary Party in China. After World War II, Kim opposed the permanent partition of Korea into North and South. He was kidnapped by the North Korean army during the Korean War and died in captivity.

Xu uncovered a news article from 1892 about another visit by the Korean embassy in 1892. Dr. Julius Dreher, third president of Roanoke College, hosted the first Korean diplomat, Ye Cha Yun, and his wife in Salem in July 1892. The article said the couple stayed in Salem for a week and visited Natural Bridge and Luray Caverns as they traveled. Representatives of Korea also visited Roanoke College for the semi-centennial in 1903. 

Kim was nominated for the historical marker by students from Cumberland Middle School, in Cumberland County, as part of a contest sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Office of the Governor to nominate Asian American Pacific Islanders for historic markers. The students and their teacher, history teacher Lewis Longenecker, attended the marker dedication in April.  (For background on why so many historical markers have been proposed by Cumberland County, see this previous story.)