Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Remembering Bob Jones

Updated 10 September: Prayers will be said for Bob Jones at St. Anselm's Cross Cultural Community Center [correction: NOT today] next Saturday September 17 at 5 pm, according to Nguoi Viet [Correction: which gave the wrong date. The correct info is posted [see image below] at the center's door.] Address: 11277 Garden Grove Blvd [at Euclid] Garden Grove, CA 92843. See also video of dedication of Bob Jones Building in Rochester MN earlier this year where daughter Kieu Oanh spoke.

Bob Jones, a former American diplomat in Saigon, and longtime community activist most recently in Little Saigon, passed away after a long illness. He was a friend and believer in archiving the histories of diverse immigrants, especially Vietnamese, having mastered Vietnamese during his time in Saigon, where he befriended Yen Do, who would later found Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster, California, frequenting book stalls in Saigon with him in quest of Vietnamese literature, in the war years, he once told me.

I had a long phone conversation with him a few months ago, at a time when he was being treated for colon cancer, when we discussed his being a guest on my show to reflect on his full life. Unfortunately, it never came to be. I regret not capturing for posterity his reflections on his life's work. (Perhaps the NSA has the audio of that phone conversation that lasted over an hour.) In Saigon, he collected a massive amount of Vietnamese literature and art, which he shipped to the United States. I hope that collection finds a good home. His smaller collection of gay community publications went from a storage locker in Orange County to a community archive in the Midwest, he told me.

He also served actively for many years on the advisory board of UC Irvine's Southeast Asian Archive at UCI Libraries, giving his time, effort and wisdom to the collection here. I remember him as a warm friend, living in a small apartment in the heart of Little Saigon, who would regularly turn up at UCI Libraries with latest issues of local community magazines and newspapers he had picked up, for the archive. He was a true community activist who gave himself fully to the community, and worked to make sure the written record was not erased. His colleagues at St. Anselm's Cross Cultural Community Center plan a local memorial event, forthcoming. - Daniel C. Tsang.

An obituary released today by his daughter, Kieu Oanh follows.



Robert R. “Bob” Jones III, 69, a longtime resident of Rochester, died peacefully at his home on Monday (Sept. 5, 2011) from complications of colon cancer.

Bob was born May 25, 1942 to Dr. Robert and Dorothy (Stewart) Jones at Jersey City Medical Center, New Jersey. He moved with his family to Rochester when his father, an Army doctor, joined the Mayo Clinic in the 1950s. Bob graduated from John Marshall High School in 1960, attended Lake Forest College and the University of Minnesota, majoring in International Relations. During the summers of his college years, Bob held jobs ranging from working at a lodge high in the Colorado Rockies, to serving inner-city mothers and children on a hospital ship anchored in New York harbor.

During the Vietnam War, Bob served in the U.S. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco and at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Following his discharge, he was asked to continue on the Embassy staff where he remained from 1966 to 1975, becoming known as the “institutional memory” of that era. During that time, he helped design and monitor for Vietnam what was, at the time, the world’s only comprehensive data processing system for reporting political, economic and security conditions at a nation’s “grass roots” level.

Bob fell in love with Vietnamese history and culture, learning to speak the language fluently and was often sought after by visiting diplomats and journalists who relied on him for information and insight into Vietnamese affairs.

Upon his return to Rochester, he was asked by the Bishop of the Diocese of Winona to establish a program under the auspices of Catholic Charities to coordinate the resettlement of the newly arriving refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. For the following 15 years, he worked tirelessly to develop sponsorship opportunities and supportive programs for refugees arriving in the Diocese from around the world.

During his years as Resettlement Director, he was also active at the state level as founder and longtime Chair of the Minnesota Consortium of Refugee Agencies.
In 1991, Bob was called to Washington, DC, to receive the John McCarthy medal, the highest award bestowed annually by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for service to the world’s refugees.

Bob also believed strongly in the need to empower refugees to develop and lead self-help programs and to plan and coordinate cultural events. To achieve that goal, he brought together refugees and Rochester community leaders to raise the necessary support and funding to found a new agency, the Inter-Cultural Mutual Assistance Association (IMAA). The IMAA has become over the years a national model, and in March 2011 the building was dedicated as the Robert Jones III building.

Bob was also active in civic affairs. He helped found the Rochester International Association (RIA) and regularly assisted with its annual Rochester World Festival. A civic highlight for Bob was his selection by then Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama to be a member of a team of city leaders, which worked tirelessly to develop a presentation, which they took to Houston, Texas to compete for and to bring back to Rochester the much-coveted “All-American City” designation. He also served one year as Interim Director of Rochester’s newly emerging Habitat for Humanity Program.

From 1998 to 2008 he moved to Westminster, Ca. where he taught citizenship classes in the area of Orange County, California, known as “Little Saigon.” At St. Anselm’s Cross-Cultural Community Center, Bob developed and taught classes which graduated hundreds of new US citizens. He was widely and fondly known in the community as “Thay” (teacher) Bob. He returned to Rochester in 2008.

He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, the Institute of Vietnamese Studies and the Association for Asian Studies. He also served on the Boards of the National Association of Vietnamese-American Social Agencies and the Southeast Asian Archive at the University of California-Irvine.

His family would like to express their deepest appreciation to the Mayo Clinic doctors and nurses who cared for Bob during his illness and Lynn Nomann, RN, with Saint Jude Hospice in his final days.

He is survived by his daughter - Kieu -Oanh (John McInnis) of Madison, WI, his mother Dorothy of Wabasha, MN, his sister Sharon (Frank) Stewart of Goleta, CA, brother, Dr. Roger (Cheryl) Jones of Elko, NV and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father and his sister Linda Brandolino.

A funeral service will be held at 5:00 P.M. on Friday (Sept. 9, 2011) at Christ United Methodist Church , 400 5th Ave. S.W. , in Rochester, with the Rev. Dr. Carol Hepokoski of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, officiating. Friends may call from 3 to 5:00 P.M. on Friday at the church. A private family burial will take place on Saturday at Riverside Cemetery in Wabasha. The family asks that memorials be made to IMMA, Minnesota Public Radio or Saint Jude Hospice, Rochester in lieu of flowers. Arrangements are with Griffin-Gray F.H, in Stewartville,Mn.

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