Refugee death recalls a different time

The recent death of a former immigrant from Vietnam who once lived on South Whidbey represents an end of an era, according to a resident who remembers him and his family.

Sai Dinh Nguyen was one of many Vietnamese people who worked with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War and then resettled in America because they were in danger in their homeland after the fall of Saigon.

Whidbey resident Gloria Koll recalls that the fleeing families were matched with voluntary organizations, agencies, individuals and churches that provided them with food, clothing, shelter and education.

Several South Whidbey churches, including St. Augustine’s Episcopal and Trinity Lutheran, welcomed Sai and To-Hoa Nguyen and their little daughters in 1975.

“They had bright minds, warm personalities and were soon beloved by those of us privileged to become friends with them,” she said in an email. “We remember many dinners around their table laden with delicious Vietnamese food, the meal completed with To-Hoa’s elaborate French-style cakes.”

The family eventually moved to Lynnwood, where Nguyen worked as a civil engineer for more than 30 years.

He cared deeply for his homeland, according to his obituary, and continued to work to bring democratic change to Vietnam.

He and his wife raised five daughters, all of whom have had successful careers and family lives, according to his obituary.

South Whidbey’s support of refugees didn’t end there. Four churches provided support to a refugee family from Laos not long afterward.

Koll said she feels that it’s important to remember this history now more than ever.

“In today’s climate, hostile to refugees,” she said, “it is good to remember a time when our government, churches, charitable organizations and open-hearted individuals cooperated to protect and assist brave people fleeing for their lives.”

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