Companionship found at Tacoma’s Korean Women’s Association

By James Tabafunda

Marlene Rosevear (Photo by James Tabafunda/NWAW)

Marlene Rosevear, who retired over a decade ago, looks forward to her weekly six-mile commute to Tacoma. With her husband’s retirement last year, she now has someone to accompany her.

Half Filipino and half white, she has lived in Puyallup for the last 30 years.

At a dance in January 2007, Rosevear, 66, noticed a group of Filipino and Chinese attendees begin to line dance.
“I was just amazed,” said the former Key Bank administrative assistant.

She was so amazed that she decided to ask some of the dancers. She asked, “where did you learn to do that?”

“The Korean Women’s Association,” they answered.

Based in Tacoma, the Korean Women’s Association is an “internationally recognized nonprofit social services agency that offers a broad range of social and human services to people in need throughout Western Washington.”

If she had not learned about the agency six years ago, she said she would probably “be bored to tears.” She’s tried a different line dancing class that was closer to her home in Puyallup, but wasn’t impressed. She said, “I can tell you they were not friendly,” emphasizing the word “not.”

“I’m a dancer and used to do country-western line dancing years ago. As you get older, you don’t quite fit in with the kids at these different places,” she said.

At KWA, she fits in. Rosevear declared, “I love it. I come every week.” She is one of 150,000 clients that KWA serves each year. Its comprehensive array of programs includes breast cancer navigation, citizenship and immigration services, and domestic violence assistance. And its Senior City Apartments — 62 units of affordable housing for seniors and the disabled — in Federal Way won the King County Green Globe Award in 2011 for its architectural design and environment-sustainable features.

“I come for the fun,” she said about her 10 a.m. bingo get-together with about 20 of her KWA friends.

“People say, ‘Oh, they have a doctor’s appointment.’ I say, ‘How can you do that? Not on a Thursday.’ ”

When line dancing starts an hour later, more people — mostly women — arrive, doubling the total number to about 50. “We can’t do partner dancing because there’s only about four husbands who line dance,” she said.

“We line dance for an hour, then we break for lunch (provided by KWA’s Senior Meals program) and as soon as we’re done eating, we start line dancing again.”

Each Thursdays, KWA serves a different international lunch — Filipino food last week. Its Senior Meals program for clients 60 and over consists of healthy Korean, Samoan, Vietnamese, and Cambodian meals. The program also provides “a lively atmosphere and opportunities for seniors to connect and engage in physical activity, participate in a first-rate health and nutrition workshop, and receive assistance with navigating many social services.”

That connection among these seniors is crucial to KWA’s vision of eradicating loneliness, among other issues.

“If you know it’s their birthday, they’re always surprised that I remembered their birthday.” Rosevear said. “When you know that somebody is a widow, you try and remember them. They don’t have that spouse to get them a (birthday) card anymore.”

KWA celebrated its 40th anniversary with a luncheon last October attended by approximately 800. Kim Nam Hui began the organization in 1972 as a local women’s social club with nine other Korean wives of U.S. servicemen stationed at Fort Lewis Army Base and McChord Air Force Base. It now serves both males and females of 43 nationalities in 11 counties.

For the past three years, Executive Director Peter Ansara has overseen the agency with its $22 million budget, over 1,000 employees, hundreds of community partners, and all-female board of directors.

KWA’s rebranded logo is a hand-in-hand, a “maternalistic symbol” that represents inclusiveness and a sense of caring.

“When we were young and when we’re old, who is generally taking care of you? This agency was built from the heart of women,” he said. “As one (Korean) board member said, ‘KWA is here to make sure that whatever happened to me doesn’t happen to somebody else.’ ”

Providing camaraderie is how KWA helps Rosevear. “I just love the people that I meet every week,” she said. “I met two Chinese ladies last summer and we are so close. They said (to me), ‘You are like family.’ ” (end)

For more information about the Korean Women’s Association, visit

James Tabafunda can be reached at

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