A self-described “Norwegian” farm girl, Julie Knutson DeHart grew up in rural Lanesboro, the adopted daughter of Sharon and Robert Knutson.
At Lanesboro High School, the 1992 graduate played in the band, went out for volleyball and ran track. She was a 4-Her for two years and grew up attending services with her family at Elstad Lutheran Church near Highland.
“I kept waiting for my eyes to turn blue and my hair to turn brown,” Julie recalled, a big smile spreading across her very Asian face. She says that she knows the feeling of growing up a Twinkie - yellow on the outside and white on the inside - in homogenous rural Minnesota.
Julie was 8 1/2 months old when she left her native Vietnam in 1974, an orphaned girl named To Ngoc Dung. Vietnamese names are presented last name first, then middle name, and first name last. When Dung (pronounced Yoom) left Providence Orphanage in Can Tho, her adoption papers described her as a healthy baby with a “strong cry and no apparent abnormalities.” The papers didn’t say who her nautral parents were or the cirmstances surrounding her being orphaned. There was no mention of a war going on; Saigon would fall in April 1975.
This past March, Julie, now 28, returned to Vietnam for the first time since being adopted by the Knutsons.
A nurse at Franciscan Skemp in LaCrosse, Julie was one of 25 members of a medical mission sponsored by Children of Peace International (COPI), a non-profit organization that runs a number of orphanages and schools in Vietnam. Also a member of the team was Julie’s husband, David DeHart, a family physician with Franciscan Skemp in Prairie du Chien, where the couple live.
Julie said she was not interested in going to Vietnam as a tourist, but when Dr. Lee Johnson at Francisican Kemp told her about the medical mission, she became enthused.
“When Dr. Johnson talked to me about Children of Peace International and the medical mission to Vietnam, I thought it would be a nice way to do some good and visit my native country at the same time.”
Each medical team member had to raise the necessary funds, about $2,400, to cover their expenses on the trip, which included airfare, hotels, and food.
Before leaving for Vietnam, Julie wasn’t even sure if there would be time to travel to Can Tho, some three hours south of Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City), where her last .....[Read the Rest]