Sylvia Thompson and Michael Keller receive Estonian state decorations
This weekend, Eerik Marmei, Estonia’s Ambassador to the United States, presented
Orders of the Cross of Terra Mariana to Sylvia K. Thompson, President of the
Kistler-Ritso Foundation and Michael A. Keller, University Librarian at
Stanford University, on behalf of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of the Republic
of Estonia. The ceremony took place at the annual Estonian Independence Day celebration
in Sunnyvale, hosted by the local Estonian Society and bringing together more
than 200 Estonians and friends of Estonia.
Each year, the President of Estonia bestows 99 state
decorations to people who have significantly contributed to the country’s
development, among them a handful of non-citizens. Sylvia Thompson and Michael
Keller received the awards for their exceptional work with the Estonia’s Museum of Occupations
(soon to be renamed the Museum of Freedom, Vabamu) and building the Baltic
studies program at Stanford University.
“I am honored and delighted to present the Orders of the
Cross of Terra Mariana to Michael Keller and Sylvia Thompson for their
dedication and service to the state and people of Estonia,” said Marmei. “Their
commitment to cultural and academic exchange between the United States and
Estonia is highly valued and appreciated.”
advocates and stewards of cultural heritage
Sylvia Thompson has an active role as a leader of non-profit
organizations. She is the President of the Kistler-Ritso Foundation, a
non-profit foundation founded by her mother Olga Ritso Kistler, an Estonian
refugee who, like tens of thousands of her compatriots, fled her homeland in
the fear of the returning Soviet Army in 1944. The foundation focuses on educating
the public regarding the occupation, resistance, freedom, and recovery of the Republic
In addition to building and running the Museum of
Occupations in Tallinn, Estonia, the Kistler-Ritso Foundation supported numerous
Estonian and Baltic events, films and projects. In 2011, it gave an
endowment to Stanford Libraries, making it possible for
Stanford to hire a curator for Baltic studies and begin building its Baltic program.
This year, Sylvia Thompson supported the museum with additional 260,000 EUR,
which is likely the single largest private donation in Estonia in 2016.
In her speech on Saturday, Sylvia Thompson stressed the
importance of not only focusing on Estonia’s tragic history but also on its
remarkable recovery during the past 25 years and the importance of maintaining the
country’s independence and freedom.
“Estonia is remarkable not for its victimhood—sadly, there
are far too many victims of evil in this world. Estonia is unique for its
non-violent “singing revolution” and its quick ascent to one of the most
successful democracies in the world today,” said Thompson. “Freedom and
democracy are fragile, and require constant vigilance—we must all work together
to ensure that Estonians never again have to endure the horrors of occupation.”
“We are proud that Sylvia Thompson has continued the work of
her mother Olga Ritso Kistler at the Museum of Occupations (Vabamu),” said
Merilin Piipuu, the director of the museum. “Her support, input and warm heart help
the museum to reach the next, more focused development level. It is just
unbelievable how much Sylvia has helped the museum. She is a role model to all
Estonians in Estonia and abroad!”
Michael Keller is Stanford’s University Librarian and serves
as a member of the Supervisory Council of the Kistler-Ritso Foundation. He has
been the driving force behind the creation of Stanford’s Baltic program, and an
active supporter of the development of the Museum of Occupations. Last year,
Keller also became Estonian
Under Keller’s leadership and with donor support from
Kistler-Ritso Foundation Stanford Libraries has established a growing Baltic
studies program, which includes resources on Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian, as
well as on Finnish history, literature and culture. In addition, Stanford
Libraries actively collaborates with Baltic institutions and organizations by
conducting projects and organizing seminars, conferences and other events to
support collection development.
delighted to be the first of many Stanford officers to be closely involved and
supporting the Museum of Occupations that we now call the Museum of Freedom,
Vabamu,” said Keller in his speech.
made note that the Stanford Libraries, particularly through the curatorial
expertise of Liisi Esse, has amassed a rich collection including published
works about Estonia, testimonies of Estonians surviving the occupations,
Estonian government documents, Estonian movies and music, and records of
Estonian ex-patriots, and has developed working relationships with Estonian
libraries and archives.
will help Stanford students and professors study Estonian history, literature,
science, technology, and culture. And in doing that for Stanford, we will
draw other universities into this field. We seek always to help you and your countrymen
preserve Estonian freedom and to celebrate Estonia’s success,” said Keller as
he concluded his speech.
“Estonia is extremely fortunate to have Mike as a true
friend and a strong advocate of everything Estonian,” said Liisi Esse,
Stanford’s Curator for Baltic studies.
“It is because of Mike’s keen interest towards Estonia and
the other Baltic states and his ability to recognize important developments in
the present and in the future that Stanford Libraries is the first academic
library in the U.S. to have a Baltic curator on staff, and has one of the
strongest Baltic collections in the continent. It is a great pleasure to see
him being rewarded for his ongoing support,” said Esse.
The official ceremony of presenting the state decorations
took place on February 23 in Tallinn, Estonia. The President of Estonia Toomas
Hendrik Ilves addressed
the recipients of the decorations by thanking them for the services they have
provided to Estonia.
“You are all visible and stand in the spotlight, either
through your professional work or as a supporter of your community. There are
also more faraway friends and supporters of Estonia, whose acts have made
Estonia more visible, audible, safer and more secure," said President
“You have put your soul into your work and the efforts you
have made for your home and Estonia in general will help propel us forward.
These are efforts that drive Estonia onwards. You will make our country and
each and every one of us much bigger. Stronger, better.”