Suk Ja Kang McGurk of El Paso, Texas, died on Tuesday, November 15, 2023, following a long illness. She was 87 years of age. Born in Japan on January 23, 1936, Suk Ja spent her earliest years in Kyoto until her family moved to Korea when she was still very young. Being raised in two countries naturally ensured her bilingual abilities; however, Suk Ja, always desiring to enhance her knowledge, began to teach herself the English language. To practice her linguistic skills as well as her service to humanity, she volunteered at an orphanage; there, she met Joseph Edward McGurk, a soldier stationed in Korea with the United States Army and doing charity work at the orphanage. Joe and Sue began dating and spent many evenings dancing at the USO. As they would both later admit, Joe “finally wore her down,” and Sue accepted his marriage proposal. They were married in Korea on August 17, 1959. Soon thereafter, Joe brought his bride to the United States to meet his mother and five sisters. Still in active duty with the US Army, Joe was next deployed to Vietnam in 1960. Sue remained behind, living with Joe’s mother and two of his sisters, Joan and Edna, in Philadelphia. Asian people were a rarity there, and locals would stop, stare, and point at this petite, exotic-looking young Korean woman. Undaunted, Sue strengthened her resolve, continued to perfect her English, and integrated herself into American society and customs. When Joe’s Army career returned him to the United States, he retrieved Sue and they moved to his next assignment in Fort Campbell, Kentucky; there, their first two sons, Michael and Mark, were born in 1961 and 1962, respectively. Their next assignment took the McGurks to Fort Meade, Maryland, where their family became complete with the birth of son number three, David, in 1964. When Joe was deployed to Germany, the family’s adventures abroad began. At just 28 years old, Sue McGurk experienced full immersion into yet another language, culture, and customs of a new country while serving as a soldier’s wife, homemaker, and mother of three young, rambunctious boys. Just as she had in the US, Sue endured in Germany the stares and comments of those who had never seen Asian people. She just kept walking proudly with her little trio in tow. When their tour of duty in Germany ended, the McGurks moved to El Paso, where they fell in love with the climate, the people, and the strong military presence. After a short stint at Fort Bliss, Joe was deployed back to Vietnam, leaving Sue in El Paso to keep their home and raise their sons. After Vietnam, Joe was stationed in Fort Ord, California, to learn Japanese. Being fluent in Japanese herself, Sue could help Joe study the language. She had also learned the fine art of driving on American roads and streets, and she piloted the family’s new 1968 Chevrolet Impala station wagon with all three boys piled into the rear-facing third-row seat. During their time in California, Sue was introduced to Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a global community-based Buddhist organization that promotes peace, centered on respect for the dignity of life. Sue felt called to join this sect of Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, which she practiced devoutly until the day she died. Throughout her many active years with the SGI organization, she held positions of leadership, filling her life with joy, purpose, and community. A homecoming of sorts occurred when Joe’s next deployment took the family to Japan, where he would be charged to exercise the Japanese-translation skills he had learned at Fort Ord. For the next five years, Sue flourished in her return to the country where she had spent her early years. She frequently took her boys off base to explore and shop in the true Japanese environment. As an added bonus, Joe acquired space-available seats for the family on a plane destined for Korea. There, Sue reconnected with members of her biological family whom she had not seen in decades, and presented her sons to them in a sweet, cathartic reunion. After the Japan deployment, Joe retired to El Paso, concluding the family’s pattern of frequent relocations around the US and the world. In this familiar American city, they could establish roots. Sue had first begun working part-time with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) in California and subsequent deployments; however, with a permanent location of residence and her sons older, she could dedicate more time to establishing her own career. Sue eventually became the only full-time employee at the Fort Bliss Post Exchange (PX), where she worked as sales clerk and manager of the men’s department until retiring at the age of 75. “Miss Sue”, renowned for her blunt honesty—sometimes to a customer’s chagrin—was beloved and highly esteemed by her coworkers for her humor, forthrightness, and high standards. She continued to rise in SGI leadership, becoming a well-known and highly respected senior member. She rarely missed a Wednesday chanting session or a monthly Sunday service at the local kaikan on Campbell Street, often followed by lunch at Mrs. Kennedy’s Kalbi House. During her retirement years, Sue made three trips back to Korea for several weeks each time; the third time, she took her granddaughter Courtney. Always energetic and seldom resting idly, Sue finally allowed herself to slow down a bit. She exercised each morning by walking through her Northeast El Paso neighborhood and enjoyed watching recorded Korean period TV series and films as well as her favorite Turner Classic movies. She adored all types of seafood, having grown up with the delicacies of the Orient, experiencing the joys of crabbing in New Jersey, and celebrating with the ultimate seafood platter at Red Lobster. Sue frequently delighted her family and friends with her own homemade bulgogi, gyoza, and sushi. Above all, Sue loved her family. Although her style of expressing love might have been atypical at times, her bright eyes and her animated way of speaking readily proved her adoration for her three successful sons, her strong and handsome grandson, her brilliant granddaughter, and her precious great-grandson. Sue McGurk’s long, productive life took a turn in 2019 with a diagnosis of cancer, which led to a complicated surgical procedure during which she was brought back to life by her team of doctors—a miracle she marveled and recounted the rest of her days. Although she survived the ordeal, the past four years have proven challenging and depleting for this once active, energetic powerhouse of wife, mother, grandmother, manager, leader, and believer of the possibility of peace in the world. Even in the imminence of her demise, glimmers of brightness in her expression evidenced a faith that her decades of chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” have been heard. Sue was predeceased by her grandson Christopher, whose accidental death at age 21 strongly influenced her view of life, recognizing its precious and fleeting nature. As a result, Sue became more expressive and demonstrative in her love for her family, which led to stronger bonds among them all. Sue is survived by her loving husband of 64 years, Joe McGurk of El Paso; her brother, Jong Chul Kang, of Busan, Korea; her sister, Sook Im Kang, of Jinju, Korea; her eldest son Michael of El Paso; her middle son Mark and daughter-in-law Jackie, also of El Paso; her youngest son David and son-in-law Van English of Houston; her granddaughter Courtney, her husband Jin Woo Park, and her great-grandson Caden Park, all of Phoenix. The McGurk family is being served by Sunset Funeral Home Northeast, 4631 Hondo Pass Drive, El Paso, Texas 79924, with visitation from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the funeral service at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, November 25, 2023. If you feel compelled, a contribution in memory of Suk Ja McGurk can be made to Soka Gakkai International - El Paso Center, 2901 North Campbell Street, El Paso, Texas 79902, www.sgi-usa.org
Please visit her online memorial at www.sunsetfuneralhomes.net.