GRAND FORKS — More than $100,000 has been raised to bring the parents of a University of North Dakota professor to Grand Forks to attend his funeral, after he died unexpectedly.
Tao Yu, an assistant professor of chemistry, died on June 13, after officers from the Grand Forks Police Department responded to a call for medical service at his residence at the 400 block of Burdick Court. The investigation is still ongoing and police have not received a death report.
On June 19, Yu’s colleagues began raising money online to cover funeral expenses, as well as bring his parents to Grand Forks from their home in China. As of June 22, funds totaled more than $102,000, vastly surpassing the goal of $50,000.
Xusheng Wang, an assistant professor of biology at UND, said he was Yu’s closest friend in Grand Forks. Wang, one of the organizers of the GoFundMe account (at www.gofundme.com/f/tao-yu-memorial-fund), expressed gratitude for the significant amount of donations to bring Yu’s parents to Grand Forks.
“This is actually beyond my expectation,” Wang said, and added that donations are coming from across the nation, in many cases from Chinese-American communities.
After funeral and considerable travel costs, remaining funds will be used to support Yu’s father and mother, Kaiming Yu and Yonlan Huang. Huang has late stage cancer and Yu had been supporting his parents in their retirement, helping with medical expenses, to the point where he had foregone purchasing a home for himself.
“He basically put a lot of support for his parents, since his mother got a cancer diagnosis,” Wang said.
A portion of the statement on Yu’s GoFundMe page indicates his parents “would like him to be buried in Grand Forks based on his love of North Dakota, and the many dreams he shared with them regarding this region and the warm people he cared for here.”
Also according to that statement, Yu’s parents have completed a necessary interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and are expecting to receive travel visas in the upcoming days.
Yuqiang Wang, an analytical chemist at UND, said memorial services would be held at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Grand Forks. The funeral is tentatively set for Monday, June 28, but could be moved to another date depending on Yu's parents' travel itinerary.
UND President Andrew Armacost said he has not yet had any contact with Yu’s parents, but that he is working to do so.
“I make it a practice to reach out to family members, when something like this happens to a member of our community,” Armacost said. “I would certainly meet them face to face and offer my condolences personally, and also on the impact that he had on the UND community.”
Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said Yu was developing a successful research program at UND, and his death would be felt throughout the UND community.
“Tao was a wonderful colleague, a gifted researcher and a dedicated teacher,” Rundquist said. “His loss will be felt by faculty he collaborated with, staff he interacted with and students that he taught.”
Yuqiang Wang said Yu had spent 14 years in the United States. After graduating from Fudan University in China, he earned a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, then came to UND two years ago. Yu, 39, was not married and had no other family members in the United States.