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Bedrock of Baltimore/Washington DC Estonian Community Killed by COVID-19 - Jyri Erik Kork - Eulogy August 6, 1961-October 7, 2020


On October 8, tearful phone calls and heartbreaking messages conveyed unimaginable news -- Jyri Erik Kork was dead from coronavirus at only age 59. For more than four decades, Jyri Erik was such an essential part of the Estonian cultural groups in Baltimore and Washington that we cannot imagine our community without him. His wit, dedication, and kindness left a lasting mark on all who interacted with him, as did his abiding love for and deep knowledge of Estonian history and culture.

His obituary reads rather simply.

Jyri Erik Kork was born on August 9, 1961, to Jyri Kork and Mai Kaja Kork. He worked for years in public service in the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration and lived in Greenbelt, Maryland. He graduated from the Baltimore Eesti Kool. He was dedicated to participating in Estonian cultural events in the Baltimore and Washington DC area, including decades as a member of both choir and folk-dancing groups. He passed away on October 7, 2020. He is survived by siblings Maret, Siret, and Mauno, nephew Robert, and nieces Hannah and Annika. The family intends to invite friends and family to a memorial event in summer 2021 for what would be his 60th birthday.

But he was so much more than those dry words can possibly convey. In these first painful days as we try to come to terms with his passing, some members of Pillerkaar Estonian Folk Dancers of the Washington DC Metro Area, Baltimore Estonian Men of Song, and the Baltimore/Washington Estonian Singers share some of their memories.

Pillerkaar Estonian Folk Dancers of the Washington DC Metro Area
Jyri Erik was a stalwart dancer and great guy. He started Estonian folk dancing with the Vanaranna Baltimore Estonian Dance Group and I happily coaxed him to come over to Pillerkaar when it dissolved. For 30 years, he was a reliable and steady presence in Pillerkaar performing at countless Scanfests, NATO, Independence Day, and other performances. I always knew I could count on him. As one of our most seasoned dancers, he knew all the dances well and was generous in teaching newer members. When no one could remember the ,,next move“, it was a blessing to have Jyri Erik’s expertise. His wit, knowledge of Estonian history, and unending repository of stories will not be forgotten. Losing Jyri Erik is like losing part of our foundation. We will miss him forever and are grateful we can continue to watch him dance on the videos on our website: www.pillerkaarwdc.com. Anu Oinas, Pillerkaar founder, manager, and instructor for 45 years.

As a member of Pillerkaar, Jyri Erik was as dependable as they come. He rarely missed a practice, much less a performance. I think he, more than anyone, was disappointed when we cancelled a practice. In December, I cancelled a practice just a couple hours before its start because too few dancers could come. Jyri Erik immediately talked me into un-cancelling the practice. So he and I and another member worked out most of a new dance. When new dancers joined Pillerkaar, he was excited to guide them into the group, step in and run a practice, or help emcee a performance. If I had an idea for something new that might meet some resistance, I knew I could count on him to be up for anything. His passion was undeniable; his skill and repertoire as a dancer rivaled anyone in the group. His quirky nicknames for parts of dances have become part of our lexicon. He was also a good friend, always making jokes and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of things, especially things Estonian. At each weekly practice, he wore a seemingly new amusing t-shirt. And he genuinely cared about all of us--he really enjoyed our parties, our road trip gigs, and our after-practice pizza and beer--and they were more fun because he was there. It is really hard to think that whenever we are able to resume dancing, he won't be there wearing his sini-must-valge Converse sneakers. -Jeff Zelek

Jyri Erik was a lynchpin of Pillerkaar. Always friendly, he had the patience and kindness to teach every newcomer and make them feel welcome. His experience and excellent memory made him the go-to member when we needed to remember steps to a dance we hadn’t had in our repertoire for many years. We felt more assured when we knew that Jyri Erik could come to a performance--which he almost always did, because of his commitment and dependability. Jyri Erik made it easy to be in his presence. He always had a next story to tell, a parallel to draw, or a fun fact of trivia to share. He enjoyed being a member of Pillerkaar and the group’s camaraderie. We appreciated his company, we appreciated him as a person, as a dancer, and as a friend. Pillerkaar will be different without Jyri Erik once we return to dancing after the pandemic. We will deeply miss his presence. He will live on in our hearts and memories. - Kadri Kallas-Zelek

