A celebration of life for Vera Ing takes place at the North Seattle Community College Wellness Center (9600 College Way North, Seattle 98103) on Saturday, February 1 beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Vera Ing was a woman of many interests, an eternal optimist who always saw the glass as half full. She wore many hats. She was a champion of Asian American art, a political junkie who loved participating in the democratic process, a community activist who was committed to improving conditions in the International District and the Pan-Asian American community, a loving wife who was married for more than 50 years, a devoted mother who made time to be involved in her children’s lives, and a doting grandmother who adored the children of her children.
Vera was born on September 28, 1940, on the birthday of Confucius, in the Year of the Dragon. Her parents, D. Kan Chan and Ho Tim Chan operated the Don Ting Restaurant in the space now known as the Sea Garden Restaurant. The Chan family, including older brother John and older sister Mari, lived humbly in a one bedroom apartment in Canton Alley occupied today by the International District Emergency Center. Playing on metal swings on the Chong Wah playfield, attending Chinese school, watching movies at the Atlas Theatre, having ice cream treats at Chick’s Creamery were part of Vera’s fond memories of being a child of Chinatown.
She learned at an early age about community. Her father was an officer of the Chong Wah Benevolent Association. The close-knit fabric of Chinatown produced many “aunties” and “uncles” from families like the Louies, the Dongs, the Ings, and the Chinns, who watched out for little Vera and formed relationships that lasted forever.
As Vera pointed out in her autobiography, Dim Sum The Seattle ABC (American Born Chinese) Dream, it was the goal of families like hers to own a spacious house and leave the one-room apartments of Chinatown. When Vera was eight years old, the family bought a house on East Jefferson Street in the Central Area for $2,000. It was a four story, four bedroom house with a large living room and entry area, a dining room and pantry, an attic and a basement with a coal furnace—quite a contrast from the crowded one-bedroom apartment that the family had in Canton Alley. But even though the family moved away, they maintained their ties to Chinatown—Vera continued going to Chinese school during the afternoon. As a teenager, she marched with the Chinese drill team.
Living in the Central Area opened a world beyond Chinatown for Vera Faye Chan. She went to the Maryknoll summer school where she had Filipino classmates. She had Japanese Americans girlfriends. She went to school at Washington Junior High, then to Garfield High School. She was a typical 1950s teenager, dating, going to parties, and being a groupie for the Skyliners Dance Band, a Japanese American dance band. She even dated Japanese American boys, which was very frowned upon by Ah Mah, her mother.
In the summer of 1959, following her graduation from high school, Vera attended the wedding of Florence Ing’s daughter. At the wedding, she was introduced to Joey Ing, a young architecture student at the University of Washington. He was educated, presentable, and most important for Ah Mah, he was Chinese. Joey asked Vera out. She said yes. And one year later, they were married, a fifty-three-year love affair that lasted until Vera passed away. The two were meant for each other, Joey was the level-headed anchor who kept the often spontaneous Vera grounded.
In the 1960s, while Joey began to establish his career as one of the city’s creative architects, Vera’s world centered around raising a family. In a relatively short period of time, Vera gave birth to three children—JaDeane, Joel, and Jeffrey. The Ing family had outgrown the Beacon Hill home overlooking the Jefferson Golf Course. Joey and Vera bought a house in the Mt. Baker neighborhood, a home with a swimming pool and an incredible view of Lake Washington. The seller had been asking for $45,000 but to Joey and Vera’s good fortune, the seller accepted their offer, which was considerably less. For most of the decade, Vera was a stay-at-home mom, but even in this capacity, she wasn’t content. She had to be involved. Vera made it a point to know her Mt.Baker neighbors and joined the Mt. Baker Community Club, eventually becoming its President.
When the Ing children were old enough to go to school, Vera decided to go to school as well. She was about a generation older than most of her fellow students, but this didn’t stop her from earning a bachelor of arts degree in urban planning. In fact, she was inspired by the student activists who attended school during the day and brought back their expertise to preserve and revitalize the International District—to fight for better housing, social services, arts and culture, street improvements, and restoration of historic buildings. With her background in urban planning and her affinity for the neighborhood of her childhood, Vera wanted to use her skills in the overall effort to preserve the International District.
