A Lifetime of Adopted Wonders

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A Lifetime of Adopted Wonders

"When loved, every child is beautiful," social worker Bertha Marian Holt wrote in her book,"The Seed From the East."

On September 21, Bertha Holt, honorary president of Holt International Children's Services, received the 36th Yongshin Service Award posthumously from the Korea Women's Association United (KWAU).

"As the first foreign woman to receive the service award, she was recognized for her great contributions to child care and the international adoption in Korea,"Han Seung-sook, a KWAU official said.

Born in 1904 in Des Moines, Iowa, Mrs.Holt studied nursing at the University of Iowa. She married Harry Holt in 1927 and together had six children.

It was in 1954 that the Holts showed a great interest in adopting Korean orphans, according to Susan Soon-keun, an official at Holt International Children's Services.

Shortly after the Korean War (1950-53), the Holt family saw a documentary about the miserable life of orphaned "Amerasian"children -- as they were called during the South Korean War. Months later they adopted eight children from Korea, to bring their total number of children to fourteen.

Soon-keun said that the U.S. Congress was impressed by their dedication to the care of abandoned orphans and passed the "Bill for Relief of Certain War Orphans,"allowing the Holts to bring them to the United States.

This event caught a nationwide attention allowing the Holts to establish the Holt Adoption Program (later the Holt International Children'Services) in Oregon in 1956.

When her husband Harry died of a heart attack in Oregon in 1964, Bertha Holt took over the leadership of Holt International Children's Services (HICS). For the last forty five years of her life, until her death at the age of 96, she devoted her entire time to child care.

"She broke down from a heart attack in the morning of July 24 while jogging near her house and died seven days later," said Lee Hyun-ju, a public information officer of HICS. "Despite having difficulties even in tying her shoes because of her age, she never skipped her daily jogging."

Known as a "woman of faith and sacrifice," Bertha Holt's most important accomplishment was becoming a "grandma" to more than 200,000 children adopted internationally, Soon-keun said.

She sometimes had to give up her own individual needs for the orphans, even missing the funeral ceremony of her first daughter, Wanda (34), who died from an unidentified form of suffocation at her house, in Oregon in 1961.

Won Kyeong-sun, initially a co-manager of HICS said, "When she got the news of her daughter's sudden death, she was distributing some snacks to the orphan kids here. However, she made up her mind to stay here for them."

For her significant contribution to international child care and adoption, she received fifty honors and awards, including the Women of the World Award (1966), the International Mother of the Twentieth Century award (2000) and the Korea National Merit Award (1995), according to the reports by HICS.

As an author, she inspired the world to pay more attention to orphans and adopted children. Her passion for them comes through in her four books: The Seed From the East, Outstretched Arms, Created For God's Glory and Bring My Sons From Afar.

"I was very much motivated by her constant love for the children with difficulties, strong faith for God and deep conviction and responsibility for her work," Hillary Clinton said in response to news of Holt's death, according to the HICS headquarters in Oregon.

Bertha Marian Holt took her final resting place beside her husband, Harry Holt, in Ilsan Town, north of Seoul.

by Kim Jae-seon

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