Erika Kikut Puussaar was born in a small village named Vandra in central Estonia. Artur and Elmire Kikut, along with their children Silva, Aksi, and Erika (Villi born later) escaped their homeland to avoid Soviet occupation. After many tumultuous events while escaping, they were finally united with an Estonian Displaced Person’s camp in Germany. The next procedure was the desire to immigrate to the USA.
To immigrate, their family of six had to obtain a guarantee of support from an American sponsor. Due to their large family, we had to wait in line for seven years to get that sponsor. Erika says, “When our ship arrived in New York and I saw the Statue of Liberty, I realized a dream come true! We first settled in Detroit, Michigan and then Ann Arbor. After many years of being a vagabond, we finally were homeowners!”
The Kikut children attended the Ann Arbor public schools. Erika graduated from Pioneer High School and then from Northern Michigan University. In between those years, she was married to Aavo Puussaar (another Estonian). They were married for 54 years when he passed away. They had one son, Martin, who is now deceased.
Erika earned a master’s degree from Cleveland State University. She had the great joy of being an elementary teacher in Wickliffe, OH for thirty years and was honored as “Teacher of the Year” in 1988. She is an active member of Faith Lutheran Church in Mentor, Ohio and school board member at Our Shepherd Lutheran School in Painesville. Erika says, “As has been proven in my case, education is one steppingstone to opportunity. Being of service to others is my highest priority. After all, I was coached by many mentors to navigate through unfamiliar waters. I was raised by a strong family, as well as boiled potatoes and herring!”
Among her many activities and accomplishments, Erika has served as President of the Estonian Cultural Garden and has helped maintain the garden for over 50 years. She helps celebrate Estonian Victory Day and Jaanipaeva every June in the Garden.
Erika is Past Vice President/Board member of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens and Vice President of the Baltic American Committee Greater Cleveland Area. She helped organize an annual Ecumenical Prayer Service in remembrance of the deportations to Siberia of the Baltic peoples.
Erika was honored with the Freedom Award from the American Nationalities Movement which was formed for the purpose of uniting all the nationalities in the United States in the goal to educate, advocate and represent their interests of all the diverse ethnic groups to the public and mostly to the political leaders of the United States.
Erika continues to support the local Estonian communities’ activities as well as keeping informed of conditions in her homeland. She says, “I take great pleasure in watching my two grandchildren, Sam Puussaar and Elmire (Emmi) Puussaar thrive. As always, working in my precious flower garden brings me both happiness and peace!”
Erika Puussaar will be inducted into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame Class of 2024 by…