Distinguished and beloved music educator passed away
US EIGHTH ARMY GARRISON YONGSAN, South Korea — Distinguished and beloved music educator Irene Lee, passed away Thursday following a courageous battle with a serious medical condition. Lee retired in June from Seoul American High School after a 41 year teaching career highlighted by her selection as the 2005 DoDEA Teacher of the Year.
Renowned for her commitment to outstanding music education, Lee enjoyed a special connection with students and colleagues alike. The De Smet, S.D. native was also well known in the local Korean community for her celebrated work with the Korean American Youth Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra provided performance opportunities for Seoul American HS students while helping them gain an appreciation for Korean musical traditions.
In reflecting on her selection as the 2005 DoDEA Teacher of the Year, Lee said she believed that her role as a music educator was “to teach student musicians, using standards-based lessons, the skills necessary to discover the power of self-expression through music." Lee commended her music students for "not accepting average as their high water mark" and upholding the Seoul American HS motto, "Striving for Excellence in Music Performance."
In a phone interview, Kubasaki High School Teacher Mark Hannold said Lee was compassionate and perfectly suited for her calling as a music teacher. Hannold said she possessed an uncanny ability to build close relationships with students almost instantly.
“Irene seemed to know every single student, their families, and what they were going through. She genuinely cared for them,” said Hannold, who started working with Irene in 1982 in South Korea. “That takes great emotional capacity. Everybody was family to her, and she inspired trust,” added Hannold, whose position as the music teacher at Seoul American HS was filled by Lee when he moved to Okinawa, Japan.
Sentiments posted to social media sites throughout the day brought fond memories to light as the sad news reached current and former students, colleagues, alumni and friends from all over the world.
Kadena High School Band Director Melinda Fleming wrote that Lee was a mentor, confidant and friend, “Lee took me under her wing and made my transition to living overseas smooth and easy … she taught me so much about being a wonderful teacher and musician.”
Several of her former students commented on how not only their music, but lives were positively influenced by Lee, “[she was] a huge part of shaping my teenage years,” wrote Shasta Underwood. “Ms. Lee taught me a love of music, a confidence in myself, and that there is always room to love more. More than a simple band director, she taught us to be better human beings.”
Lee is survived by her husband Suk Jo and their son Daniel. No information on memorial arrangements was available at press time.
The following YouTube video features Irene Lee conducting the Seoul American HS Strings Ensemble during their 2013 Spring concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXNz-3qQcIQ