NORTH REDINGTON BEACH — North Redington Beach resident Kaie Tiina Pohi Latterner was made the Estonian honorary consul in St. Petersburg at a ceremony on Feb. 22 at Latterner’s home in North Redington Beach.
The position of Estonian honorary consul is a non-paying job, a labor of love.
Kersti Eesmaa, the director general of the Consular Department at the Estonian Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presided over the ceremony.
Kairi Kunka, Estonian Consul General in New York, participated in the event as well. Other honorary Estonian consuls in attendance were Jaak Treiman of Los Angeles and Lisa Mets, the former consul of St. Petersburg. North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen was also present.
The republic of Estonia is the northernmost country of the three Baltic states with a relatively small population of 1.3 million. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia’s Communication Department, Estonia has 15 honorary consuls in the United States and a total of 200 worldwide. There are now two Estonian consuls in Florida, in Miami and in North Redington Beach.
Latterner’s job will be to provide consular services for the west coast of Florida, including facilitating passports and visas to and from Estonia.
Lisa Mets was the former Estonian Honorary Consul in St. Petersburg. Mets works at Eckerd College and used her office on campus as the location of the consulate for five years. Now that Latterner has been installed, her home on 173rd Avenue in North Redington Beach is now the official location of the Estonian consulate in the St. Petersburg area.
Mets and Latterner have been long-acquainted as members of the Estonian Society of Central Florida, a social and cultural club that promotes Estonia. That friendship led to Mets’ recommendation of Latterner to take over her position as Estonian Honorary Consul.
Although Latterner was born and raised in the United States, her Estonian ancestry runs deep. Latterner’s parents escaped as children from Estonia during World War II and did not meet until they were relocated to New York City after the war. Born in Queens, New York, Latterner remembers going with her family to Jones Beach where her mother would point to the Atlantic Ocean and say, “Across this huge ocean lies our homeland and the rest of our family.”
Stories of Estonia filled Latterner with longing to go there.
“Letters took three weeks to arrive in the United States from Estonia,” Latterner said.
She finally had the opportunity to meet her extended family for the first time in 1981 when she was in her 20s, but it wasn’t easy. Estonia was under Soviet Russian rule, so she was allowed in the country for only 72 hours with what she believed was the KGB following her every step of the way. Even though she knew that some of her relatives had previously disappeared without a trace or had been sent to Siberia, her desire to know her living relatives outweighed her fear.
The next time Latterner ventured back to Estonia was over a decade later after Estonia had become a free republic in 1991. Since then, she has returned to visit her Estonian relatives every few years.
After growing up in the New York metropolitan area, she went to Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin before she moved with her husband, Steven, to the Tampa Bay area. Since 1984 Latterner has run TEC Inc., a company providing technology and operations support to client companies such as Eckerd, Dollar General and Trader Joe’s among others.
After a long battle with cancer, her beloved husband died three years ago.
Fluent in the Estonian language, Latterner is dedicated to promoting the people, culture, and businesses of Estonia here in the United States. Estonia emerged from Soviet control as a poor country 28 years ago but has been catching up in technology-oriented business enterprises.
“Skype was invented in Estonia,” said Latterner.
Latterner believes there is plenty she can do to help the people and country of her forefathers. She’s in the process of writing a book about being Estonian-American, and plans to give 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the book to Estonian charities.
Becoming the Estonian honorary consul is something Latterner considers a positive for both herself as well as the Estonians. She admitted that the volunteer work as consul is helping her overcome the grief of her late husband’s passing, and she looks forward to helping Estonians.
It is fitting that Latterner’s small ancestral country of Estonia, which sits on the water, should have her as its consul in North Redington Beach, the town she calls home and also sits on the water.
“There are a lot of new people coming (to the U.S.) from Estonia (for business and vacation purposes),” said Latterner