Helen Arnold’s pit bull Sparky and her friends
It is true that the hot summers in Texas do not draw many Estonians here. Still some have come and for a variety of reasons. Some were transferred here by their employers or had married a Texan. Some are here temporarily for education. (I am running out of excuses.) However, this past winter Houston offered a bonus for living on the south edge of the state: while the good part of the US was in the grip of snow, ice, sleet, and extreme cold, we here complained that it was too chilly to sunbathe on the beach. A more questionable bonus is offered in the summer for sauna lovers: the ability to step out of their air-conditioned house and be instantly sweating from the heat.
Unemployment in Houston is low. Houston hosts the Johnson Space Center where the International Space Station was developed. Currently a Mars multipurpose crewed vehicle, the Orion, is in development for deployment sometime in the next decade. Houston also has a world-class medical center for research and education. Houston’s harbor is one of the busiest in the world and finally the numerous oil refineries keep the area prosperous. Due to Texas low housing costs, absence of state income taxes and a reasonable cost of living keep many people here upon retirement.
Generally people in the Houston area seem to know more of Estonia than people in other parts of the country because many educated people – scientists, engineers, doctors and other professional people – live and work here. It seems almost fashionable for many to say they know where Estonian is, or in some cases point out with pride “I was in Tallinn”, probably meaning their cruise ship stopped there. They may have walked for a couple of hours on the cobblestone streets of old town and bought a Russian nesting doll. Others have picked up news reports of its impressive advanced e-commerce and high education standards. Still, when it comes to Foreign Policy Association discussion groups, (with its “Great Decisions” primer) Estonia is just lumped in with the Baltics. Estonian participation in Iraq and Afghanistan just gets credit as having been part of coalition forces. Very few people here know that American “boots” are actually on Estonian ground.
Estonia and Estonians get visibility through the achievements of our local Estonians. Helen Arnold, Houston’s Estonian Association chairman has gained notoriety with her amazing animals. Her pit bull named Sparky is special since she seems to like to mother all fellow creatures: baby chicks, kittens and even iguanas. A while ago Helen’s cat was seen even on the popular nightly comedy show, the Colbert Report. In the clip the cat rode a self-propelled vacuum cleaner in a shark’s outfit. Helen’s amazing animals can be seen on Youtube/texasgirly1979.
Hemingway wrote that in every harbor there can be found an Estonian sailor. We can boast one better: Ilmar Tarikas was transferred to Galveston by the Army Corps of Engineers. The district is directly responsible for maintaining more than 1,000 miles of channel. The Corps’ main missions include navigation, ecosystem restoration, emergency management, flood risk management, and regulatory oversight. Ilmar’s job involves improvement of the channel leading to the Houston’s harbor.
Linnar Looris in the performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream
Among the Houston’s ballet enthusiasts the first soloist, Linnar Looris is well known. He is currently in his 8th season with the Houston Ballet. He was born in Viljandi and trained in the Tallinn Ballet School.
In the Houston Ballet he has performed all the major leading roles in the company’s productions. He also does international guest appearances, whenever his schedule allows it.
In the recent production of Peter Pan he was (Huh!) Captain Hook. Houston Ballet is the fourth largest ballet company in the US and is known nationally and internationally.
The company has world class dancers and a versatile repertoire from all-time classics to modern masterpieces. Houston has a big support and interest in ballet and dance in general, so Linnar also enjoys teaching in several studios. In his free time he plays ukulele and sings/writes songs.
Kadi Kullerkann at the volleyball net. U of Houson photo
The Houston sports enthusiasts have cheered Kadi Kullerkann now for four years on the volleyball court of the University of Houston.
Kadi came to Houston 4 years ago to pursue a degree in Digital Media and to play division 1 volley ball at the University of Houston. Despite some health issues and a meniscus injury in her sophomore year she has received many awards.
Last year she got an All-American honorable mention and was named by the American Athletic Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the 2014-15 school year.
Kullerkann served as the team’s number one hitter as she closed out the year leading the conference with 644 kills, averaging 5.03 per set. She also ranked third in the nation for total kills and total attacks and is fifth in the nation for kills per set.
Kullerkann stands third in kills for a single season in school history and is now the conference record holder for the most kills.
In addition to her success on the volleyball court, Kullerkann posted a 3.92 semester GPA while maintaining a 3.82 cumulative GPA over four years. She will graduate this spring with honors with a Digital Media degree and a Computer Applications Technology minor. Kullerkann was awarded $4,000 scholarship for graduate or professional studies this March. She will make a trip home to Keila, Estonia and return in the fall to pursue an MBA degree in Pittsburgh.
Paul Hillier conducting Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat
Earlier this year Houston’s music lovers were treated by the Houston Chamber Choir to a music concert of Baltic Nations. The choir was directed by Paul Hillier as a guest conductor.
Mr. Hillier has been in Houston before directing the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. Though the recent concert was advertised as „Baltic music“, it was mostly of Estonian origin, dominated by four pieces by Arvo Pärt. (I had to correct some attendees: “no, not „Part, part in Estonian means duck, it is Pärt! “)
Paul Hillier with the author
On the program was also a composition by Veljo Tormis. Tormis’s compositions „speak“ especially to Estonian-born people, it is part repetitive storytelling with unique harmonies. But the performance this time came with a surprise. Mr. Hillier explained that as the performance was directed to a non-Estonian speaking audience, he decided not to have it sung in Estonian. Instead he had inserted a text containing a similar poetic meter from Longfellow’s poem, the Song of Hiawatha.
Hillar and Helgi Kaasik
On the sad side the Houston Estonian community bemoans the loss of Hillar and Helgi Kaasik, our long-time leading lights in the Houston Estonian community.
Both suffered from health problems: Hillar had Parkinson’s disease and died last fall; Helgi did beat cancer but other complications set in.
She died in her sleep this April with her family in attendance.
The continuation of our community is now in the hands of the younger generation as we, the gray-haired become less numerous.