Ellsworth Culver honored by North Korea for life's work

North Korea

January 17, 2006

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    Esme Jo Culver presents husband Ells' copy of Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" to North Korean Ambassador Han Song Ryol. She wears the "Friendship Medal" presented to her late husband by the North Korean government. Photo: Mercy Corps Photo:

On January 10, a representative of the North Korean government honored the late Ellsworth Culver, Mercy Corps' Co-Founder, for his committed, innovative humanitarian work in that country.

Ambassador Han Song Ryol, North Korea's respresentative to the United Nations, presented the "Friendship Medal" to Culver's wife Esme Jo during a ceremony in Portland, Oregon. This was the first time this medal has been presented to an American citizen.

During a speech that honored Culver's legacy, Ambassador Han praised Culver for his lifelong commitment to peaceful dialogue, his vision and his unwavering support for improved friendship between the United States and North Korea.

"Ells Culver was one of the pioneers for the new relations between the U.S. and [North Korea]," the Ambassador remarked. "He saved a lot of lives, and he helped our people improve their working and living conditions."

Culver made more than 20 visits to North Korea to meet with officials and encourage cooperation between American and North Korean organizations. Under Culver's guidance, Mercy Corps not only sent critical food and medical supplies to North Korea, but also started innovative agricultural programs designed to achieve sustainable food production for farming families.

Culver passed away in August 2005 at the age of 78, just as he was planning his 23rd official trip to North Korea. His legacy also includes helping to found the National Committee for North Korea, an organization that advocates and actively pursues more fruitful dialogue between the two countries.

The decision to present Culver with this unprecedented honor was made by the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, the legislative component of the North Korean government.

More than 70 people attended the presentation dinner, including Culver's widow Esme Jo, daughter Amber and sons Scott and Glyn. Former diplomats, representatives of non-governmental organizations, academics and Northwest community leaders were also present to honor Culver's work.