Decades later, Vietnam refugee returns to thank Hibbing

Zung To has done alright for himself since he and his family fled Vietnam more than 35 years ago. He manages a group of 75 scientists researching cancer treatment for a pharmaceutical company in California. His siblings all work in high-tech medical fields.

It’s hard not to imagine what the family might have contributed to a better Iron Range had his family spent more than a year in Hibbing, Minn., on his way to a better life.

“We were here through the harsh winter, then packed up on a Greyhound bus and headed to California for warmer weather,” he tells the Hibbing Daily Tribune. “My mom wanted to be by a big university to continue to advance the education of her kids. That was really, really important to my mom.”

To is back in Hibbing, finding his roots as an American, and looking up the three families from two churches who took a risk and embraced a family that didn’t look like Hibbing.

“From the two churches that sponsored us, I didn’t sense any sort of discrimination. They were always full of kindness and generosity,” he told the paper. “High school was challenging because we were different, so a lot of them looked at us differently, but I had a couple really good friends that took me under their wing. They showed me around, and in a way protected me from the rest of the crowd.”

“I don’t want to brag about the success of myself and my siblings, but it’s something that the people of Hibbing really contributed to,” he said.

To says three families — the Dissells, Davises and Hilligosses — took “unimaginable risks” by taking his family in.

“Their outpouring of love and affection for each other and those who helped them was obvious right from the start,” Don Hilligoss said. “To see them come here after the passing of their father despite the fear of repercussions is a story almost worthy of a movie.”