William Zajicek, President
Bill Zajicek retired from 3M from roles of Project Engineer, Mfg Manager, & Product Engineer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Business & Community Development from Metro State University. He spent 4 years living and working in Malaysia opening a new 3M manufacturing facility. He is presently on the board of the St. Paul Payne-Phalen Community Council and volunteers at Merrick Community Services. Previous president of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company. Served 2 years in the US Army. Worked as an apprentice carpenter in his father’s construction business over summers in high school and college. Enjoys design, construction, and remodeling. Dabbles in photography, scuba, and astronomy. A passion for hiking, backpacking, gardening, biking, swimming but not walking. Becoming a serious student of Chinese Gardens.
Linda Mealey-Lohmann, Secretary, President Emeritus
Linda Mealey-Lohmann is the Co-Founder of the MN China Friendship Garden Society (2005) and was its President from 2005 to 2020. She led MCFGS through Phase I fundraising (over $1 million) and Phase I construction to the Grand Opening in 2019; and was project manager for the 9 Art Stones. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in East Asian Studies, a Master’s Degree in Chinese Language and Literature, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. She has taught Chinese at all levels, from preschool to college, and has traveled to China 23 times over nearly forty years. She is an avid gardener, and has a deep interest in China, Chinese culture, and China Gardens. She received her law degree from the University of Minnesota and works as a mediator, helping parties in conflict avoid going to court and resolve their disputes (formerly an employment law litigator). She is past Vice President and Secretary of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association-MN Chapter and has helped to organize several public cultural China-related events.
Chen Zhou, Vice President
Chen Zhou is also the Chair of MCFGS Chinese Advisory Group. He was a board member of US-China Peoples Friendship Association-MN Chapter for 6 years. In 2018, Chen along with a number of Chinese volunteers planned and executed a grass roots media campaign. Through their efforts, there have been over 10 Chinese articles published in a short period time in various media: local newspapers, WeChat links, World Journal, etc. Chen and his team also organized a sister-city gift Reveal party for 300 guests, helped organize the 2019 Grand Opening Gala Banquet, mobilized a grass roots donation campaign that resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in donations, and has supported various Chinese activities. Chen is regarded as one of the leaders in the Chinese community. Chen was invaluable in using his engineering knowledge and Chinese and English language skills during the Phase I construction.
Stuart Knappmiller, Treasurer
Stuart Knappmiller joined the MCFGS Board in January 2021. Stuart grew up on a 228-acre dairy farm in SW Wisconsin. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Philosophy from UW-Platteville (1971), an MDiv from United Theological Seminary (1998), and was a Bush Fellow in a masters licensure program at the University of St Thomas. He has worked as a miner in the second largest underground mine in the world, in sales at 3M, as a youth minister, and lastly as a St Paul Public Schools Special Education math teacher. He has spent many months with his wife Mary Ellen in SE Asia as their son is a USAF Lt Col Intell Asia-Pacific Regional Specialist. He has served on boards of the MN Canoe Association, MN PTA, Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District, Living at Home Block Nurse Program, Payne Phalen Community Council, and is an active volunteer with the Center for Victims of Torture, Sierra Club, Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, Friends of the BWCAW, Friends of the Mississippi, BikeMN, and Lower Phalen Creek Project. Mary Ellen and Stuart celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Changsha Pavilion.
Audrey Busch joined the MCFGS Board in August 2023. She has spent a lifetime growing plants and learners. Audrey holds degrees in Education, Horticulture, and Landscape Design & Construction. She is a MNLA (Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association) Certified Professional. She works in landscape management, professional gardening, and floral design, and teaches formally and informally for all age levels. Subjects she enjoys are varied but usually include the beauty and science of the natural world. Audrey currently works as a Horticulturist at the University of Minnesota caring for the Chinese Garden, Sculpture Garden and several Shrub Collections at the Landscape Arboretum. Her professional seamstress skills and love of creativity have led her to participate with the Chinese American Association of Minnesota – Chinese Dance Theater. Practicing kindness, gratitude and growing community led her to this opportunity to serve on the Board. She believes that every garden is a space with treasures, friendships, and memories waiting to be discovered.
