Reede, 25 August 2017 16:00
Eesti Elu / Estonian Life Online
As recently elected President of Friends of Estonian House I would like to tell you about myself and my interest in preserving Eesti Maja in Toronto. I am from Australia and have lived in Toronto for over 30 years. My father is Estonian (Soomepoiss), mother Latvian and I speak both languages. I did attend Estonian school in Australia and out of interest took the Estonian Language Poficiency Exam at a summer course at Tartu University for a B level. I am married to Anne Liis nee Tüll a tireless community participant and our children are Lehti and Vello, who were educated at Eesti Maja. My main consistent Estonian activity over the years has been singing in choirs. I have a B.Ec. from Sydney University and I am a Chartered Financial Analyst, having sold my institutional Investment Consulting firm API (my biggest client was UFCW the largest trade union in Canada) I am now retired.
In Australia I am very sensitive to the fact, that, Estonian language proficiency is quickly lost, which adversely affects retention of the culture. To avoid that fate Estonians need an easily accessible, comfortable property with free parking for gatherings, activities and education in Toronto, particularly for families with children as well as an aging population. Eesti Maja fit the bill for our family. Tartu College/Madison does not offer the same advantages, notably free parking, so it will not be utilized to the same extent or frequency. This will threaten consistent active involvement by family members in basic routine activities like education, folk dancing, choir, rifle range etc. and will adversely affect Estonian language usage in Toronto.
I know the Madison area well. I used to live on Howland Avenue and still attend St. Thomas's regularly nearby (Revs. Salumäe and Kadakas also sighted there). I am not against Madison per se and would be pleased to see the project go ahead independently, without relying on any proceeds from the sale of Eesti Maja. Having said that, as a financial person looking at the Madison proposal with minimal financials provided, I do not see the whole project as viable.
As Toomas Marley recommended at the Eesti Maja AGM I had been trusting the appointed people to devise a viable plan for Eesti Maja to continue to foster Estonian culture. Then some Estonian friends of mine alerted me to the negative reaction of Madison presentation leader Ellen Valter to my wife Anne Liis reportedly saying the process for potentially selling Eesti Maja to finance Madison was not "transparent" which had caused Anne Liis to question how she could trust the Madison leadership to disclose all the facts. So I went to the Eesti Maja 2017 AGM where I became very concerned when Chairman Raivo Remmel truncated shareholders, and refused to let them hear the maintenance manager Roul Martjak comment on the condition of Eesti Maja. Furthermore, as a shareholder, if you wish to read the consultants' reports on Eesti Maja you must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement! Shareholders are not being provided enough "transparency" by the Board to vote knowledgeably.
Unfortunately I sense the proponents who want to sell Eesti Maja do not have their own money at risk and no one is directly accountable for the success or failure of the venture into Madison. This puts the Eesti Maja funds at risk of dissipating as is occurring at Peetri Kirik following the sale of the pastor's house, new elevator and associated renovation of the church building. The sale of Eesti Maja driven by the vote of organizations (Estonian Foundation, Estonian Credit Union) not the individual shareholders will similarly destroy the continuity of the Estonian community and leave a large sum exposed to wasting decisions made through ignorance or intent.
"Tasapisi" (take it slowly) was my father's favourite recommendation for success learned on the front lines and Eesti Maja is a prime candidate for his wisdom. Over a period of a few years all the Estonian House woes former board member Ilo Puhm specified at the AGM, in the apparent absence of a dedicated maintenance programme can be rectified without breaking the bank. As Treasurer Linda Veltmann CA showed at the AGM, Eesti Maja has been operationally breakeven (she explicitly referred to minor losses) without any business development efforts by the Eesti Maja Board as specified by Chairman Raivo Remmel.
The chairman said, it was not the mandate of the Eesti Maja Board to put on events at Eesti Maja. I personally know of popular Estonian performers wanting to come here to put on events and being rebuffed because there was not a designated person with whom to explore the possibilities at Eesti Maja.
All I see is a great turnaround situation and welcome others to acquire a stake in the future of Eesti Maja through participation and donations.
Yours Truly,Väino Keelmann
Friends of Estonian House-President