Korea 65 Legacy Washington Exhibit Has Centralia Connection


Born in South Korea, Cindy Ryu graduated from Centralia High School and went on to serve in the state Legislature representing Shoreline. 

She shared her family’s story as part of the Legacy Washington Korea 65 exhibit, which is currently on display in the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia. Remembering the Korean War, which ended 65 years ago, is the eighth exhibit as part of the Secretary of State’s historical project.

Ryu told The Chronicle exhibits such as this help her understand herself as a Korean and as an American. Her hope is teachers will use the materials provided through the exhibit to teach students about the impacts the Korean War had on the people of the country and the complexities it created.

“It is much more relevant now than it was two years ago,” Ryu said. 

Korea 65 tells the story of the Korean War from several different perspectives, including Americans who fought, a nurse stationed at a MASH unit and the Korean people. As part of the exhibit, profiles were written about the people to tell their stories. Ryu’s was written by Legacy Washington’s Lori Larson.  

Ryu, whose family name is Kim, was 12 years old when her family moved from Korea to the United States. They touched down in Seattle on Christmas Eve in 1969. 

There they were greeted by the Johnsons, who lived in Gate northwest of Rochester. The Kims lived with the Johnsons for six weeks until they managed to rent a house in the Rochester area, said Brian Zylstra, a communication specialist for the Secretary of State, in an article for the Secretary of State blog.

The Kims lived in the Rochester area until 1973 when they bought a home in Centralia. Ryu started her sophomore year of high school in Centralia. 

“It was a culture shock,” she said about the move. “It was huge, so many kids.” 

In 1976, Ryu was the first of three to graduate from Centralia High School. She earned Top 10 honors and was voted “girl most likely to succeed.” Her oldest brother had graduated from Rochester High School a few years before the move. 

“I think we had the benefit of small town Americana and full immersion,” Ryu told The Chronicle. 

While in high school, Ryu was shy and did not talk a lot. Regardless, she was active in several clubs and was frequently invited to friends’ houses after school.

The Kims became American citizens in 1975. Shortly after that, Ryu changed her name from her Korean name, Kim Sin Hi, to Cindy because it sounded like her two given names. In Korean culture, the family name is followed by the given names.  

She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in microbiology and then a master’s degree in business administration. 

She met and married fellow Korean-American Cody Ryu in the early 1980s. They owned an insurance agency in Shoreline until they sold it to retire. 

Now retired from the insurance agency, Ryu and her husband look for ways to serve the community. She went into government. He is a pastor. 

During the trip from Korea in 1969, the Kims had little money and their parents had to scrape by to make sure the kids were fed. 

“By the grace of God we could have been like many homeless families,” Ryu said. 

Jean Kim, Ryu’s mother, was born in P΄yŏngan-namdo, the province of North Korea’s current capital, Pyongyang. Ryu’s father was born on his family's orchard just north of the 38th parallel.  

Both her parents came from established families that lost their land when the communists took power. Her parents only had what they could carry on their backs, but in America, but their children all graduated from college and own their own homes. Her family has come full circle, she said.