2001: Immigrant Donated Own Donations

Janitor was moved by 9/11 attacks to give up gift

William Tran
Retired Highland Park ISD custodian William Tran explains why he gave donations from students to the Red Cross in 2011. The donations were intended to help Tran get his family from Vietnam to the United States. Staff Photo: Chris McGathey

By Kara Mauerhan | Special Contributor

William Tran, a former HPISD janitor, is a man with a big heart and an even bigger sense of determination to realize his long-held dreams.

However, his dreams do not involve money, fame, or power; Tran dreams that, one day, his wife and all six of their children will be living in the U.S. together as a family.

William Tran

A miniature American flag waves in the cold air from a vent in Tran's apartment. Staff Photo: Chris McGathey
A miniature American flag waves in the cold air from a vent in Tran's apartment.

In October 2001, Park Cities People reported that Tran was an immigrant who, after joining with the U.S. Special Forces in 1975 on assignment from the South Vietnamese Army, was captured and imprisoned for 11 years in North Vietnam. Tran escaped when he paid $3,000 in gold to sneak out of the country on a fishing boat.

Tran was featured in the paper because the Highland Park High School Student Council gave him $250 that had been collected for the Red Cross in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. After hearing about his desire to bring his family to the States, students presented the money to him during a raucous pep rally. Against the advice of others, however, Tran then turned around and donated the money to the Red Cross.

When asked this week via a translator what had compelled him to do so, Tran said “he wanted to help the people because the people were helping him.”

Given his lack of English, the story of Tran’s life is a bit fuzzy. One detail he revealed this week, which was not mentioned in the 2001 article, is that he was taken from Vietnam to Malaysia, where he lived in a sort of “half-way home” for four years that helped him deal with his past and get back on his feet.

Tran said upon completing his time there, he spent six months with his family before coming to the U.S., where he has been working ever since. Prior to the 2001 article, Tran said, he had seen his family only once for a visit in 1998.

Now 74 years old, Tran has at least partially realized his dream, as he has brought his three daughters to Dallas, he said; his wife and three sons are still in Vietnam. Tran himself also lives in Dallas with a roommate and enjoys the company of many friends, pointing out all the pictures of them displayed in his apartment near UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Tran retired from his job with HPISD in August 2004, due to complications from prostate cancer. But he hopes the rest of his dream will soon come true, with all of his loved ones residing in Dallas. The translator asked him how he felt to have at least part of his family in the U.S., and Tran said that he was “happy.”

Kara Mauerhan is an intern for People Newspapers.


The University Park Public Library inked a deal with Legacy Hillcrest Investments in January to temporarily move into the Chase Bank site at Daniel and Hillcrest avenues. The library is still in that “temporary” home. Meanwhile, the first drawings of Legacy’s proposed 500,000-plus-square-foot development made waves with residents that month.

SMU’s Meadows Museum opened to much fanfare and celebration in March. The 66,000-square-foot building houses the largest collection of Spanish art outside of Spain itself.

After returning from spring break, more than 250 Highland Park High School students, faculty, and staff contracted the same mysterious stomach virus, hospitalizing at least one student for dehydration.

Lynn Vogt stepped down as the executive director of the Highland Park Education Foundation in January. Vogt, who managed the nonprofit for six years, was replaced by Sally McPherson, the former development director at Good Shepherd Episcopal School.

After an extensive nationwide search and several community meetings, Cathy Bryce was selected as HPISD’s new superintendent, replacing John Connolly. Jean Rutherford, assistant superintendent for curriculum and evaluation, and Larry Groppel, assistant superintendent for business services, would also leave their posts, replaced by John Cain and Ben Coker, respectively.

Jeff Barnes defeated Jeff Landsberg in a landslide to replace Guy Kerr in Place 4 on the Highland Park ISD Board of Trustees.

Valedictorian: Cameron Hall
Salutatorian: Brett Raynor
Blanket Award winners: Bess Bain and Raynor

Carolyn Dealey Campbell, Nicole Lynn Metzger, Shelby Brooks Morgan, Kathleen Harrell Shelton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *