Ro Van Ngo (84), of Cedar Rapids, IA passed away peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his family at St. Luke’s Ed & Joan Hemphill Hospice Unit on November 7, 2023. He died due to complications from advanced dementia and pneumonia.
A formal visitation will be held on Friday, November 17 from 4pm-8pm at the Cedar Memorial Chapel Stateroom, where his family welcomes all of his friends, acquaintances, former students, and colleagues to come join them in paying their final respects. A private ceremony will be held the following day for family members only and will be closed to the public.
Ro was born on July 7, 1939 in Tra Vinh Province in Vietnam, where he lived with his father, mother, and two older brothers. He was a lifelong seeker of knowledge, getting high marks and attending a French colonial school in Vietnam, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and French. After immigrating to the U.S. at the end of the Vietnam War, he continued his education at the University of Iowa and graduated with an M.A. in Education and Mathematics in 1982.
Ro is survived by his loving and dedicated wife of more than 48 years, Tu Anh Ngo; his daughters Helene Ngo of Los Angeles, CA, and Josephine Ngo of Sacramento, CA; his sons Christopher Huynh (wife Tam) of Richardson, TX, and Alex Vu Huynh of Garland Tx; and his grandchildren Alicia, Alexander, and Angelina Huynh, as well as several extended family members. Ro was preceded in death by his parents, three older brothers, and two uncles.
Ro served as a lieutenant for 3 years in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He also assisted the American Embassy by traveling with them to combat areas, explaining local Vietnamese customs, and providing information on the towns, villages and terrain, as well as acting as a liaison between the American embassy and the American and Vietnamese militaries.
He had a thirst for knowledge and dreamt of becoming an educator, which led to him becoming a high school principal in Vietnam, before leaving with the American military at the end of the war. He made stops in the Philippines, Guam, and later the refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. From there, he was sponsored by First Lutheran Church and relocated to Cedar Rapids, IA which he made his permanent home, and where he worked as a math and English as a Second Language (ESL) educator in the Cedar Rapids School District for 26 years.
Upon his arrival in Cedar Rapids and his sponsorship by the Church, he would meet two of its congregants who would change his life forever: sisters Oline and Hazel Siem. They became like mother figures to Ro. They helped him and his family settle into the city by assisting with rent, getting them involved with the church, showing them around Cedar Rapids, babysitting, and even going so far as providing a personal loan so that he and Tu Anh could buy their very first home together.
One of his family’s favorite stories to tell is that shortly after becoming a teacher, he received a birthday present from a colleague, which was a Time Life book on do-it-yourself electrical wiring. This spurred his curiosity and desire to learn how to build his very own home. One year later, he used the remainder of his student loans to buy land on the Northwest side. He used his 3 months’ summer vacation from school to build the home and was assisted only by his young cousin and another student. The goal was to move in on his wife’s birthday, October 8, 1983, which he was surprisingly able to accomplish. With this achievement under his belt, his confidence grew greatly, and he began looking for affordable houses to fix up. Thus began his side gig as a landlord, at one point owning several houses and apartment buildings.
He was very active in the Vietnamese community, as he was one of the first Vietnamese refugees to come to Cedar Rapids and played a hand in building the community as it stands now. He helped many members of the community who could not speak English by advocating on their behalf, as well as translating for them when they had any financial, legal, or medical needs. He was recognized by Governor Terry Branstad with a Governor’s Volunteer Award in 1986, for all the hard work he did in helping Vietnamese refugees acclimate to life in Cedar Rapids.
Additionally, he was the co-founder and president of the Vietnamese Friendship Association, which participated in the local Ethnic Festival held every year, as well as helped to coordinate Vietnamese New Year festivities at Washington High School, the high school he worked at for 17 years, and from where he would retire in the year 2000.
After his retirement, he became an official Vietnamese translator with the American Translators Association. His favorite hobbies were grabbing coffee with friends, reading history, learning Chinese, and writing poetry; he even turned one of his poems into a recorded song. He was a caring father, husband and a friend to many, and nothing pleased him more than sharing a laugh, or a funny story or two. He was a beloved mentor to his many high school students, and to anyone else who needed his help. His absence will be felt deeply in the hearts of all those who were able to meet him, know him and love him.
To the dedicated staff at St. Luke’s Hospital, the family offers their utmost appreciation for the lengths they went to, to keep him comfortable. For those who wish to donate in his honor, please direct any donations to the St. Luke’s Foundation, in honor of Ro’s caregivers in both the ER and the Hospice Unit. The family is indebted to these outstanding departments for providing him with the loving, quality care he needed in his final days. Please contact the St. Luke’s Foundation at (319) 369-7716 for further information.