My name is Don Gordon BELL and I am one of the earliest of the first generation of KAD's (Korean ADoptees). The Korean War had been settled by Armistice three years before I left war-torn Seoul, Korea, on May 21, 1956. It was the first plane of twelve 'war babies' processed thru the Harry Holt Adoption Program. Read more of MY STORY on My Pages.
I grew up in a typical middle-class family of English-Scottish roots in greater Los Angeles, Ca, USA. Memories faded, Korean language was 'lost' and I did not know anything about the country of my birth until I met Korean Marines in Vietnam while serving with the US Marines. It was my first exposure to real Korean people. I was not completely aware of how prejudiced most Koreans thought towards a Half-Breed like me. I learned what "Tuigi" meant, a Korean word for a "Child of a Foreign devil". Oh, wonderful.

All my life I always had to answer the question: "What ARE you?" and I simply would tell 'my story'. It was not a big deal for me, for my Adoptive Parents had taught me that being an American meant that WE were from many countries. I never 'wished to be White' and just learned to stand up for my own identity. MY Identity was as an American, with mixed heritage. I did not know what being "Korean" meant but often wondered about my roots, and what my birth father's ethnicity. Mexican, Native Americans, and Spanish people would tell me that I had their 'genes' for sure. Little did I know they were right!

After college, I traveled to Manila and for ten years I lived in the Philippines. I was excepted as a 'mestizo' and fit into the former Spanish colony. I was a B-movie Character Actor,
working on international and local films, enjoying a 'crazy and wild' abandonment. Then a life changing experience gave me faith in a personal Higher Being. After walking away from the film business, I lived back in the USA, not sure of my direction in life finding work in construction, finish carpentry, door hanging, and many other jobs I'd like to forget.

In 1991, at 38, I attended a Holt Heritage Camp that was a great experience and really began my own journey of Adoption Identity search. I had never thought much of my Korean culture, though I always felt proud of being "HALF-Korean" and "half-Something".

In 1994 I came back to Seoul, Korea, with my church Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and was invited to stay with a church in East Seoul, for one year. I have lived here since late 1995- re-discovering my "Korean-ness", teaching English and telling my Adoption Story to thousands of Korean students of all ages, helping their understanding of Korean Adoptees. It is one of the issues that Korea is now facing, even for its own secretly adopted children, those who were adopted IN-Country by Koreans who desired a family but due to problems with Infertility secretly adopt.

I was a charter member in 1997 (first dozen members) of GOA'L (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, founded by Ami Nafzger) and continue to be involved with the complex issues of This Thing of Ours-Adoption. Thousands of KADs have visited Korea over the years, searching for their culture and Some search for birth family. Seventy-five thousand have come, yet only 2,400 plus have found Reunion with Birth family, often with varying results. There are many complexities, many don't want to search concerned about offending their Adoptive Families. Each KAD must decide what they want to do, when to do it, etc.

At 61, I am still 'working thru' my Adoption Identity. Each of YOU need to 'work through' your own understanding and hopefully find forgiveness and healing. Read many different accounts and compare before coming to conclusions. I hope that you will learn what IS happening NOW, in the land of your birth, the Rep. of Korea (South Korea). (See Report Links).

Times are changing, the reasons for 'relinquishment for adoption' have shifted, but there continues to be a need for a multi-tiered approach and understanding of Adoption issues. Slowly, attitudes of Korean society ARE changing for the better. But, the majority continue to feel embarrassment and shame. Thus, Adoption is still shrouded in secrecy even for those who are adopted In-country. There ARE positive signs and movements of NGO's and KAD groups are advocating for the Unwed Mothers. However, two-thirds of pregnant women each year, continue to give up their babies for adoption. One out of four are sent overseas, YET three are secretly adopted in-country. The Myth that "Koreans don't adopt" is false, but they need to open up and hopefully change their shame to pride.

