Sulja Warnick: Bridging Cultures and Empowering Immigrants

In honor of Woman’s History Month, we turn our spotlight to Sulja Warnick, a remarkable individual whose life and contributions deserve recognition. Let’s delve into her story and explore the organizations she was involved with.

Sulja Warnick arrived in Tacoma in 1977 after graduating from the University of Taegu and graduate school in Seoul. She worked as a public-school teacher at Baker Middle School and embarked on her journey with the Korean Women’s Association (KWA) early in her teaching career. During this period, the South Sound Korean community was rapidly growing, particularly in Lakewood and the Ponders area. In a 1987 multi-part Tacoma News Tribune story about the burgeoning Korean community, Warnick explained that Korean businesses began locating in the Ponders area to be near McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis, where spouses of Korean wives were stationed. Gradually, new businesses started establishing themselves near the existing ones, leading to further community expansion. The article also highlighted how many Korean immigrants chose to remain in the area due to the challenges of leaving their sponsors and the desire to benefit from the support inherent in a community that, at that time, numbered around 15,000.

In 1972, the Korean Women’s Association (KWA) began as a small social club for Korean wives of American servicemen stationed at the bases. The organization provided a welcoming and inclusive space where Koreans new to America could receive assistance, tips, and resources to help them acclimate to American society. One of the biggest barriers for these new immigrants was their inability to read and write in English, which made everyday tasks like navigating and buying groceries extremely difficult. Warnick was initially called upon by the KWA to assist with translation services. She continued working with the KWA and eventually became its president in the early 1980s. During her tenure as president, Warnick considered the establishment of the Korean language library one of her most significant accomplishments. Initiated by her in 1983, the 4,000-book collection was housed in the Lakewood Community Center and open to the public. “I’m very proud of that,” Warnick was quoted as saying in the Tacoma News Tribune, “The whole community is proud to have a library.”

What began as a small social club for Korean women has since evolved into a robust non-profit organization. The KWA now offers a wide range of services, including education, support in finding affordable housing, in-home care for seniors, and social support. Notably, they provide domestic violence counseling for people from all walks of life. With offices in 14 Western Washington counties, the KWA serves up to 150,000 individuals representing 40 nationalities and 35 language groups. Remarkably, this organization has been making a positive impact for 51 years.

In 1995, she organized an Asian Pacific Island Heritage month celebration at John S. Baker Middle School, a joint effort with community volunteers, students, and several Baker employees. This hourlong event showcased teens performing cultural dances of the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Samoa. In its initial year, the event was planned as a one-time occurrence. However, due to overwhelming student support, it evolved into an annual tradition.

The KWA continues to grow and expand in the South Sound. A new building is currently being constructed at South 15th St. and Tacoma Ave.

In 2023 in a Community Archives oral history, she reflected on her time with KWA, "I volunteered 47 years in that organization visioning and dreaming and, helping, and feeling [a] purpose of life and fighting with inequity and injustice. I feel everybody here in this world [is] connected to each other. I do believe strongly what you do make[s] a difference in me. What I do to you is make difference, treat me just like as if you want to be treated. I think we really, if we really help each are connected, you do have that feeling of [being] connected. You have to help each other."

Below are links to materials in our collection related to Sulja Warnick and organizations she interacted with. If you have any questions about any of this material, please let us know! You can contact us via email at or by phone (253) 280-2814

Sulja Warnick Papers

Sulja Warnick from the 2016 WILLO Storytelling Festival

Tacoma Korean related material in the "Tacoma – Koreans" clipping file

The Korean Women's Association's official website



"A Voice for the Voiceless" Matt Nagle, Tacoma Weekly Oct. 5, 2012, p.1

"Asian American Alliance taps Warnick as top citizen for community service" Tacoma News Tribune Jan. 25, 1987, p.10

"Asian heritage takes center stage" Debby Abe, Tacoma News Tribune June 3, 1998, p.26

"Koreans clustering in brand-new plaza" Susan Gordon Tacoma News Tribune Dec 10, 1987, p.35

Oral history interview with Sulja Warnick conducted by dindria barrow on April 6, 2023, Sulja Warnick Papers (Collection CAC1004), Community Archives Center at Tacoma Public Library.