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Norma Jean and Henn Rebane

Norma Jean and Henn Rebane. KFES, February 2, 2014. Clearwater, FL. Photo by Lisa A. Mets

 

Henn Rebane, a mostbeloved member and founder of the Estonian Society of Central Florida/Kesk Florida Eesti Selts, passed away at home on September 26, 2018, after a hard fought battle with lung cancer. 

 

Henn was born to Hans and Maie (Steinberg) Rebane in Kirbla, Estonia, on November 14, 1933. The birth of his brother Priit, whom we all know well, followed. Henn was a man who professed great faith in God and whose life exemplified what it means to be a man of great  compassion, generosity, integrity, and ethics. There could have been no finer men of influence shaping Henn’s life than his grandfather Pastor Bernard Steinberg, his father Pastor Hans Rebane, his uncle Pastor Juhan Suurkivi, and his brother Pastor Priit Rebane. 

 

As it did for so many Estonians, World War II redefined Henn’s future. For one year, Pastor Hans Rebane, with his family, tended a congregation in Narva which, at that time, was under Russian occupation. As Germans retreated from Estonia, Henn’s mother Maie, temporarily leaving her husband Hans behind, embarked on her own journey with their two sons to safety. Their journey led them first to a displaced persons camp near Stuttgart, Germany, where they waited 5 years; and eventually to their homes in the United States starting in 1950 in St. Petersburg (FL); and then Appalachia, Philadelphia, and back again in St. Petersburg (FL).

 

St. Petersburg (Florida) holds a special place in the Rebane family heart and the Rebane family holds a special place in the history of St. Petersburg. Trinity Lutheran Church, the home for many years to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church-Central Florida Congregation, was the sponsor that made it possible for the Rebane family to immigrate to the US and for Pastor Hans Rebane and eventually Pastor Priit Rebane to serve the Lord. According to the family, there is a photograph and article in the then St. Petersburg Times proclaiming the arrival of the area’s first post-WWII immigrant family. Unknown at that time was the civic commitment Henn would be making to St. Petersburg within two decades. Henn became President of the St. Petersburg Zoning Board and first Chairman of the Historical Commission that voted to save the Vinoy among its first acts. Henn’s beloved wife, Norma Jean, Henn and a small handful of others founded the St. Petersburg International Folk Festival Society (SPIFFS) and nurtured the Captive Nations Group in St. Petersburg.

 

When the family arrived in St. Petersburg in 1950, Henn, due to his age and tall height, was admitted as a senior at St. Petersburg High School. English and his high school subjects and high school graduation came easily to Henn as did acceptance to college in 1951. Henn went on to Georgia Tech to earn a BS in Electrical Engineering in 1956. Fulfilling the US requirement for mandatory service, Henn was an Ensign and Commander in the US Public Health Service from 1957-59. Henn earned his Florida Professional Engineering license in 1961. 

 

Henn went on to enjoy a successful professional career mostly in Central Florida as an owner of his own company, Rebane Engineering; as a majority shareholder in Wedding and Associates; and principal in Boyle Engineering. Henn was active in leadership roles in many professional organizations serving as President of the Florida Institute of Consulting Engineers, President of the Florida Engineering Society, President of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, Florida’s National Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers, and Chair of the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. Though he retired in 1998, Henn continued to serve actively in his own consulting firm. On March 12, 2008, the Florida House of Representatives paid tribute to Henn in House Resolution 9039.

 

Henn is survived by his beloved wife of 61 years, Norma Jean; son Paul (and wife Bethany); daughter Linda (and husband Andy Gotsch); grandchildren Hayden, Piper and Tanner Gotsch; brother Priit (and wife Judy) and their family; and extended family and friends in North America, Estonia and beyond. 

 

Henn had a wonderful sense of humor and would likely chuckle at this characterization of one aspect of who he was: Henn was an Estonian magnet. As the Estonian community began to grow in St. Petersburg in the late 1960s, Henn and Norma Jean’s home quickly became the center for a cup of coffee and conversation for Estonian travelers, for visiting Estonian teams, and for Estonian Independence Day dinner celebrations for 80 participants and more. When the number of visitors and guests outgrew their home, and as St. Petersburg celebrated our nation's bicentennial in 1976 with a celebration of its own immigrant community, Henn and others founded the Estonian Society of Central Florida/Kesk Florida Eesti Selts, and he served gloriously as our second president from 1978 to 2007.

 

Cremation has taken place. Interment will take place on Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 11:00 am, at Calvary Catholic Cemetery, 5233 118th Ave N, Clearwater, FL 33760; telephone 727 572 4355. We are invited to join the family for the interment service. Lunch will follow.

 

Lisa A. Mets

Kesk Florida Eesti Selts

St. Petersburg, Florida 

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