During what she described as the “golden era of Asian activism,” from the 1970s through the mid 1980s, Vera became engaged in the preservation on the International District. She joined the board of the International District Improvement Association (InterIm), today known as InterIm CDA, where she served alongside such community leaders as Tomio Moriguchi, Ben Woo, Shigeko Uno, and Dolores Sibonga to support the leadership of Uncle Bob Santos and his young dedicated staff. Eventually Vera would serve as board president during a highly productive time for InterIm when demonstration projects such as a mental counseling project, a community clinic, a day-care project, and a tenant services project would lead to establishment of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, International Community Health Services, the Denise Louie Education Center, and the International District Housing Alliance.
Vera also served on the board of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda). One of the functions of the SCIDpda, as a quasi-government agency, was to set aside funding for public arts. Vera took an active role in developing the public arts program—getting George Tsutakawa to create a bronze sculpture, which can still be enjoyed at the corner of Maynard and Jackson, and Gerry Tsutakawa to create a climbing dragon sculpture at the International Children’s Park.
In 1980, Vera coordinated the first Asian American art exhibition, “Made in America,” at the Wing Luke Museum. This show gave recognition not only to established artists like George Tsutakawa, Johsel Namkung, and Val Laigo, but also to lesser known artists (at the time) like Patti Warashima and Frank Fujii and up-and-coming artists such as Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Amy Nikaitani. Vera’s passion for art made her a natural fit with the Wing Luke Museum, helping in expanding the vision of the Museum beyond the display of traditional oriental heirlooms to representing the rich diversity found in Seattle’s Pan-Asian American communities.
In the early-1980s, Asian community leaders like Vera recognized the potential of the Pan-Asian community as a political force and sought viable candidates willing to run for office. Vera, whose appetite for politics was fed by the successful political campaigns of Gary Locke and Dolores Sibonga, thought, “Why not me?” She found employment to get an insider’s view of the political process, first as a legislative aide to Seattle City Councilman Tim Hill, then as a legislative clerk for the State Democratic Caucus.
In 1984, Vera ran for the position of State Representative in the 37th Legislative District against the incumbent, John O’Brien, a man who then had served for more than 42 years in the State Legislature. With trusted confidante and political guru Ruth Woo serving as her campaign manager, Vera faced an uphill battle. Compared to O’Brien, Vera had no name familiarity. Needing to raise money, Vera was reluctantly dependent of the political donations made by her “Chinatown uncles and aunties.” She criss-crossed the 37th District, her family helped put up political signs, but it wasn’t enough. When the election was held, Vera split the reform vote with a third candidate and O’Brien, the incumbent, won. While Vera had the overwhelming support of the Asian community, they didn’t live in her District. Although the itch to run again for office would surface from time to time, Vera would decide against it.
Despite the demoralizing loss, Vera bounced back and continued to find ways to serve the community. Vera wrote a column titled, “Dim Sum,” for both the Northwest Asian Weekly and the International Examiner, offering her perspectives on the issues and events of the day. She established the Prima Vera Arts Center for the Performing Arts that houses Pork-Filled Players and The Repertory Actors Theatre (ReAct). She was president of the North Seattle Community College Foundation Board and chairperson of the Bumbershoot Advisory Committee. She also served on the University of Washington’s Women’s Center Advisory Committee, the Seattle Center Advisory Commission, and the Women Plus Business Advisory Committee. In 2010, she wrote her biography, Dim Sum, The Seattle ABC (American Born Chinese) Dream.
Throughout the years, Vera played the perfect hostess. She made her home available for meetings of all sorts, political fundraisers for favored candidates, and the legendary SeaFair hydroplane parties in the summer where folks could socialize and smooze or discuss and strategize. And Vera made sure that everyone had enough to eat.
Vera passed away on January 18, 2014 after a courageous battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband, Joey, her children, JaDeane, Joey, and Jeffrey, her grandchildren, Trevor, Justine, Connor, and Carlyn, and sisters Mari and Helen. In looking over her accomplishments, the close-knit relationships she had with family and friends, the legacy she left in improving the quality of life in our community, Vera would have said that she did live the Seattle American Born Chinese Dream.
Editor’s Note (February 1, 10:16 a.m.):Joey Ing’s last name was previously spelled as “Eng” in some instances. It has been changed from “Eng” to “Ing.”