This blog is for EVERYONE, whether you are an Adoptee, Adoptive Family, Birth Family or involved in Adoption in ANY way as a professional, social worker, official, etc, from Korea or the world. We examine the complex issues and personal journeys that we, domestic and overseas adoptees, have to face and sort out in This Thing of Ours-Adoption. (Use the Ligit Search function (Left Column) to check for Posts on various topics, TransRacial, TranCultural, MultiCultural families, Domestic, Civil Code Law Adoptions, InterCountry Adoption, etc.)
I personally have come to a compromised, nuanced position on this thing of ours-adoption. I advocate a Multi-tiered Plan that tries to be balanced, realistic, fair to all.

UPDATE: Living in the Philippines since 2010, at first teaching students from several countries as an Online Tutor, based in Makati, Metro Manila. I was working on a Digital Library for Online Tutoring or ELearning; developing an agritourism farm; and Overseas Retirement Care for foreigners needing 24/7 health care.

Then some 18 months ago, in July of 2012 I met with Andrew Leavold, a crazy film obsessed Aussie who helped "pull me back into film making".

WHEW! Lot on my plate. I have also been learning much about the Filipino society's very different viewpoints on unwed motherhood and adoption.

Latest: As of Sept. 2012, I worked on an Indie Film, "Baybayin, the Palawan Script", directed by Auraeus Solito, and international award winning Filipino director. I had a role in the film and explored my hobby as a STILLS Photographer. Currently I have quit all teaching, co-writing on an international film that will be done in 3D and CGI effects. I am back in the film-making business and I love it.

Adoption Discourse needs to hear YOUR VOICE. Every opinion, even opposing viewpoints will be posted and interaction invited by email and Comments have been activated again with spam filters!)
. Welcome, come learn, and share your thoughts.

April 7, 2010

Legacy of Bertha “Grandma” Holt



The Grandma Who Changed The World

Rounding a turn on a country road a few miles from the little town of Creswell, OR, it’s easy to drive past the home of Bertha Holt. Just a simple farm house, rather old, very small—it’s hard to believe that a person who has changed the world lived there. Political leaders and royalty around the world have honored Bertha Holt and given her elegant gifts, but the gifts she wore daily were the multicolored bead rings made by grandchildren.

  Bertha Holt exemplified unpretentiousness and practicality, yet, in her unassuming way, she brought about profound change affecting millions of people. She never set out to change the world, but her example and simple convictions moved nations. Generations of adopted children represent the product of her simple act of obeying God’s leading in her life. To homeless children and adoptive families around the world she was simply “Grandma Holt.”

She was also known as the “jogging Grandma” for her running a mile gma-side-pic nearly every day. In 1996 she even set (and may still hold) the world record for the 400 meter run in her age category. She was on her daily exercise walk when she suffered a stroke on the morning of July 24.

She also was known for her practice of daily Bible reading and prayer. She maintained the daily discipline of reading through the Bible every year. In addition she prayed for a long list of children, family and organizational needs everyday.

Grandma was never daunted by projects of any size. Whether it was getting copies of photos to send to a family or getting legislation passed, she took them on one task at a time.

Bertha Holt’s History

Bertha Marian Holt was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 5, 1904, to Clifford and Eva Holt. She was the fourth of nine children in her family. Her father taught school and served as a postman. The family also operated their own market garden.

color-Grandma-runBertha graduated from East High School and the University of Iowa, both in Des Moines, completing a five-year course that combined liberal arts and nursing, with education as a minor.

On Dec. 31, 1927, she married Harry Holt, a wheat farmer from South Dakota.

Harry and Bertha started their married lives together near Firesteel, S.D., where they “custom farmed.” Not yet owning land, they farmed land owned by others for a portion of the crops he raised. The couple lived in a “cook shack,” a very small house on wheels.

Often working together, Bertha recalled tossing sacks of wheat onto a truck even when she was seven months pregnant. In a few years they purchased their own land, and Harry built a house where their first four children were born.

But conditions worsened. Drought, dust storms and grasshoppers destroyed most of the farmers’ crops. With the Great Depression, farms all around began to fail. Harry maintained the family’s livelihood by adding a flour mill to his equipment. With his tractor he also mined lignite coal that lay a few feet below the surface of the ground. Bertha also earned some extra money by serving as a midwife. During the birth of one of their children, she instructed Harry on how to serve as her midwife.

