The Estonian American National Council has chosen the mother-daughter team of Lehti Merilo and Liina Merilo Teose as recipients of its 2016 Outstanding Achievement award. Lehti Merilo and Liina Teose will be honored at the EANC’s awards gala on Saturday, November 5, at the Marriott Union Square in San Francisco, California.
The awards being presented to Lehti Merilo and Liina Teose recognize their many years of leading the Portland, Oregon, Estonian folk dance troupe “Tulehoidjad” (Keepers of the Flame). Through folk dancing and music, they have been instrumental in keeping Estonian culture alive in the United States and have played a major role in introducing Estonia to Portland, and other West Coast cities in the U.S. and Canada, and to other locations outside of Estonia.
Lehti Merilo was born in Narva, Estonia. She fled during World War II in advance of the occupying Soviet troops and eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, where she founded the first Estonian folk dance troupe in 1950. The small group grew to become Tulehoidjad, and Ms. Merilo was its leader for 35 years (1950-1985). In addition to training adults, Ms. Merilo taught folk dancing to children when the Portland Estonian Supplemental School started in the 1960’s. Many of the youngsters went on to continue dancing in Tulehoidjad. Under Ms. Merilo’s tutelage, Tulehoidjad performed at numerous venues including the biennial West Coast Estonian days (1953-1985) and at the Portland International Folk Festival in 1980. After retiring as the leader of Tulehoidjad, Ms. Merilo has continued to encourage Estonian-Americans as well as Americans to participate in Tulehoidjad. Along with her daughter Liina, she has organized visits by and welcomed folk dancers and musical ensembles from Estonia and thereby introduced high quality Estonian folk dancing to residents of Portland and Oregon. For her work with Estonian folk dancing and folk music, in 2015, Lehti Merilo received the gold badge award from the Estonian Folk Dancing and Folk Music Society (Eesti Rahvatantsu ja Rahvamuusika Selts – ERRS).
Liina Teose, Lehti Merilo’s daughter, was born in Portland, Oregon. At age 2, she made her debut as a folk dancer in an Estonian children’s folk dance troupe led by her mother. In 1985, she took over leading Tulehoidjad and is in her 31th year as director. During Liina’s tenure, Tulehoidjad has continued performing at the biennial West Coast Estonian Days (1986-2015); in 1995 and 2003, Liina was the producer of the Folk Festival program for the event. Tulehoidjad performed at ESTO 1996 in Tallinn, Estonia, and in 1984 and 1996, Ms. Teose produced the folk dance portion of the ESTO programs. Tulehoidjad appeared in the Portland Rose Festival parade six times between 1997 and 2007 and performed at the 1997-2003 Rose Festival International Showcase Concerts preceding the parades. Tulehoidjad has appeared four times at the national song and folk dance festivals in Tallinn, Estonia between 1999 and 2015, and Ms. Teose has been the coordinator for all the dance troupes from outside of Estonia. In addition to teaching folk dancing, Ms. Teose, who is a professional music teacher, has accompanied Tulehoidjad’s performances on the accordion. From 1995-2004, Ms. Teose led the Portland Estonian folk music orchestra and from 2005-2009 she led an ensemble of kannel (zither) players. In 2013, Liina Teose received the Estonian Foreign Minister’s Certificate of Recognition for her work in promoting Estonian culture. In 2015, Ms. Teose received the silver badge award from the Estonian Folk Dancing and Folk Music Society (ERRS). Ms. Teose is registered with the Oregon Historical Society as an expert in Estonian Folk Culture.
The November 5 awards gala is the highlight of EANC’s two-day annual meeting which is being held for the first time on the West Coast, and culminates a full day of public programs, including three panel discussions, a documentary film, and a photo exhibit. The two days are part of EANC’s effort to share its goals and activities with new audiences. For more information about the November 5 awards dinner or the public programs, please contact Linda Rink, or call 215-546-5863.
Mother-Daughter team recognized for preserving and promoting Estonian folk dance and music Estonian Life (1)