The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)

Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — In her two runs for office, Patricia Neibel was the sole woman in a field of over a dozen men vying for seats on the Mountlake Terrace City Council.

In 1954, the year the city incorporated, she became the first woman to serve as a City Council member.

Patricia Neibel died May 7 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was 97.

Her children remember her as adventurous and someone who led a life of service.

In her initial campaign, Patricia Neibel was the only candidate to run on a platform against incorporating the city.

“The way she was looking at it was that the county was paying for everything, why should we volunteer to pay for it ourselves?” her son Oliver Neibel said.

Patricia Neibel thought the city was not able to govern itself, The Daily Herald reported at the time. Patricia Neibel and her husband, “however, promised from the outset that if the city came into being they would support it to the utmost of their ability,” the news clipping read.

She believed if the incorporation measure passed, the council should have someone who opposed it.

Her time on the council was exciting, because she was helping to create something entirely new, Oliver Neibel said.

Four of the five original Council Members, right to left, H. Scott Wilson, Patricia Neibel, Harley McFarland and Lester Steele celebrate Mountlake Terrace's 50th Anniversary of Incorporation in 2004. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)

“Suddenly they had to come up with this body of knowledge and then figure out how to deal with establishing police departments and fire departments and everything, all at once,” he said.

Virginia Clough, former Mountlake Terrace city clerk and community relations director, only met Patricia Neibel once, but was struck by her friendliness and confidence.

In the 1950s, it was unusual for a woman to run for office, Clough said.

“Pat decided, ‘Why not me?’” Clough wrote in an email. “When I heard that remark, I was so impressed!”

Patricia Neibel’s bid for re-election in 1956 stirred local drama, according to Herald archives.

In 1956, she tied with Joe Ussery, a pharmacy owner, each earning 528 votes. The council cast the deciding vote, allowing Patricia Neibel to keep her seat.

In 1958, she didn’t file for re-election and left Mountlake Terrace shortly after. Though she lived in the city just a few years, Patricia Neibel made an impact.

“I believe Pat’s courage and service set a standard in Mountlake Terrace and the region that still resonates,” Clough wrote.

Patricia Neibel moved to Chicago when her husband took a job as an attorney for the American Medical Association. Later, they moved to Florida, where she would live the rest of her life and raise her children.

She valued her time in the Pacific Northwest, her daughter Deborah Neibel said. She used to tell her children they would be upset about the family moving away if they learned how beautiful Mountlake Terrace was.

In Florida, she worked at a variety of agencies, including Broward County’s child protection team and sheriff’s office, as well as the American Cancer Society.

“If you look at them all, you see that there’s a thread running through,” Oliver Neibel said. “She’s always looking to help somebody, looking to try to make a difference out in the world.”

Deborah Neibel said her mother taught her the value of lifelong friendships. Patricia Neibel stayed in touch with friends from Mountlake Terrace for decades after she left, despite living across the country.

After she retired, Oliver Neibel’s gift to his mother was a plane ticket to Thailand. She traveled solo in Thailand for three months, he said. At one point, she worked at a leper colony in Chiang Mai.

Later on, the two traveled around Southeast Asia together.

“She didn’t see the boundaries a lot of people see,” he said. “It didn’t really matter where you came from or what your color was.”

Patricia Neibel was the last living member of the first City Council.

“In my two plus decades in Mountlake Terrace, I always described the community as friendly and welcoming,” Clough wrote, “and she fit the bill.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

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