Jyri Erik was an incredible man with whom I danced for over 30 years. As people came and went, he remained, helping to keep the roots and culture of Estonia alive. When I forgot the steps or didn't feel like dancing, he always remembered the steps, and had jokes and silly t-shirts to make the day better and brighten my spirits. He was able to remember dances we learned 20 years ago, before we had videos to watch for instruction. He had an incredible memory and beautiful sense of rhythm. He played with my son when he was a toddler running around the practice floor and kept him entertained by acting like a big kid himself. He will so much be missed. Laila Oinas

Jyri Erik was welcoming and kind, always making others laugh while dancing. As I was growing up, I knew Jyri Erik as a choir brother in our shared love for music and the spirit of Eestlus, and then as a dance partner who patiently walked me through meticulous details to learn rahvatants with welcome enthusiasm. He was always unyieldingly genuine, kind, and true to himself. He had an enthusiasm for the creative and quirky that shone through to compliment his genuine nature, always to be admired. Jyri Erik always had a story to tell, a new fun fact to deliver, and a deep-rooted love for Eestlus to share and inspire. I have been blessed to know Jyri Erik these past few years, and to have had such a supportive and welcoming dance partner. He will be missed. Viivianne Malmgren

Jyri Erik was a key part of what makes Pillerkaar wonderful. He embodied Pillerkaar’s ethos: to dance, share Estonian culture, and have fun with friends. Jyri Erik knew every dance and reveled in helping novices, breaking each dance into memorable segments and whispering the next step. Nothing phased him. At a May performance in front of the Estonian Embassy for EU Day, his hair and rahvariided were wet. He didn’t tell us until we were eating lunch after the performance that he had fallen into the pool in the unlit embassy basement just before we started dancing. He was an inexhaustible trove of Estonian history, science fiction and rock music, always ready to regale us with a fact, quote, or lyric. He was also a caring and kind friend, offering rides to distant performances, relishing social gatherings, and playing games to entertain children. It makes me heartsick to think of Pillerkaar dancing without Jyri Erik. When we come together after the pandemic, his memory will enrich our every step. Deborah Klepp

The shocking news of Jyri Erik’s untimely death hit me hard. He was a constant presence at our Pillerkaar practices and social events. His incredible three plus decades in Pillerkaar speaks for itself. I watched videos of Pillerkaar performances to relive some of our happy times together. My favorite memories are of ScanFest and NATOFest when the group spent the weekend together, cooking meals and going to the beach after performances. Jyri Erik was a fantastic folk dancer who could remember every dance, even if he hadn’t performed it in years. At practice, he was always trying to tell me a zany story or joke when I was trying to listen to our director Jeff’s instructions, since I am at best an average dancer. He was extremely proud of his Estonian heritage and would practice in custom-made Converse sneakers in the colors of the Estonian flag. Speaking of footwear, I felt it was my job to remind him to double tie his shoelaces before a performance since they always seemed to untie in the middle of a dance! Nothing rattled him before or during a performance, which was a calming force for me. At a performances at the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore, he was momentarily caught in the backstage curtain at the beginning of Jõgeveste Polka – a very high tempo dance. Jyri Erik, the quintessential performer, powered through the curtain as if it wasn’t even there. Thank you, Jyri Erik, for being a great dance mentor and friend. You will live in my memory forever. Arney Smits

Loen seda kurba uudist ja mõtlen, kas on ikka tema. Ma ei suuda uskuda, et noor mees on meie seast lahkunud. Nii-nii kurb. Olen juba aastaid tagasi Eestis, kuid minu silme ees on Jyri Erik siiani väga selgelt. Seisab uhkelt käed puusas Eesti rahvariietes. Ja eriti panin tähele, et talle sobisid pikad juuksed. Sõbralik, tagasihoidlik ja rahulik noormees. Usun, et tema suur kirg oligi rahvatants. Alati kohal, nii treeningutel kui esinemistel. Sügav kaastunne tema lähedastele, Pillerkaare tantsijatele ja kõigile, kes Jyri Erikut tundsid. Kurvastusega, Milvi Gornischeff

I had the honor of dancing with Jyri Erik when I was in Pillerkaar and I remember so clearly how he made everyone laugh. He would always have the largest and kindest smile, be sincere and funny, and share in the most interesting conversations. He was the man who donated his own ponytail for the greater good! I am extremely saddened and not yet able to believe that such a great person as Jyri Erik was taken away from this Earth. Jyri Erik had a very proud Estonian soul in him, which will now keep his memory alive in all the people his smile or dance step touched. Puhka rahus, Jyri Erik. Kaida Aviste