Brian Hammer joined the MCFGS Board in January 2021. With his interests in architecture, horticulture, public space, and community building, MCFGS’s mission is a natural extension of his personal and professional commitments. Brian holds a PhD in human geography from the University of Washington in Seattle and a Certificate in Chinese Studies from The Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. He has lived, worked, and studied in China for several years and has long-term interests in building human connections between China, Southeast Asia and Minnesota. He most recently served as Academic Dean for Asia and the Pacific at School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, and previously held positions at Rice University in Houston and the Alliance for Global Education in Shanghai. Brian currently lives in Minneapolis.
Sue Klevan joined the MCFGS Board in August 2023. Susan grew up on the East Side of Saint Paul and recently moved back to the Lake Phalen neighborhood and is an avid gardener. She has a BA degree in mathematics from Luther College and an MBA from the UofM. Her career was Information Technology for financial services companies, retiring as director of IT at Ameriprise Financial. She has played leadership roles at Immanuel Lutheran Church where she helped resolve a chronic financial shortfall by restructuring the staffing, started a monthly speaker program for seniors, and is working with a small group aimed at finding ways to contribute to the neighborhood as learned from Augsburg University Riverside Innovation Hub. Tutoring at Central High School in the AVID program for several years led to mentoring a student for over ten years. She enjoys international travel, most frequently to Iringa, Tanzania where she is currently launching a program within a larger relationship to support two female leaders who are working with rural women on economic empowerment and care of the needy. After home hosting a Chinese neurologist who was participating in an exchange program at Regions Hospital, she traveled to China and visited the physician in Chongqing.
Christina Le joined the MCFGS Board in August 2023. Christina’s interest in MCFGS came about when the founders of MCFGS planted the idea to the Whittier Minneapolis Board where she served for 11 years. She is thrilled to participate in its growth to the second phase. Christina had lived and studied in Sichuan China for a year while in college and earned degrees in biology and chemistry at St. Catherine University. She is an advocate for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) because she grew up drinking medicinal herbal teas prepared by her grandfather who was Minnesota’s first commercial TCM doctor. Le has also invested in real estate and businesses for over 20 years. One of Le’s partnerships currently involves redeveloping shopping centers throughout the U.S. into Asian/International-inspired lifestyle centers, such as the Burnsville Shopping Center. In March of 2023, Le opened Eat Street Crossing Foodhall along with partners and has owned and operated Lake Wine & Cheese since 2010. She and her husband have invested in numerous restaurants in airports throughout 5 different states. This year, Le was given the honor to serve as a Board of Trustees for The Minneapolis Foundation where she collaborates with others to find ways to “Cultivate Change Together” for the betterment of our community. She also currently serves on the Lyn-Lake Special Service Districts advisory committee. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, hiking, going to the gym, and playing the piano.
Donglin Liang joined the MCFGS Board in 2022. He came to Twin Cities in 2003 and has been working in UoM, US Bank, and several startups. He is currently serving as CTO of BPK Tech, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. Donglin has been helping to organize various events within Chinese communities. He is on the board of Minnesota Chinese IT Association, and was Chair from 2018-2020. He has helped to start and maintain the MN Chinese Americans Facebook group since 2020. He is one of the founding members for Minnesota May Forum – an annual event to bring panelists from AAPI communities to share their stories on Engagement and Heritage. He has created and maintained the website https://mayforum.org/. He has started a non-profit organization StemEDUX in 2019 to teach computer programming and artificial intelligence to children from minority groups. He believes that building better connections with the local communities and other ethnic groups by promoting Chinese culture will help to move this country forward.
