Patsy Surh O’Connell

“In Korea we have a saying that when tigers die at least they leave their skins. As a human being, especially from Korea, it’s important to make a difference.”


Patsy before her departure for America. Surh O’Connell collection

Top left: Patsy and her big brother, Ronny, before the Korean War erupted. Communist soldiers seized their house, and their father barely escaped death more than once. Surh O’Connell collection

Top right: Patsy, second from left, at a traditional Korean tea ceremony. Surh O’Connell collection

Bottom left: Patsy’s grandfather, Surh Byung Kyu, around 1898 when he graduated from Roanoke College in Virginia. Surh O’Connell collection

Bottom right: Patsy and Wally on their wedding day in 1965. Surh O’Connell collection

Memories of the Korean War are palpable for Patsy Surh O’Connell. Seven-year-old Patsy and her big brother climbed onto the roof every time they heard approaching bombers. “B-29! B-29!” they’d shout. “Americans are here!” In the sky above at least. The communists were literally downstairs.

The North Koreans appropriated her family’s house as a command post when they captured Seoul.

Patsy is steeped in two cultures. Nearly 120 years ago, her grandfather was the second Korean to graduate from an American college.

In 1996, Patsy founded the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma. It partners with schools, the military, government, business and industry to showcase the heritage of 47 counties whose immigrants have created a mosaic of cultural diversity in Washington State. Fundraising is now under way for a landmark new center.