Sun Hwa Highsmith, also known as Soonji, was born in Gangwon-do, South Korea to the late Hong Chong Hun and Pak Pong Hui on August 10, 1955–not long after the Korean war. She passed away on June 17th, 2023 peacefully in her home in her husband’s arms with her daughter by her side.
Soonji’s mother is 90 years old, and she lives in the family home in Dong Hae, still tending her half acre garden. She has 2 brothers and one sister. She was very close with her sister Soonja, who is the next oldest, followed by Sun Ho and Sun il. She has 6 nieces and nephews as well as one grand nephew all of whom live in South Korea.
Her family wasn’t wealthy but she had a happy childhood with her siblings. They spent lots of time at the beach, with Soonji leading the charge. The kids had simple toys such as seashells and rocks… nothing fancy, but they had fun. She was creative, caring, and brave even as a child. Soonji told a story about getting on the local bus alone when she was 5 and traveling to her grandma’s house, many miles away–she didn’t tell her parents she was going so she did get into a little trouble. She was the first girl in her town to ride a bicycle alone, which was apparently considered shocking. As she got to be a teenager she was very involved with her local Presbyterian church.
She met her husband, Larry Michael “Mike” Highsmith in 1981 in Kunsan City while he was stationed there with the US Air Force. They fell in love and were married in December 1982. They had their 40th anniversary this past year. Angie May, their oldest daughter was born in South Korea.
The young family moved to Ellsworth Air force base in South Dakota in 1983. In 1984 they moved to Portland Oregon where Soonji worked for Pendleton Woolen Mills and later owned the Laurelhurst Market on E. Burnside as well as Teriyaki Corner on SE 6th Ave and Morrison. She was very involved with the Korean Baptist church and was a member of the choir for many years. Their younger daughter, Ariel Rose “Rosie” was born in Kaiser Sunnyside hospital in 1990.
The family moved to Mesa Arizona when Mike was commissioned in the US Public Health service in 2001. They have spent the last 22 years in Mesa in the same house and both daughters graduated from ASU.
Soonji really enjoyed playing tennis–she played at least 3 times a week and also was a member of the women’s doubles league. Over the years, she enjoyed spending time doing puzzles, playing cards and games, dancing, cooking, sewing, traveling, walks with Mike along the canal, and quality time with friends. She was a member of Hasarang Family church and attended regularly. Most of all, she truly loved spending time with her family and was a huge help in raising her 3 grandkids, Jacob, Emma, and Addy.
She was preceded in death by her father, Hong Chong Hun, in 2007. He was wounded while serving in the ROK army, was awarded a medal and a pension for his service. She is survived by many family members: her husband Mike, her daughters Angie and Rosie, her grandchildren Jacob, Emma, and Addy, her son-in-law June, her mother, her siblings, and many more aunts, uncles, cousins, and relatives whom she loved.
Services will be held at Hasarang Family Church ( Mountain View Presbyterian in North Scottsdale on June 24, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, an organization that the family feels strongly needs support.