Mission life: THE KUKMIN DAILY

6 Months After Fire, Yonsei University’s “Underwood Memorial Hall” Still Neglected

2017-05-26 18:11

“Underwood Memorial Hall,” located on the campus of Yonsei University in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, is still in a state of neglect following a fire more than six months ago. When we remember the devotion of the family of missionary Horace G. Underwood (Korean name: Won Do-woo), who conveyed the light of the Gospel to this land, this is very shameful.

Underwood Memorial Hall has been closed since last November 24, when it caught fire due to an overheated boiler. But Yonsei University, which is responsible for its management, has so far done no repair work even though half a year has passed and the building has become a campus eyesore. The school has not clearly explained the reason for its neglect of this building which honors the spirit of its founder.

A visit to Underwood Memorial Hall on May 23 showed the urgent need for overall repairs (photos). Aside from the yellow police line, everything was still in the same condition as when the fire had just been put out. Visible here and there in the hall were various exhibition items, still awaiting removal. They put to shame the statement of the school immediately after the fire, that “we removed all the relics from the first-floor exhibition room.”

At the beginning of this month when Kukmin Daily was starting to gather materials, a source related to the university construction team said, “The insurance settlement has been completed and construction bidding is finished,” but this was not true. Up until that time, the university had not proceeded with construction bids for repairs.

When we resumed our newsgathering on May 16, we were told by Kim Chang-seok, chief of the planning team at Yonsei University, “Within three months, plans will be established for repairs, not just of Underwood Memorial Hall but also of the surrounding landscape and the area used by the Underwoods as a parking lot; then the construction company will be selected, and within this year the restoration will be completed. This is Yonsei University’s official position.” As to the reason for such late action, however, he could not provide a clear answer.

Won Han-seok, a fourth-generation Underwood serving on the board of the Yonsei Education Foundation, commented circumspectly, “Because we donated this house to the university, it is not proper for us to demand anything.” But his regret over the school’s lukewarm attitude could be detected in his words, “Too much time has gone by since the fire.”

Underwood Memorial Hall was built in 1927 by Dr. Horace Underwood II (Korean name: Won Han-kyung; third principal of Yonhi College), son of the founder of Yonhi College (the predecessor of Yonsei University). Set on a hill in the neighborhood of the school, it was the home of the Underwood family for nearly 50 years. Within it also dwells the pain of the March 17, 1949 incident, when Dr. Won Han-kyung’s wife Ethel (Van Wagoner) was shot and killed just outside her home by armed Namnodang members.

In transferring ownership of the house to Yonsei University in 1974, the Underwood family presented just one condition: that it be used as a space to memorialize the Yonsei founder. Following that, the house was used in various ways, including as a dormitory for exchange students and as a research center for professors; then in 2003 it opened as Underwood Memorial Hall.

Article and photos by reporter Jang Chang-Il (jangci@kmib.co.kr), with Marion Kim (marionkkim@icloud.com)

Original Article in Korean:
화재 후 6개월… 방치된 연세대 ‘언더우드 기념관’: 작년 11월 보일러실 과열로 화재… 진화 직후 상태대로 현재까지 폐쇄 중

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