Friday, 11 September 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 36 2020
The Estonian community in Los Angeles is built upon the work of the generations that came before us, those whose work was dedicated to preserving our language and culture in this place far from our homeland. On September 2, we lost Boris Auksmann, whose hand was in practically everything Estonians did and have done in Southern California.
Boris Auksmann is probably the most intelligent person whom I have ever met. He earned a PhD in engineering, held a teaching position at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), then later worked as a court expert on accident reconstructions. He loved talking about—and he loved to talk—how he irritated attorneys by using a slide rule and not a calculator on the witness stand and how lawyers insisted they have access to his “other” documents. As Boris made clear, the client bought his expert report, so there were no other papers because everything was in the report.
Boris was on the board of directors for the Estonian House for about (only?) a half-century. When the Estonian House underwent a major renovation (after purchase of the adjacent properties where the parking lot sits today), he showed that he was hardly just a professorial thinker; he was a doer. He had that Midas touch as a guy who could do anything or fix anything. Need a pipe to be fixed? Ask Boris. Why isn’t there any current in this outlet? Let Boris look at it. Hey Boris: does this flooring look right? The answer was usually no, so he would take over to correct it. It shouldn’t be surprising that he loved to work with his hands. When he was putting himself through university, he also worked as a lumberjack, and loved to talk about those lumberjack breakfast spreads.
Boris was on the board of directors of the Estonian Society of LA for (just!) 40 years. Before Estonia regained independence, the Society had a “Foreign Action Fund” that provided resources for various political activities that we engaged in until the fund was liquidated after 1991. The closing comments at Estonian Independence Day were reserved for Boris. As examples for those who do not remember or do not know, there was a radio series that introduced Estonia to listeners and we also picketed in front of a Soviet exhibition that was at the LA Convention Center in 1978. The fund helped cover costs of such activities.
Boris and his wife Asta were always regulars at the Estonian Lutheran Church, and of course, in its leadership. But more than that, they were anywhere and everywhere that any Estonian event was going on, be it a musical performance, play, some presentation by a scholar, the Estonian Kitchen, choir concerts, Christmas parties, the Jaani evening on the parking lot, everywhere. It was odd when Boris and Asta did not come to an event. He was a member of the Estonian academic organization Korp! Rotalia and members will recall that he always insisted that the rapiers (used for ceremonial purposes) stay sharpened. They were also folk dancers, which was not only fun but also good training to stay fit, which Boris did for 93 years.
Probably my best memories of Boris are from the times that the Sauna Club was in operation. There was a Finnish sauna in Burbank, then later, members would come to my parents’ house nearby to talk, argue, and carry on, all at top volume. But the talking started in the sauna too. In part, the club disbanded when the new Finnish owners wanted the men to stay quiet because the sauna had been turned into a “spa.” Said Boris: “What spa? Dammit! This is a sauna!” One evening, there was a guy already sitting there when they stepped into the sauna. Boris sat next to him. “Hi! I’m John.” He shook his hand and said, “I am Boris.” It was actor John Travolta.
All of life’s problems would be resolved by the Sauna Club. For example, car repair was a major theme (my car broke down a lot back then), we got advice how to wash windows (Boris’ suggestion: Coca-Cola), and of course food and drink were major themes. There are a lot of fond memories, too many to name here. One that I used recently comes to mind. Boris insisted that vodka distilled from potatoes was the purest and if you drank that, you would never get a headache. Well, you know, it’s probably not the potatoes; any vodka in sufficient quantity will affect your health.
Deepest sympathies to his wife, Asta. Our generation is thankful for all the effort and hard work put in by those dedicated to holding our little Estonian community together.
Rest in peace, Boris.Edgar Kaskla
Estonian Society of Los Angeles