By Robert Lucke
Tom Woo has been in Havre since Jan. 3, 1936. Coming from South China, he got here because his father, Woo Sing, had been in Havre since 1914 and had started the Boston Caf.
"My father had been a restaurant guy all of his life," Woo said. "That was all that he knew. I was a 17-year-old kid. I had been on the ocean for 18 days, coming to the United States at Seattle. After I spent a month at a detention center there, I came to Havre on the railroad to help in the Boston Caf."
Havre looked plenty big to Tom Woo.
"You know I had come from a little village in China so this place looked pretty big to me," Woo said, laughing. "And even if I was older, I soon started school in the Devlin School."
Woo went to school at the Devlin and worked at the Boston until 1942, when he joined the armed services. His service was needed in China for the United States. It was while there that he met his wife-to-be, Sue, and they were married in 1946.
"I didn't know anything," said Sue Woo. "I just wanted to come with him (Tom) to the United States."
Sue came to the United States as a G.I. bride in 1948 and arrived in Havre that April.
"When I first came, I remember it was a May Festival Day in Havre and it snowed. That really surprised me because we lived in the south of China where we had never seen snow," Sue Woo remembered. "And not only that, but I couldn't speak a word of English."
Sue Woo soon enrolled in school at the Devlin School along with being a housewife.
"I went through all the grades in Havre, but they would not let me go to high school. They said I was too old for that," Sue said, laughing.
Meanwhile, Tom Woo kept working at the Boston.
"The Boston Caf was located where PJ's is now," Woo said. "It was owned by the Thackeray family. I want to be sure and say that, because I had a good relationship with them."
Woo cooked, waited on tables, and did anything else that came along.
"That is what you do when you own the joint," Woo said. "You do everything."
Woo's Chinese food at the Boston was legendary. When asked how it could be so good, he always said, modestly, "It's the gravy. Make a good gravy and everything else will be good."
Woo closed the Boston in 1964 and, from then until he retired, worked at custodial jobs around Havre.
Sue Woo looked hard to find people who would help her with English. After a while, she met Chester and Doris Lawson who had been missionaries in China before being prisoners of war.
Doris Lawson helped Sue Woo to learn English and she kept up with her Chinese. That became the beginning of a life-long friendship between the Woos and Lawsons.
To this day, Sue Woo is a seamstress around Havre. But her stir-fry cooking classes are famous to this day.
"I started to teach Chinese cooking in 1976. I did it at my house for a while and later I was asked to teach it at adult education," Sue Woo recalled. "There were two levels of classes and after that I kept teaching it in my home."
So, who is the better cook?
"I am the best at restaurant cooking," Tom Woo said, laughing. "She is best cooking around the house. In fact, Sue does all the cooking now."
How is that for a diplomatic answer?
The Woos' life with the Boston is noteworthy. It is part of the historical fabric of Havre. So is the fact that Sue Woo was the first Chinese woman to live in Havre.
But much more important, even more important than getting an education themselves, was educating their children the very best that they could. Those children are Margaret, Leon, Keith and Kim.
All have four-year college degrees or better. Most went through higher education with scholarships. These days, Margaret is a CPA in Helena, Leon owns a computer network, Keith is a chemistry teacher in Iowa State University, and Kim is an environmental person at Boston Scientific Corp.
The Woo family has come a long way from China and have early roots in Havre at the Boston. Their children are a strong part of the technological age. That's the way it goes in the United States and in Havre, Mont.