There are people about whose accomplishments you hear a lot and whose pictures appear often in the news media.
And, then, there are those, who do a lot for their community and fellow men, about whom you hear very little, because they do not like to be in the limelight.
Anne-Liis Ise is one of the latter. Therefore, on her 75th birthday, I would like to tell you about her and her many contributions to the Estonian community in the United States, especially in Baltimore.
Anne-Liis was born in Tallinn, Estonia, on April 24th, 1939 to Ferdinand Sööt, an agronomist, and Anita Sööt (nee. Poldemann), a registered nurse.
She spent her first five years in Estonia.
Unbeknownst to her, she lived through the Soviet-Russian and German occupations of her homeland until the fall of 1944, when her family left Estonia for Germany to escape the approaching Soviet army.
They settled in a refugee camp near Augsburg, Germany.
In 1949, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she grew up in an active Estonian community, graduating from Eastern High School in 1958.
In the fall of the same year, she started her studies at the University of Maryland, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology in 1963. At that time, she joined the Indla Academic Sorority.
A year before graduation, she married Dr. Bernhard Deklau, an Estonian scientist employed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. They had three children: Erik, Ingrid and Karin. But, serious illnesses disrupted her happy family life. Her father died in 1968 followed by her mother in 1971 and her husband in 1973. These were trying times for Anne. However, as a deeply religious person, she got through them by dedicating herself to her children and the local Estonian community. At that time, she was elected to the executive committee of the St. Mark’s Estonian Lutheran Church of Baltimore, where she served, on and off, for many years.
When, in 1974, the Baltimore Estonians started to prepare for the upcoming Estonian World Festival in Baltimore, Anne-Liis joined the effort with her usual energy and enthusiasm. It was her idea that set Esto ‘76 apart from all other Estonian World Festivals: namely, “The freedom train”, a special Amtrak train decorated with Estonian flags that carried Esto ‘76 participants from Baltimore to Washington for special ceremonies at the Capitol and the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. Further-more, during this nine-day festival that brought over 15,000 Estonians to Baltimore, she headed the Esto ‘76 office in the downtown Lord Baltimore Hotel.
In 1977, Anne-Liis was elec-ted to the Executive Commit-tee of the Baltimore Estonian Society, where she served until 1984. As hostess of the Society, she was responsible for the festive dinners served after events at the Baltimore Estonian House. Each year, during the summer ethnic festival season in Baltimore, she also led the effort to serve traditional Estonian dishes to thousands of local residents.
Recognized as a dedicated Estonian patriot, Anne-Liis was elected, in 1978, by her ethnic compatriots across the United States to the Estonian-American National Council. Later, she joined its executive committee and served on it until the early 1990s. Again, she applied herself fully to her new tasks. Thus, during the 1980 Winter Olympics, she was instrumental in the writing and publishing of a full-page ad in the Lake Placid newspaper, which described the fate of Estonia and its Olympic Athletes under Soviet-Russian occupation. It was delivered within the newspaper to the hotel rooms of all participating athletes, thus causing consi-derable consternation to the Soviet Olympic team managers.
As a delegate of the Estonian American National Council, Anne wrote many letters to members of Congress and government officials about the fate of her homeland. She could also be seen with her children at most demonstrations at the White House, the Soviet Embassy in Washing-ton, and the United Nations headquarters in New York demanding freedom for the Baltic States.
Having proved her capabilities, Anne was asked, in 1978, to join the 1980 Estonian World Festival U.S. coordina-ting committee, which organized the participation of U.S. Estonians in the festival that was to take place in Stock-holm, Sweden. Thus, she had to fly there to take part, as the U.S. Estonian representative, in the event’s general planning meeting.
In 1985, Anne and I were married and, together, we continued our efforts on behalf of our local Estonian community and our homeland.
Then, in 1989, when the “Iron Curtain” started to open, a flood of compatriots from our homeland began to visit the United States. Most of them had no hard currency and depended on local Estonians for housing and sustenance while visiting the U.S. Thus, our home, like many others, became a hotel for Estonian visitors. This, of course, was a big burden on Anne. She not only housed and fed them, but also served as their guide and chauffeur, while visiting the many historical, cultural, and governmental sites in Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis. This continued into the mid-1990s.
And when, in 2003, the St. Mark’s Estonian Lutheran Church of Baltimore started to publish its periodical, “Meie Kirik”, Anne-Liis was again the driving force behind its composition, printing, and distribution.
However, Anne’s contributions to our local Estonian community were made not only through the various organizations she belonged to, but also as part of her personal life. To mind come the many gatherings at our home, sometimes quite large, which she hosted to mark special occasions or to meet outstanding people from our native homeland. This contributed subs-tantially to the cohesion and social life of the Estonians in and around Baltimore. And she did all this while being a good mother and a good wife and eventually fulfilling her professional responsibilities as the head of the microbiology laboratory in the state of Maryland.
In conclusion, I must say that, in my opinion, her most outstanding qualities are her good will towards others and her readiness to lend a hand, where help is needed. Thus, I believe, I am speaking not only for myself, but also for many others, when I thank Anne-Liis and wish her health, happiness, and God’s blessing on this very important birthday in her exemplary life!