We send our heartfelt sympathy to Jyri Erik’s family upon his passing. Heikki and I had the pleasure of folk dancing with Jyri Erik a number of years. He was an excellent dancer who didn’t miss a beat. Though he was a quiet and a reserved man, he was on time and dependable for all our practices and performances. We will all miss him very much. With fond memories, Inne and Heikki Joonsar

Jyri Erik was one of a kind. We got to know him as one of the best dancers in Pillerkaar. He was always enthusiastic about dancing, dedicated about attending practices, always willing to share what he knew, and welcoming to new dancers. Jyri Erik also knew vast amounts of random information. Song lyrics, facts from history, weird science bits, lines from movies. Sometimes they were things we’d forgotten long ago, but mostly Jyri Erik remembered things we never even knew. He also had an uncanny ability to make connections between disparate situations, finding humor in almost any situation. Jyri Erik was fun to be around and we will miss him terribly. His passing is shocking and seems so unfair. Pillerkaar has not danced together since the pandemic began. We look forward to when we can dance once again, but our group will not only be smaller, but will just feel smaller without Jyri Erik. Kaja Kool and Mark Deaton

Baltimore/Washington Estonian Singers

Jyri Erik was a very special member of our laulukoor. He was always there - at every rehearsal, every performance, every event. He always had a positive attitude no matter how long and difficult the songs and rehearsals were. If we were discussing something and had questions, Jyri Erik was always the first one to quickly reach for his phone and before we got to the end of the question he had already googled it and had an answer ready to go. Need a recording of a song? Or lyrics? He got it! Need a good laugh? He got plenty of goofiness to keep everyone smiling. His kind constant presence will be sorely missed. We offer our heartfelt sympathies to Jyri Erik's family. Please keep him and his loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this very sad and difficult time. Since we can’t be together in person right now, here is a song the choir we would have liked to sing in his memory. Please take a minute to listen to it and remember Jyri Erik with a kind word. Rest in peace! Puhka Rahus, Lauluvend! Tjorven (TJ) Hairfield, conductor for Baltimore Washingtoni Eesti Segakoor.

,,Mu isamaa on minu arm,
Ja tahan puhata,
Su rüppe heidan unele,
Mu püha Eestimaa!
Su linnud und mull' laulavad,
Mu põrmust lilled õitsetad,
Mu põrmust lilled õitsevad,
Mu isamaa, mu isamaa!“

Lovely tribute to Jyri Erik and a beautiful choice of song as we remember his singing voice and kind soul. May he rest in peace. Lisa Martin
 
Tjorven’s beautiful description of Jyri Erik rings so true. It’s been truly heartbreaking to know of his passing and the way it happened. I keep hearing in my mind his easy chatter of camaraderie with the fellows in the back row of koor and his wonderful, clear singing voice. It has been so touching to look at the photos and listen to Sanctus, remembering him. It was an honor to know him. Puhka rahus, Jyri Erik. Kaja Weeks

I’m struggling to find the words to express my feelings of sadness over the passing of Jyri Erik. Tjorven’s words were a wonderful tribute to his great qualities. He was undeniably always a welcoming presence in the choir with his calm demeanour and always helpful and kind attitude. He will be missed by all who loved him and by those who had the privilege of knowing him. This time of COVID has been a struggle for us all each in his own way and to lose one of our own- one of the best of us- is shocking and heartbreaking. I can clearly see Jyri Erik’s half smile and gentle face in my mind’s eye. Anna Maripuu

Jyri Erik joined the Baltimore Estonian Men of Song (Baltimore Eesti Laulumehed) 40 years ago, the 1980-1981 ,,song-season“. His faith in the restoration of freedom for Estonia, positive outlook on life, excellent sense of humor and reliability in actions and words were the traits that made him a natural strong member of the Men of Song. He reached out a helping hand whenever needed, and always with good humor. Baltimore Eesti Laulumehed wish to Jyri Erik a peaceful rest with the words of our moto:

,,Our homeland, may you always hear
The songs of free Estonian men!“
Ado Valge

Jyri Erik ühines Baltimore Eesti Laulumeestega 40 aastat tagasi 1980-1981, lauluaastal. Tema usk vaba Eesti riigi taastumisse, positiivne ellusuhtumie, huumorimeel ja kohuseetruudus olid omadused, mis tegid ta tugevaks Laulumeeste pere liikmeks. Igal pool oli ta abiks koori ürituste korraldamisel ning läbiviimisel ja alati hea huumoriga. Meie, Baltimore Eesti Laulumehed, soovime Jyri Erikule rahulikku puhkust meie moto sõnadega:

,,Sinule kodumaa alati kostku
Vabade Eesti meeste laul!“


Ado Valge


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