Rosenblum: Hmong leader ‘always felt better’ when others felt better

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 24, 2013 - 9:31 PM

The long-awaited hot summer days are here, but Mee Moua finds far less pleasure in them than she once did.

“He would have said, ‘Pack a lunch. We’re off to boating!’ ” said Mee, seated at her St. Paul dining room table sifting through family photographs.

Mee, nine months pregnant with her fifth child, is bravely pushing forward, determined to honor the memory of her husband, Vone. The 45-year-old family man was shot and killed June 9 in an early morning struggle with an angry bar patron at Malina’s Sports Bar in St. Paul. He and Mee have owned the Frogtown bar since 2002.

That patron, Yia Her, 26, of Oakdale, and his brother-in-law, Cheng Vang, 22, of Minneapolis, have been charged with second-degree murder in Moua’s death, and two counts of attempted second-degree murder. A trial is set for the fall.

Moua, born in Laos, was deeply proud of owning a business. But he is being remembered, and praised, for decades of work building trust and strengthening Hmong families as a licensed clinical social worker.

“How could his life be taken so quickly?” asks Mee, also a social worker, as she reaches for a tissue. She was at the bar to pick up her husband early that morning and witnessed the shooting.

Her told police he paid $20 to play pool, but was asked to leave because the bar was closing.

After attending a court hearing in mid-July, Mee was struck by an irony she perhaps can share with Her and Vang someday. “You,” she would tell them, “are the families he would have stretched his arms out to help.”

Mary Buchta, a retired social worker at Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, referred clients to Moua for 10 years. “I was in great need of someone who could provide culturally appropriate mental health care in the Hmong community, and I found Vone,” Buchta said. “He so educated me. He was a humanitarian, a gentle soul.

“My gut hurts.”

Vone moved to the United States in 1978 and graduated from St. Paul’s Highland Park High School in 1986. He met Mee in 1992 at a Hmong New Year celebration.

“He was very polite and traditional,” she said. “He never approached me. He spoke to my parents instead.”

They kept in touch as he completed his studies. After earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was hired by the St. Paul Public Schools.

The two reconnected and Vone encouraged Mee to also pursue social work. “He said, ‘You have the personality, the empathy, to work with people. He really inspired me.”

They married in 1995. After completing her master’s degree, Mee began working with adults with mental illness.

In 2000, they bought a building on N. Dale Street in St. Paul, envisioning a grocery store below, with their private practice above. Instead, they opened a bar in the space in 2002 and juggled children with work running a group home through Ramsey County.

In 2003, Vone was named an Okura Mental Health Foundation Fellow to Washington, D.C. “He came back very energetic,” Mee said of the prestigious award granted to leaders in the Asian-American community. “He wanted to move the clinic forward.”

They opened their private practice above the bar in 2004, specializing in individual and couples therapy. He worked with the Hmong Mental Health Task Force but did outreach, too, in the African-American and Hispanic communities.

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