Christina Deng Morrison joined the MCFGS Board in January 2021. She is the Founder and President of TJL International, a multilingual communications agency. She has been an MCFGS Chinese Advisory Committee member since 2017 and worked extremely hard to help promote the Chinese garden project via her Minnesota Chinese World Chinese language platform. As the Editor in Chief, Christina has personally written or published a good number of Chinese articles and news reports about the Chinese garden, contributed many sound and constructive suggestions and ideas to the Advisory Committee. Minnesota Chinese World was awarded “The Best Media” in 2019 at the Garden Grand Opening Gala Banquet. As one of the prominent local Chinese community leaders, Christina also serves as the President of Sino-American Neocultural Exchange and the Vice President of Chinese American Business Association of Minnesota. She has successfully planned, hosted, or organized numerous large-scale Chinese cultural events in the Twin Cities since 2009. She is well respected by the Chinese community and the Chinese Consulate General of People’s Republic of China in Chicago. Christina has a Bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in Communications and a Master’s degree in Eastern European Literature. She has extensive knowledge of Chinese history, literature, education, and other key Chinese cultural elements.
Romi Slowiak’s education in the liberal arts at Cornell University, and Urban Planning at George Washington University, have led to careers in planning (Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council), to become founder and Executive Director of a community arts agency (The East Side Arts Council), and producer of a neighborhood Arts Festival: Art in the Hollow. Her retirement title is “Community Arts Activist”. Her interest in this garden began at a review of the Phalen-Keller Park Master Plan in 2010 and continued with study of Chinese and Hmong Cultures and the China Garden Art form. Her current interest is in the role and growth of poetry in the garden.
Pa V Thao served on the MCFGS Board from August 2021 to July 2022, then served on the MCFGS Honorary Advisory Council, until rejoining the Board in 2023. She was born in Laos and migrated to the United States with her family after the Secret War as a refugee when she was only nine years old. She spent her childhood in California and then moved to Minnesota when she got married. Then she went on to get six certifications with Neiman Marcus for high-end fashion tailoring. Now, Pa currently works as an Operations Manager in the heart of North Loop Minneapolis. She played a key role as a member of the MCFGS Art Stones Committee and planning for the 2024 Hmong Plaza Celebration.
Ali Van joined the MCFGS Board in January 2021. To cultivate moving imagination and expanded communication, she gives value to a universal wilderness, to intrinsic porosity, silent geography, and manner song. She was born in New York and raised in Hong Kong, and has focused time within natural, civic, and isolate communities in Europe, Asia, and America. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University, and continues to engage, present, and publish her work internationally. As Jungian psychoanalyst she directs Rolodex, a treatise embracing aggregate truth and sovereign love. In Minnesota she settles to assemble a history of belonging, pausing to inspirit spatial cognition and root joy.
Mary Warpeha, Executive at Large Member
Mary Warpeha is a founding board member of the MN China Friendship Garden Society (2005 to present), as well as Board Member and past President of US-China Peoples Friendship Association-MN. She has a BA in Sociology from the University of Minnesota and BA and MA degrees in English as a Second Language from Hamline University. Mary has taught English language and American culture as a volunteer and staff member for 20 years at all learning levels in China and Minnesota. Her passports list regular trips to China and include several tours which she has led. She has been married for 53 years to Walter Warpeha, Jr. and has three children. Mary has acted as Director of Commonwealth Terrace Community Center at the U of MN. She has managed and been involved in the family Prosthodontic Clinic in Northeast Minneapolis. Among Mary’s treasured relationships is an Honorary Citizenship presented to her by the farmers in the small community of An Shang Village in Fufeng County, Shaanxi Province.
Gaoly Yang – Executive at Large Member
Gaoly Yang joined the MCFGS Board in 2022. She grew up during the war in Laos. Despite the frequent displacements, she was enriched by the diverse cultures, language and religions she encountered along the way. She led and co-founded a women’s organization after 2 years of being resettled in Minnesota to address issues facing Hmong refugee families such as domestic violence, truancies, mental health and other health concerns; starting her lifelong career in human services. She learned the importance of community engagement and community support towards a successful community transformation and acceptance of new elements in the environment. She’s learned that good outcomes can be born out of conflicts. She’s been working the last 30 years as a grants/contracts manager in the human service field and was successful at creating new collaborations between various partners to maximize service outcomes for people in need. Her person-centered approach and skills in human service will be an asset to MCFGS.