David Fong, Chinese Minnesotan of Note, 2018
David Fong is descended from a long line of hardworking Chinese men who were U.S. citizens. These men, originally from Taishan, China, had spent their entire lives working in the U.S. But, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act then in effect, they were not allowed to bring their wives and families into the U.S. As a result, these men returned to Taishan regularly to visit their families or to get married and start new families. David was born after one of his father’s such visits home. In 1949, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed, David, together with his mother and younger sister, was able to come to the U.S. and rejoined his father, who had by that time moved to Minneapolis.
Shaped by his Taishan childhood and U.S. education, David thrived on hard work and soon was nurturing a budding entrepreneurial spirit. One day, he and his young wife, Helen, together with their first two-month-old baby, Eddie, decided to take a long drive from North Minneapolis to then rural Richfield to look at a store front for sale. They got lost and found instead a tiny, different storefront for rent at 98thand Lyndale in Bloomington. They decided to take a chance on it and the rest, as they say, is history. Their iconic restaurant, David Fong’s at 93rdand Lyndale, was designated a Bloomington landmark in 2015, and just celebrated its 60thanniversary.
Today we are here not to celebrate David’s financial success, or for being among the first to be inducted into the Minnesota Restaurant of Fame, but for being the model citizen that he has become. He is grateful for the many opportunities available to him in Minnesota, particularly in Bloomington, and has taken his civic duties seriously. He has cheerfully offered free space at his restaurant for the meetings of many nonprofits, including the Bloomington Lions Club and VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People), and hosted many of their fundraising events. Throughout the decades, all local community fundraisers that support schools, churches, youth sports and other charities have found a receptive ear in David.
David has a special winning formula to help raise funds for organizations whose missions are close to his heart, such as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet and Knights of Columbus. First he negotiates for a donated space, if necessary. Then he works on donated food (from suppliers such as Asian Foods or Cub Foods), and then he goes about recruiting chefs to donate their time. The result is that the entire proceeds collected at the event go to the designated charity. And to top it off, David then buys blocks of tickets to invite his friends and families to attend the festivities.
So how does one respond to someone who does so much good with such enthusiasm and an infectious laugh? The City of Bloomington knew how: in addition to having presented David with numerous separate awards, it declared October 27, 2008, as David and Helen Fong Day.
Within our community, David’s influence is equally wide-ranging. In 1970 David was president of CAAM (Chinese American Association of Minnesota) and under his leadership our community built the famous Chinese arch that graced Nicollet Mall during the Aquatennial Parade. The arch was later moved to the State Fair Grounds. During this same period David and Helen helped start the first Chinese Language School at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. Helen was also a founding member of the Chinese Senior Citizens Society. In the ensuing decades both she and David have remained active in this organization. There are always extra box lunches for outings or extra prizes at annual events. David and Helen are both also active in the local and national Moy’s Family Associations where David is currently a president emeritus.
In their private lives David and Helen have raised six remarkable children and are close to all of them. They are doting grandparents and one of David’s great joys is teaching his children and grandchildren the game of golf. Both Eddie and Donald were with him when he shot a hole-in-one at the 2015 Randy Shaver Cancer Fund Charity Tournament.
David and Helen have a wide circle of friends, all of them stretching back decades and among whom David’s unhesitating loyalty is legendary. Both he and Helen have retained strong ties with their home villages in Taishan, welcoming fellow members to Minnesota and returning frequently themselves to see to the needs of the wider community there as well.
Every year at the Chinese Qingming(青明) Festival (Chinese memorial day) David and Helen visit the Chinese Sections at both Lakewood Cemetery and Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul. Following our tradition of sweeping graves(扫墓) on this occasion, David and Helen tidy up many of the Chinese graves at both cemeteries, including those that are not related to their own families and particularly those that have no living descendants left in the area.
The Chinese Heritage Foundation honors David for his abundant humanity, good cheer, generous and hospitable nature, quiet philanthropy, abiding love and devotion to Chinese traditions, family and friends.