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Contributor: Yongsan Legacy Team

A True Story of Mrs. James Simmerman and The Chosun Gift Shop. Early in 1966, the ladies of the OWC (officers wives club) started work…

Topic: community, cultural exchange, People, shopping, Yongsan Legacy
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A True Story of Mrs. James Simmerman and The Chosun Gift Shop.

Early in 1966, the ladies of the OWC (officers wives club) started work on their dream, a gift shop here in Korea, to bring local Korean handicrafts and gift items from other places in the Orient to the American community stationed in Korea.

The drive was spearheaded by Mrs. L.W. Schlanser, wife of the Chief of Staff, Eighth US Army. The ladies researched their project as to transportation, customs, location and official regulations.

OWC members visiting a hospital in Korea

In March 1966, Mrs. James Simmerman, President of the OWC, submitted a formal application to General Schlanser who approved the project in principle. Official recommendations were to start a “Charity Bazaar” for six months from July until Christmas on a trial basis.

Some Okinawan glassware and $500 served as the initial investment. Handicrafts from the Paraplegic Village and the Vocational school for Girls, Young Chin, were added to serve a dual purpose to introduce Korean handicrafts to the American shoppers and to help these institutions with the extra income.

The project was an instant success. On Saturday, September 16, 1967, the Chosun Gift Shop held its grand opening in building 3599, a Quonset hut across from the high school on South Post Yongsan. In addition to operating the shop in Seoul and its branch in Taegu, the ladies loaded their merchandise into trucks and periodically visited remote sites to enable the soldiers stationed there to do their shopping.

The profits generated were partially invested to generate more money. This way the OWC, later AFSC cold guarantee certain amount of money for their yearly grants for educations as well as support to organisations in need by providing equipment, material, clothing, food, cleaning products.

Their welfare program did not stop here. Every month they were visiting hospitals, elderly homes, orphanages or homes of unprivileged people.

For the last 30 years Haing Jah Choi was the driving factor.

Mrs. Choi (after receiving her appreciation gift) and MariLu Shore (last president of AFSC) on the closing ceremony May2018

The Chosun Gift Shop operated with the approval of the command. The Board of Directors must meet the guidelines of the Gift Shop, Army Regulations and polices pertaining to private
organizations. The shop employees three Korean men, two of whom were with the ship from its humble beginnings. The Chosun paid its own way including utilities, all transportation of
merchandise from other countries and the delivery of goods from ports in Korea.

On April 10, 1997, the Chosun Gift Shop burned with tremendous loss of inventory. With thanks to many benefactors and innumerable volunteer hours, the Chosun Gift Shop reopened in a temporary location several weeks later. During this initial reopening a salvage operation and inventory was conducted. The Chosun was again relocated to another temporary location and finally opened its doors to a newly built permanent location on May 26, 1998. The store was rebuilt with donations and its own money. The building was then given as a gift to the Army. The new store sat at the site of the burned store.

The Chosun Gift Shop was entirely operated by volunteers who were members of the Chosun Gift Shop Association. The operation was conducted by a board of nineteen members who select and stock items from Japan, China, Thailand and the Philippines to be carried in nine departments. At that point they  no longer stocked Korean made items.

The profits from the shop were returned to the Seoul American Officers’ , Civilians’ and Spouses’ Club for distribution to American and Korean Projects throughout the country.

AFSC giving a present to Mr Chung from Oriental Press as a sign of appreciation for his constant support.

This year in May 2018 the AFSC terminated its Yongsan Chapter. On the closure day all the remaining money from the organisation was given back to the community during the closure ceremony at the DHL.

The AFSC’s mission is : to enhance the lives of and provide support for spouses and families stationed at USAG Yongsan and nearby locations through planned activities to help build friendships, and to provide support through charitable giving to our American and Korean communities throughout the peninsula.

Closing ceremony at DHL May 2018

More than just a spouses’ club – we are a support network of friends! The American Forces’ Spouses’ Club (AFSC) is a community-focused military spouses’ organization that operates at United States Army Garrison (USAG) Yongsan, South Korea.
We are Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine spouses, both active duty and retired. We are Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees and spouses; Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) teachers and their spouses; directors and spouses for the American Red Cross, United Service Organizations (USO), and Special Services; adult family members of US  department of State and US Diplomatic Mission personnel; and United Nations Command Officers’ spouses.