By Becky Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Soo Ing-Moody reached into the brown paper bag and pulled out an olive-green square block. The lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice is a staple in Cantonese dim -sum and a treat from this reporter. The mayor flashed a smile and exclaimed, “I used to help my mom make this!”
There’s no dim -sum restaurant in this mountain town along the Methow River in the North Cascades. It’s a long way from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, where Ing-Moody was born and raised. A first generation Chinese Canadian, Ing-Moody’s unexpected journey serving 13 years as the mayor of Twisp, a town of 1,000, ended on Dec. 31, 2023.
As Ing-Moody scribbled out her name in Chinese characters ‘吳素娟 – ING Soo Kuen,’ she said her family’s history mirrored many immigrant stories that have already been told by authors like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston. Ing-Moody’s parents have since passed, but their “can-do” spirit carries on in Ing-Moody’s work in Toronto’s financial sector, in her graduate study in Germany and in her tenure as a four-time elected official—once in city council, three times as mayor.
Ing-Moody’s parents were from Taisan 台山, Guangdong Province, in the Pearl River Delta of Southern China. Grandfather Ing had been in Toronto and Niagara Falls, Canada, prior to the 1930s doing various odd jobs. Like many early Chinese immigrants to North America, he came to “Gold Mountain” to seek his fortune so that family back home in China could survive.
Between 1881-1885, 17,000 Chinese laborers helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway, connecting eastern Canada and British Columbia. The laborers, often handling explosives on the dangerous western section of the railroad, were paid one Canadian dollar a day. Once the railroad was complete, the demand for laborers dropped. Anti-Chinese sentiment escalated, leading to Canada’s exclusion era of Chinese immigration from 1885 to 1962. The government imposed expensive head taxes that made it impossible for the Chinese laborers to bring spouses or children.
Grandfather Ing had to leave his wife and son behind.
After Ing-Moody’s father married, he left his bride and mother to join his father in Canada in 1951. The younger Ing traveled back to China once or twice by boat to visit his wife. In between, they wrote letters.
After one of those visits, Ing-Moody’s mom became pregnant. She and Grandmother Ing moved to join family in Hong Kong, where Ing-Moody’s sister was born. Aided by an immigration sponsorship from a white police friend in Niagara Falls, the family reunited in Canada in 1968. It was the first time Ing-Moody’s sister met her father. She was 12. Shortly after, Ing-Moody was born, followed by her younger brother.
Ing-Moody recalled her father working as a kitchen help at the famed Revolving Dining Room in Niagara Falls’ Skylon Tower. Her parents later operated two Chinese restaurants. Outside of regular school or Chinese school, Ing-Moody and her brother helped out at the restaurants. They were eateries “with 105 things on the menu,” including chow mein, fried rice, and sweet-sour chicken catering to North American palates.
At home, Ing-Moody’s mom made authentic Chinese meals—duck, barbecues, and Ing-Moody’s favorite “Cheung fun”—rice noodle rolls, another dim sum staple. She’s spoiled by her mom’s cooking.
“I like to eat good food,” Ing-Moody said.
Ing-Moody inherited her curiosity and resourcefulness from her mom, while her interest in politics and the social world came from her dad. He was interested in world affairs and read the newspaper incessantly. The two of them would sit for hours and discuss current events in English. When Ing-Moody’s mom walked in on them with a disapproving “aiya!” they would immediately switch to speaking in Chinese.
After high school, Ing-Moody worked hard for five years, not wanting to burden her parents financially. At a brokerage firm, she was promoted and received operations training at the Toronto Stock Exchange. Being resourceful in her various jobs, she leveraged her benefits and compensations to pay for her education. She worked during the day, attended classes at night, including studying for a Human Resource Management certificate at Ryerson Polytechnical College in Toronto, now Ryerson University, before pursuing her undergraduate degrees at the “Harvard” of Canada, the University of Toronto (UT).
“I have this endless curiosity for social systems, people, and communities,” Ing-Moody said., “My curiosity can only take me so far if I don’t have this other tool to access them.” She double majored in Sociology and German Language & Literature.
Prior to UT, Ing-Moody backpacked alone for four months in Europe, visiting 10 countries. Germany and its people resonated with her. For her third year at UT, she received a scholarship to study globalization and social systems under a well-respected professor, Dr. Schwengel at Germany’s University of Freiburg (UF). After finishing her last year in Toronto, Ing-Moody returned to Germany to pursue her graduate studies under the same professor.
As a sociology graduate student at UF, Ing-Moody worked under Dr. Johann Goldammer, a renowned global fire ecologist and the editor of the International Forest Fire News. Ing-Moody copy-edited the publication in English for Goldammer, reading scientific forest fire related studies from all over the world. When the German government needed a social scientist to go to Mongolia to research the surge in wildfires in the rural communities of the Khan Khenteii National Forest, Ing-Moody was the most qualified.
Wildfire and the Pacific Northwest all came together in Mongolia.
Mike Moody was a paramedic in Wenatchee. He and his father, Bill Moody, were teaching fire science in Mongolia. Mike and Soo met, and it was not love at first sight. She was based in Germany, and Mike in Washington. Not Washington, D.C. as Ing-Moody had originally thought.
On a trip back to Toronto after Ing-Moody’s father passed away, her mom persuaded her to visit Mike, in the other Washington, knowing she needed a break from mourning. Ing-Moody and her father were close. Ing-Moody acquiesced. Mike showed her the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, including the Methow Valley where he grew up. Friendship grew into partnership. The two married and, in 2000, settled in Twisp. They ran a bed-and-breakfast while raising their two young sons.
“I didn’t initially choose to be the mayor of Twisp,” Ing-Moody said. She first noticed the void in leadership in an advertisement in the local newspaper. Three out of five town council positions and the mayor’s job were open. Someone better step up.
That thought lingered on for several days. She mentioned it to her husband. Mike replied,
“I can see you doing that.”
Ing-Moody ran unopposed for a council position despite being unknown.
“It was my time to serve,” she said. That was in 2010.
After nine months, the newly- elected mayor had quit. The town council appointed Ing-Moody to fill in and finish the term of the departed mayor. Eight months, she figured.
Ing-Moody served 13 years as mayor, re-elected three times. Under her leadership, Twisp upgraded its sewage and water lines, repaved 95% of its roads, and built a new civic building that serves as an emergency operations center and town hall, replacing a 60-year-old dilapidated building. The building is to serve as the hub for emergency communication for the Methow Valley, a result of lessons learned after wildfires disabled power and cell service to the area impeding fire- fighting and evacuation efforts.
The 2014 Carlton Complex fire and the 2015 Twisp River fire (which killed three firefighters and severely scarred a fourth) had been the state’s largest wildfires. Sen. Maria Cantwell honored Ing-Moody in the Women of Valor ceremony in 2015 for her leadership in guiding Twisp through these fires.
Ing-Moody initiated the formation of the Okanogan Council of Governments, which she chaired and also acts as the Regional Transportation Planning Organization. She also chaired the Methow Watershed Council, participated in regional watershed discussions, and acquired water rights for the town. Ing-Moody helped to secure the protection of the Methow Valley from the large- scale open-pit mining through her advocacy of the Methow Headwaters Campaign to enable healthy and sustainable growth for the future of the Methow Valley. State-wide during her tenure, she was elected vice president of the Association of Washington Cities and then president in 2020-2021.
Ing-Moody may no longer be a mayor, but she continues to serve Washington state, advocating for the unserved or underserved, including small towns and rural communities, as a member of the Regional Community Engagement Team for the WA Department of Commerce.
Rumor also has it that a book on her musings as a small-town mayor is in the works.
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.