Obituary: Moon Fong lived with grit, grace through tumult

The restaurant family matriarch witnessed a century from China to Minnesota, and died at age 97.

Moon Fong

Moon Fong witnessed the arc of the last century, from her arranged marriage in a Chinese village, to her emigration to the United States with two children, to becoming the matriarch of one of Minnesota's leading restaurant families.

Fong, whose family owns David Fong's Cantonese restaurant in Bloomington, died April 26 at the age of 97.

In her last years, she came to believe that true happiness could best be found in a life of quiet contentment. "She was thankful for what she had," said her friend of many years, Pearl Bergad.

Fong was born in 1914 in the village of Tai Shan in Guangdong Province, China. At 16, she married Lee Fong, a young man who had already emigrated to America but came back to find a wife.

As many young Chinese men did in those days, he left her behind to go back to work at a family-owned laundry in Chicago. At the time, Chinese women were not allowed to enter the United States.

Her children, David and Patti-Yin, were born in China. She cared for them during the chaos of World War II, when she lost contact with her husband, and when the money he had been sending regularly trickled to a halt.

In the United States, Lee Fong moved to Minneapolis when the Chicago laundry closed, and the family started a restaurant, Moy Cafe, in north Minneapolis. In 1949, Moon and her children moved to Minneapolis to join her husband. She created a home steeped in the Chinese traditions she would uphold the rest of her life.

When immigration policies eased up in the 1950s, their home became a mecca for people from her village. Bergad said that anyone who needed a room or a bed got one for as long as needed, sometimes for years. Three generations of Fong children and many extended families from her village came to love her Chinese sausage and egg-fried rice, deep-fried peanut puffs, steamed rice cakes, shrimp dumplings and other Cantonese specialties. She developed friendships and bonds that continued until her death.

That generosity was returned when her husband died unexpectedly in 1961, and at age 47 she had to learn how to run a restaurant. With those longtime friends and son David, who had already opened the red-roofed landmark in Bloomington, she ran Moy's Cafe for many years.

After she retired, Moon returned to her passion for Chinese poetry, painting and calligraphy. She taught herself the art of writing with black ink and a brush, and water-color painting.

Moon became known for her packages -- individual collections of poems, proverbs and paintings written in her graceful Chinese calligraphy that became gifts to her friends. Many have been collected into a book, "Reflections," published in 2009 in celebration of her 95th birthday. Among the verses is this one:

During my life, I have tasted everything,

The sweet, the sour, the bitter, and the spicy hot.

Through my stations in life I have found that

If one has a pure and kind heart, one will achieve happiness.

Visitation will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Washburn McReavy Funeral Chapel, 2300 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington. A celebration of Fong's life will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at Washburn McReavy.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

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