Sue Nahm Mathieu

Sue Mathieu, organist, pianist, and choir director, has served as a minister of music and teacher in Seventh-day Adventist churches and schools for nearly fifty years. She has also held a number of music positions in other denominational churches.

Sue was born in South Korea, the oldest of three children of Andrew C. Nahm and Sarah Kim, both of whom were educators.She was a third generation Adventist, her family having served for two generations in Adventist church work in Korea, starting with her grandfather, who was a pioneering minister in Korea, and her great-uncle, who served as the Korean Union Conference president.

Everyone in her extended family was involved in music as an avocation, including an uncle who had a degree in musicology, had sung in opera, and later became a minister, and her father and mother, who taught English and mathematics, respectively, at Sam Yook, an Adventist school, where Sue attended grades 1-12. During this time she started piano lessons with Grace Mabel Wright Lee, wife of Clinton Lee, president of the Korean Union Conference, an experience she now fondly recalls.†††

When she was ten, her familyís life was disrupted by the start of the Korean War, causing them to flee to Koje island, south of Pusan, Korea, where they would live for three years as refugees. She recently talked about that experience:

My father, who had just finished his doctorate in history at Stanford University in the U.S., was unable to return to Korea when the war started. Our family was in danger because my father was an American, and my mother was on an execution list because she was not a member of the Communist party. It was necessary for us to flee as soon as the war started.

General McCarther [commander of the U.S. army during the conflict] provided two cargo ships on which the Adventists could escape. Two of my dadís students came to our house at midnight and told us that we had to leave immediately, so we left with only a blanket wrapped around a few of our belongings and the clothes we were wearing. We were told not to cough or make any noise as we left the neighborhood, quietly walked for about twenty miles, and were led to a mountain home where we were hidden underground until we left the mainland.It was a frightening experience for all of us, one I still remember vividly.

As soon as we landed on the island, tents were immediately erected in which we could live, go to school, worship, and carry on the work of the church on the mainland. Our schooling was uninterrupted. When we returned three years later to our home, the grass and shrubbery were overgrown, everything had been taken from our house, and my dadís Underwood typewriter was in the middle of the yard, all rusted.††

Following their return, Sue graduated from Sam Yook Academy in 1958, attended Kuyng Hee University in Seoul for a year, and then worked until she was able in 1962 to visit her father, who was teaching at Western Michigan University.She enrolled at the University of Michigan at that time and worked on a music degree for the next two years.During that time she married Leo Mathieu in 1963. Following a final visit to Korea in 1964 to visit with her family, she returned to the U.S., completing a music education degree at UM with a minor in organ in 1965. She then enrolled at Western Michigan University, completing a masterís degree in music education in 1967.

Mathieu began her teaching career at a private school in North Carolina, where she taught for three years before serving for eight years as a language instructor and head organist for the chapel at the John F. Kennedy Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1978 the family moved to South Carolina, where she became minister of music and head organist for the Boon Hill United Methodist Church in Charleston and later head organist at the Ashley River Baptist Church, also in Charleston, a church with over seven thousand members. Additionally, she sang in the Charleston Symphony Choir and participated in the Spoleto Festival in Charleston from 1978 through 1982, singing in the festival under guest conductor Robert Shaw, noted choral director.

During those years in North and South Carolina, Mathieu also served as music director and organist for Adventist churches wherever she and her husband lived. She also directed the choir and taught music and handbells in Charleston Junior Academy during the five years they lived there.

In 1982 they moved to Houston, Texas, where she taught music at the SDA junior academy and served as minister of music and head organist in the Houston Central Adventist Church.During that time her choir was invited to sing on Channel 13 on two occasions.

Mathieu was also active in founding a Korean SDA church in the Houston area. Initially, she arranged for a Korean Sabbath School to meet in a room in the Central Adventist Church, sought approval to translate materials used in the Revelation Seminar program into Korean, and negotiated with the Texas Conference, which at first resisted the idea, to establish a Korean church. Within a year and a half she succeeded, and Theodore Kim was hired as its first pastor. Today it is an established church with a congregation of over fifty meeting in its own sanctuary.

Five years later the Mathieus relocated to the north Dallas area, and she started a music program at Richardson Adventist School, a junior academy then, now the North Dallas Adventist Academy offering a twelve-year curriculum. She formed a choir at RAS and established the first school handbell program in that region of the country. She singlehandedly raised money for five-octave handbell and chime sets for both the church and the school as well as for a set of timpani to assist with groups she used in the church services and concerts.Following the renaming of the school in 2009, she raised money for an upright piano in the choir room and a grand piano for the chapel.

In 1986, a year before the move to Dallas, Mathieu was elected to serve a two-year term as a vice-president in the Church Musicians Guild, an organization for Adventist musicians that had started in Southern California in 1970 and then became a national organization in 1976. As an officer, she represented CMG in Texas and served as a member of its executive board. Additionally, she later served two three-year terms as a member on the executive board for the Texas Conference.

As they arrived in Dallas, Mathieu had also become the minister of music and organist at the Richardson Adventist Church.After the pipe organ fell into disrepair about ten years ago, she continued as a pianist, having recently overseen the fundraising for a grand piano for the church sanctuary, and as director of a handbell choir at the church, an involvement that continues even though she retired from teaching at NDAA in 2010.

She presently teaches piano privately and plays in a string quartet that occasionally performs for friends. Because of her background as a music educator, she also plays other instruments and particularly enjoys playing the harpsichord.

The Mathieus have two sons. The older, Sherman, a clarinetist and cellist, and the younger, David, a violinist, played in youth orchestras and were also heavily involved in Broadway production orchestras, an experience they enjoyed. The older son continues today as a freelance musician.††


Source: Interviews, October 2012.