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Kao Ly Ilean Her, the University of Minnesota's first Hmong regent and a passionate advocate for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, died Thursday. She was 52.

Her had been hospitalized for the past few weeks. She had a chronic lung disease and recently contracted COVID-19, said her sister Sharon Her Edgens.

Her was elected to a six-year term on the U's governing board in 2019. She previously served as executive director of the state Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans for more than 15 years.

"For many of us on the university campus, absolutely myself included, she was the warmest advocate and friend and also the fiercest," U President Joan Gabel said during Friday's Board of Regents meeting. "Her service to the university was remarkable. Her service to the entire state of Minnesota ... is so well known."

Regent Ken Powell, the board's chairman, added that Her was "a great colleague and a strong voice on our board for diversity and inclusion statewide." In her two years on the board, Her established herself as a "careful listener" and "champion for higher education," Powell said.

Born in Laos, Her fled to the United States with her family in 1976 because of her father's involvement with allied U.S. forces. They settled in Iowa and moved to St. Paul in 1986.

She graduated from Hamline University with a bachelor's degree in political science and later received a law degree from the U.

Her was a trailblazer in many respects. She was the first Hmong woman admitted to the Minnesota State Bar Association. She led the Hmong Elders Center, which provides services for Hmong seniors in the Twin Cities. And she co-founded a slew of nonprofits, including Allies for Mentoring Asian Youth, Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together and the Heritage Center for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

"She basically was the organizer in our family as well as the community," Sharon Her Edgens said. "She was a true champion for the arts and for Hmong women."

Her also loved gardening, spending time outdoors and being with family and friends.

She is survived by her mother, two sisters, two brothers and 14 nieces and nephews.

Services will be at Legacy Funeral Home in St. Paul on June 5-6.

Memorials may be sent to the Kao Ly Ilean Her Memorial Scholarship Fund at Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together.

The Minnesota Legislature will be responsible for electing someone to finish Her's term on the Board of Regents. Gov. Tim Walz may appoint someone temporarily until the Legislature can act.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth