After decades in South Korea, Moon and Suzy Lee created a new life in Florida and later another one in Summerfield

BARBARA SHERMAN - Suzy and Moon Lee stand on the stairs in their Summerfield home with family photos, including their two sons' weddings and grandchildren, on the wall behind them.Moon and Suzy Lee are an engaging couple who live in Summerfield, where he plays golf and she is known for her beautiful paintings. The Lees have made many contributions to their adopted country of the United States, and they feel gratitude for the blessings they have received in return. "We are blessed and proud to be American citizens," Moon said.

Moon and Suzy were born in South Korea, and their early lives were shaped by the Korean War.

Moon was born in 1933, the son of a civil engineer. He entered the South Korean Naval Academy in 1952 during the Korean War. Moon was in the first class to graduate from a four-year program at the South Korean Naval Academy "which was directly imported from Annapolis (United States Naval Academy)," he said.

Moon added, "Our Korean Marine Corps was born in 1949 right before the Korean War broke out. Very limited officers were trained in America at early stage of KMC history."

While in the academy, Moon participated as a midshipman aboard a Korean battleship under the command of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which patrolled and blockaded the northeast coast of North Korea.

A brief history: Japan ruled the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when Japan liberated North Korea north of the 38th parallel, and U.S. troops moved into the south. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were already entrenched in the Cold War, and in 1948 they agreed to divide Korea into two parts with each having its own government. Each government considered itself legitimate and did not recognize the border as permanent.

The war, which started June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops moved into South Korea, is considered to have ended July 27, 1953, although North and South Korea are still technically at war. United Nations forces were sent to the area after the North Korean invasion, with 21 countries eventually sending troops, although the United States provided nearly 90 percent of the total.

After back-and-forth fighting, with Seoul changing hands four times, the two sides signed an armistice that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone between the two countries, but a peace treaty has never been signed.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1956, Moon transferred to the Korean Marine Corps and pursued his studies at the U.S. Marine Corps officers' school in Quantico, Va.

"We learned English at school but not 'American' – the way Americans talk," Moon said. "Some of the classes had as many as 250 officers and students. There were only five of us from Korea. When the teacher would tell a joke, everyone else laughed, but we didn't get it. So we just decided to laugh when everyone else did."

Moon also completed the U.S. Marine Corps amphibious school and U.S. Navy instructors' school in San Diego, Calif., in 1963.

In between his military training, "I majored in political science at Kook Min University in Seoul, graduating in 1961 with a B.A. degree," Moon said. "My role in the Corps was very important and kept me busy when I was a junior officer. My job assignments included being an instructor at the Marine Corps junior and senior schools for officer students from captain up to colonel from 1957 through 1959, and working at the Marine Corps headquarters as a mid- and long-range planning officer to develop KMC. And I also worked as an adjutant to the chief of Korean Naval Operations."

Meanwhile, Suzy was born and raised in Seoul, where her father was a medical doctor, and the family had many friends who were famous artists, so she was exposed early to the worlds of both medicine and art. Suzy graduated from Ewha Women's University in 1960, majoring in pharmacy.

"Before owning a pharmacy for five years, I worked in a hospital for a while," Suzy said.

Moon explained, "During my tour of service in the KMC, the most blessed thing to happen to me was to find my lovely wife Suzy when I was working in the Navy headquarters in Seoul. I met her when I made a visit to my friend in the summer of 1959 in Seoul. Immediately I fell in love with her, and we got married in 1961 after two years of love affairs. Thank you millions to God. She is the best gift God gave to me in my life."

COURTESY OF MOON AND SUZY LEE - In Korea, couples often have both 'Western' and 'traditional' weddings, which Moon and Suzy Lee did in 1961 after meeting two years earlier in Seoul. Here they celebrate their Western wedding.During the Vietnam War, Moon was stationed in the Saigon Korean Embassy from 1968 to 1970, representing the Korean Armed Forces as assistant defense attaché.

He worked for the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo through 1971 and was elected president of the Assistant Defense Attaché Corp, which was one of the diplomatic military organizations in Japan.

Moon retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Korean Marine Corps after spending a total of 16 years in the military.

"When we were in Tokyo, I started thinking about making a career change," Moon said. "I talked to my wife about the best way to restart my life, and we decided the best way was to go to a civilized country like America."

The Lee family, which by then included two young sons, Ken and Juwan, immigrated to the U.S. in 1972.

Suzy had a brother in Baltimore who invited them to move there, but they didn't like the northern climate and instead chose Orlando, Fla., as their new home.

"We found moving to another country to find a different line of work very difficult," Suzy said. "It was a big change in our careers as well as our lifestyle.

"I couldn't go back into pharmacy because New York State was the only state open to foreigners for the examination to become a licensed pharmacist at the time we moved to the U.S. Restrictions in Florida law prevented me from taking the state boards in pharmacy."

In 1977 Moon and Suzy purchased the Sea Horse Arts & Crafts Store, which had originally opened in 1946. "We loved doing that," said Moon, and Suzy added, "After working very hard, we opened a second store on the north side of Orlando about one year later, and my involvement in art really began there."

Suzy, who had a background in art, began taking art classes, starting with an oil painting class in 1978.

COURTESY OF MOON AND SUZY LEE - Moon and Suzy Lee celebrated a traditional Korean wedding in 1961, when she dressed in a traditional Korean costume and he wore his military uniform."I completed three paintings for display in our store," she said. "I then offered classes, which filled up so fast that I was only two paintings ahead of my students. Because of two stores, I could not attend as many seminars as I would like to. My weekends were busy with studies and paintings to keep ahead of my students."

Before Suzy knew it, she had a new career as an artist and teacher. She was the first Asian artist to be selected as a teacher at the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters Convention in San Francisco in 1982.

"I was very nervous with the language barrier and my accent," said Suzy, but the reviews were so favorable that she continued teaching for the Society for the next 13 years.

Suzy appeared on local PBC and cable TV shows and on "CBS Midday" to demonstrate water color and oriental paintings. She also served as a judge at various art shows, wrote articles and published several books on painting.

In 1984, Florida laws changed to allow foreigners to take the state pharmacy boards. "My son Juwan offered to help me study for these boards, but I (was) happy with my love for art," Suzy said. "I would rather be an artist than a pharmacist."

But tragedy struck in 1985 when the Lees' main store, which was a local landmark, was gutted by fire and declared a total loss.

"Never to be forgotten were the customers and students who made many phone calls, sent cards, offered their help, assisted us to dig in the ruins and clean the merchandise that was salvageable," Suzy said. "I was touched by their hospitality. With their support and encouragement, we went into the new store and began expanding...

"By that time we had closed the northern store. Still, with their unending help, they packed up, cleaned, painted the shelves and moved into the new store that was approximately 5,000 square feet. I felt truly blessed... "

During this time Suzy also volunteered at an alcohol rehabilitation facility and taught art therapy.

The Lees owned and managed the Sea Horse Arts & Crafts Store until selling it in 1996. Also in the late 1990s, Moon was a member of the city of Orlando's Asian Advisory Committee, and he was an instructor in the subject of modern Korea at the University of Central Florida.

In 2003 Moon sold the property, and they moved to Summerfield because one of their sons lives in the Portland area where he is a dermatologist with a wife and two children; their other son lives in Hong Kong, where he works in the financial field and lives with his wife and child.

In Summerfield, Suzy presented watercolor classes for several years at the Summerfield Clubhouse.

"Looking back at my life, I first of all appreciate Suzy, my lovely wife, for her love and the sacrifices she made as a mother and wife," Moon said. "Also, I now have deepest respect for my mother in heaven. She was such a remarkable woman. My dad passed away at an early age, and she sacrificed a lot for my brother and me. She and my wife made our family what we are today, and I appreciate it so much.

"God bless America, the country of our choice, and God bless Korea, our Fatherland." 

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