Setting the record for attendance in the 21st Century, 150 participants responding to the invitation to share their love of Estonia and Estonian culture attended KLENK's annual sõpruspäevad and conference in St. Petersburg, Florida's Magnuson Hotel Marina Cove Conference Center, January 6 and 7, 2012.
Cohosted by the Estonian Society of Central Florida (Kesk Florida Eesti Selts) and the Estonian National Association of South Florida (Lõu-na Florida Eestlaste Koondis) and held outside its traditional Midwestern location at a new time of year, old and new friends came together from 15 states (from Florida to Washington and New York to California), Canada and Estonia, and students from Augsburg and Geislingen reunited.
The program was tihe (jam packed). For the first time, sessions were offered mostly in English. Planning Committee members decided it was important to be inclusive to our non-English speaking spouses and friends. They also tested the hypothesis that English might draw participants from KLENK's next generation, and it did.
Õp. Nelli Vahter, Linda Einpaul, Loit Maripuu and Lisa Mets officially opened KLENK Friday evening with a memorial program honoring KLENK founders who passed away in 2011: Gunnar Auksi, Urve Auksi and Reet Ülper Maripuu. Their spirit and legacy inspired the weekend.
Two themes provided the framework for Saturday's lectures and theatrical skit. Views and Experiences of Estonian Americans and Estonians in America in Light of 20 Years of Estonian Independence shaped the morning's presentations; the afternoon's presentations highlighted topics that are Distinctively Estonian.
Saturday morning's academic program began with an engaging conversation on Responses to the 2011 Survey by the Estonian American National Council (Eesti Rahvuskomitee Ühendriikides), led by ERKÜ members Monika Orumaa, Kersti Linask, and Arne Kalm (the chair of ERKÜ's new strategic planning committee). Professor Ain Haas then shared his research findings built on interviews with Välis-eestlased (Estonian émigrés) who are returning to live in Estonia. The audience was fascinated by the interviewees' colorful reports of their experiences. Providing excellent advice to members of the audience—for themselves and their family members—financial planner and wealth advisor Carina Diamond encouraged everyone to reflect on their retirement plans. Maintaining the program's fast pace over lunch, editor Carl Orav presented the outline of his new book recently released in English in the United States and Estonian in Estonia, We Were Estonian Soldiers: World War II exploits of classmates from the Estonian Military Technical Academy.
Sirje Kiin, the 2011 prize winning author recognized by the Marie Under and Artur Adson Memorial Foundation, kicked off the afternoon's lectures with her insight into Marie Under, Estonia's esteemed poet who sadly was never recognized with a Nobel Prize in literature. Conductor Emeritus Taavo Virkhaus, with the visual aid of DVDs, captivated the audience with three brilliant musical segments from the Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester and Estonia's Ooperi Orkester. In Estonian, Helve and Heiki Parts presented The Flower Vendor as a theatrical interlude that needed no translation and absolutely charmed everyone. In response to media stories about recent survey results of Estonians and their views on religion, Jüri Toomepuu explored the elements of maausk, including its translation. Pulling the day's themes together into one, Eric Sibul closed the afternoon with his lecture on highlights from the Baltic Defence College.
The dinner programs Friday and Saturday evenings featured traditional Estonian folk music, folk dance, and sing-alongs. Highlights included performances by Siilikesed, Ain Haas's Estonian and Latvian folk music group from Indianapolis; and Saare Vikat, New York's folk dance group directed by Liisi Vanaselja. Chicago's Estonian House's folk dance teacher, Estonian Sirje Press, led audience participation in Perekonna Valss. Sing-alongs were led by vocalist Enn Kiilaspea, key boardist Taavo Virkhaus, and accordionist and force majeure for both evenings' programs, Kaie Põhi Latterner.
KLENK 2011 was honored to be joined by the Honorable Sten Schwede, Estonia's Consul General in New York, and the recently appointed Honorary Consul in Atlanta, Aadu Allpere, and their family members. Planning Committee members felt privileged to be their hosts.
During Saturday's dinner program, Peakonsul Schwede offered remarks and graciously recognized and thanked KLENK 2011 planning committee members Lisa Mets, who chaired the planning committee; and Maare Kuuskvere, Evi Kallas, Rein Raja and Tõnu Toomepuu, who served in the planning committee's leadership positions.
Many attended the KLENK conference for their first time. Peakonsul Schwede's participation in KLENK 2011 from its start Friday evening through its annual meeting on Sunday morning made all attendees feel they were part of something special.
Indeed, the KLENK 2011 Planning Committee itself wanted everyone to feel special. Supplementing the morning coffee break was kringel baked by KFES members Maare Kuuskvere, Kersti Linask and Ingrid Shipotofsky. Leena Aare, Maare Kuuskvere and Lisa Mets baked piparkoogid for the afternoon break. Traditional Estonian rye bread was a deliciously wonderful surprise at dinner Saturday night. Tiiu Slankis and Norma Jean Rebane made the lovely floral centerpieces. The overflowing loterii tables gave the impression that everyone made a contribution!
KLENK 2011 concluded with Sunday morning's annual meeting. A record 30 participants provided excellent suggestions for future meetings and they took two actions. They voted to hold KLENK 2012 in Michigan and resolved to encourage KLENK, KFES, LFEK and ERKÜ to work together on future programs extending from the model introduced this weekend. To express her appreciation to planning committee members, program presenters and annual meeting participants, Lisa Mets hosted a champagne reception outside her hotel room on a point overlooking Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
KLENK 2011 was made possible through these generous sponsors: Eckerd College, Estonian American National Council (ERKÜ), Estonian Society of Central Florida (KFES), Estonian National Association of South Florida (LFEK), and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Central Florida (E.E.L.K.-Kesk Florida). Jaan and Maare Kuuskvere and Lisa and Erkki Taada were private sponsors. Saare Vikat was generously supported by the NY Eesti Abistamiskomitee.
The program/kava, photographs and slide shows can be viewed on the web sites of the two Florida associations: floridaestos.wordpress.com and estonians.wordpress.com .
Lisa Mets and Maare Kuuskvere
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