ESTONIANS. Estonia, situated on the northeastern shores of the Baltic Sea, became a republic in 1918 after winning independence from Russia. In June 1940 it was invaded and occupied by the Soviets and subsequently annexed to the USSR. World War II brought alternate Soviet and German occupations, ending in 1944 with the reimposition of Soviet rule. Estonia regained its independence from the USSR in 1991. A new constitution was approved by the voters in 1992 and a 101-seat parliament was elected in the same year.
It is difficult to trace Estonian immigrants to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, because prior to 1918 they carried Russian passports and were entered on immigration records as Russians. It is believed that the first Estonian settler in Cleveland was Geo. Tammik, who arrived in 1903. Until 1945, only about 35 more people were recorded here as Estonian immigrants. After World War II, a substantially greater number of Estonians came to the U.S.; about 200 of these found homes in the Greater Cleveland area.
Although Estonians are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the Cleveland area, their national consciousness has remained very high. Cultural, social, and political activities of the community are centered in their organizations. The oldest Cleveland Estonian association, Arendaja, was founded in 1925 by the first Estonian settlers in the area. In 1996 it still served as a social and cultural club promoting good fellowship, understanding, and mutual help among its members. Ohio Eesti Vabadusvoitlejate Uhing (Estonian Freedom Federation Inc., Ohio Chap.) was founded in 1954. Its primary function is to promote and assist morally and economically rebuilding democracy and free institutions in Estonia. Its activities have included observing the historical holidays of Estonia and preserving homeland traditions and customs. Estonians are overwhelmingly Lutheran. Their church, Eelk Cleveland-Ohio Kogudus (the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cleveland, Ohio), held bi-weekly worships at the Westside Hungarian Lutheran Church, 3245 W. 98th St. Services were conducted in the Estonian language by visiting clergy from Toronto, Canada. A bi-monthly bulletin, Sonumid, was being published jointly by all three organizations. Estonians are proud to belong to the CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDEN FEDERATION. Estonian Garden, officially dedicated in 1966, is dominated by a tall concrete monument surrounded by white birches and other native plants that depict a typical Estonian landscape.