Eventually people couldn’t afford to buy Harry’s coal, so the Holts historical.sidedecided to start over in a new place. Harry had heard that Oregon’s Willamette River Valley had a mild climate and fertile soil and was surrounded by forested hills. In 1937 they let their house and farm go back to the state for taxes owed, packed up a car and shipped the rest of their belongings, including Harry’s tractor, by rail.

Relatives in the area helped the family as they took up residence near Creswell, Ore. Harry, who had never borrowed money and didn’t want to start, grudgingly borrowed $1,200 to buy a house. He worked hard and paid it back within a year.

Harry learned quickly, and using his tractor and castoff parts of old sawmills, he started his own lumber business. His trustworthy countenance and hardworking nature allowed him to harvest trees with only a promise to pay for them out of the sale of the lumber. His business prospered, and soon he owned a sawmill with 53 hired workers.

Bertha gave birth to two more children, making the Holts a family with six children—a son and five daughters. They built a new large house as Harry continued to prosper and expand his businesses into farming and commercial fishing. The latter enabled them to own a large boat in which they toured the inland passage to Alaska. The trips to Alaska remain some of the family’s fondest memories.

Holt_text But Harry’s determination and persistent hard work cost him dearly. In 1950 while considering the purchase of timber on a steep hillside, he was stricken with a severe heart attack. Harry and Bertha faced the reality that he would die.

As a nurse, Bertha understood Harry’s desperate condition. Alone one evening as she thought of the blood flowing through Harry’s arteries, she remembered the blood of Jesus Christ. The Son of God had died so that all who believe in Him could have everlasting life. Though they had grown up in the church, Harry and Bertha realized that they never truly had committed their lives to the Lord.

Together, the Holts sought a personal relationship with God. They also asked God to give them some work, some way of serving Him. A few years later they got an answer.

The Holts Adopt Eight Children From Korea

In December 1954 Harry and Bertha Holt saw a documentary film showing children in Korean orphanages following the Korean War. The Holts sent money to help clothe and feed them. But haunted by the children’s sad faces, Harry and Bertha came to an inspired realization:arrival.pic Those children needed families, and the Holts themselves could be the parents for some of those children.

Separately, they came to identical conclusions: they should adopt eight  of the Korean children. A friend did a little research to see how they could go about accomplishing the adoption. The answer: It was impossible… “unless you can get both Houses of Congress to agree and pass a law.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” said Bertha matter-of-factly. On faith, Harry left for Korea while Bertha stayed home with their six birth children. She took care of the farm, wrote letters to congressmen and rallied friends to help her campaign for a law allowing them adopt eight children. Congress passed the “Holt bill” in just two months.

In October 1955 Harry returned with their eight children.


The Holts’ adoption was revolutionary. Intercountry adoption had been done previously, but it was virtually unheard of at that time. The social work establishment of that time discouraged it. The common practice was to carefully match children by color and background which helped conceal the adoption.

In contrast, the Holts’ openness showed the world that adoption is not a95_GrandMa Holt_Ilsan badge of shame but a sign of honor and love. Their example proved that a family’s love can transcend the barriers of nationality and race, that love and commitment are the most important bonds in a family.

The Korean War Baby first visit in 1994.

The International Adoption Organization

While the Holts tried to settle in as a family, they could not forget the thousands of children who remained behind in orphanages. The Holts inspired large numbers of people across the nation, and many inquired as to how they, too, could adopt. Only five months after he brought their eight children home, Harry headed back to Korea and Bertha began work in the United States to help other children have families.

The Holt Agency began as a family project, financed almost entirely by the wealth Harry and Bertha had accrued through their lumber business. They developed principles of temporary child care that continue to be effective models today.

HoltHeritageCampStaff_90_Oregon Don Gordon Bell, (top row 6th from left) Counselors in Eugene, Oregon Heritage Camp 1990. Still got the t-shirt, bit tight though, LOL.

But in the midst of this work, Harry died in 1964. Many thought that without Harry the Holt agency simply should fold up.

But Grandma said, “This work was always God’s work. If He wants it to continue, it will.” It was a simple statement of her unshakable faith in God which was a vital part of Holt International’s continuation.HoltMuseum2_95_PastorKim'sWife_Kathy_GrandmaHolt When she arrived at the Ilsan Center for Harry’s burial, her strength and faith lifted everyone around her. The staff and children turned to Grandma for the courage to go ahead.

Today Holt International Children’s Services and a network of “partner agencies” continue the Holts work in many countries. The Holt organization has grown into a world renowned agency, having served children and families in many countries including: Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, United States and Vietnam. Today Holt serves children in 12 of these countries.


All children are beautiful when they’re loved,” said Bertha.

allen-image3She and husband Harry built the Holt agency upon their belief that children need the love and belonging of a family. Through the years Grandma Holt and the Holt agency have made it their mission to help children to have permanent families, either by returning them to rehabilitated families or by placing them with adoptive families.

Their work has elevated the status of homeless and disabled children around the world.

Grandma Holt’s Legacy
Through the years Grandma’s leadership with Holt International Children’s Services has been characterized by a simple desire to follow God’s direction and dependence upon God’s provision. Though she has been comfortable allowing others to run the day-to-day work, her faith and prayers led Holt to grow and meet the needs of an increasing number of homeless children.


Always an advocate for homeless children, she worked to see them placed with permanent families. Grandma was especially concerned about children with special needs. She often provided personal help for the disabled children and adults at Holt’s Ilsan Center in Korea. She even helped design many of the buildings to meet their special needs.

Her love for children was expansive. At gatherings of Holt adoptive families, you’d see her including all children in the photos—birth children, adopted children. It didn’t matter.

When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Grandma Holt said “as that lady who loved the Lord.” Certainly her faith was her hallmark. But so was her passion for the needs of children. Her love that has changed the lives of children around the world, and today, thousands of adoptees enjoy the legacy of love that Bertha and her husband pioneered.

 Through the 55 years of Adoption History of Korean children from the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea, the reasons that babies and children were given up for adoption have changed and some have remained the same. For every story another one may be found to be almost exactly opposite. Even the attempts to SURVEY are NOT complete or really telling the “Whole” story. Some surveys extrapolate (learned that word recently) from a group of (11) KADs, YES, ELEVEN- no more, and come up with ridiculous mathematical suppositions that amaze even I. How eleven adoptees can be used to represent almost 200,000 is just AMAZING MATH. But I digress.

Yet even the Evan B. Donaldson’s Adoption Institute recent 2009 survey “Beyond Culture Camp” had less than 200 KADs join their survey with 80% of the participants in their survey were Female. If you try to say that “Well, the ratio of male to female KADs must be the SAME, you would NOT BE RIGHT.

It must be noted that in one ten year period (1995-2005) male to female ratio was 1 to 2. I have the proof from Korean Government figures. Women KAD’s do seem to be more interested in getting involved.

It was an important work though NOT representative of ALL KADs. Period. I encourage every KAD especially to take part in SURVEYS.

There is for sure a Bell curve of Wonderful to Horrible stories on the extremes, yet I the Korean War Baby, would say that the majority of KADs (Korean ADoptees) are somewhere in the middle. In a perfect world there would be NO Need for adoption but again, we do not, and as the Korean government’s reversal policy on Family planning and the subsequent skyrocketing costs of Abortion goes up 3-6 times just weeks ago…more babies will be born, overwhelming the “demand” from Korean couple who want mainly SECRET adoptions because of the SHAME of not being able to have a NATURAL child.

The ANTI-ADOPTION ASSOCIATES  led by REV. KIM DoHyun of KoRoot, suggest that if they just STOP Sending babies to other countries THEN the Korean people will SUDDENLY just HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR ‘OWN’. Uh huh.


“And you want to do WHAT?!? Where DO the children GO, you know the Left-Over Unwanted children?”

I, the Old Guy Adoptee does not accept that reasoning and challenge any FOUR of the AAA’s to public debate on “The best way to change the hearts of the Korean People.” Soon The Korean War Baby will present his own solutions, (a Hint)-Multi-tiered approach that will take another period of time...



Yusuf Islam-(Cat Stevens)

“Where do the children play?”

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