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20201123

 

Elmar Sepp was born on the island of Saaremaa in a free and independent Estonia in 1925.

 

The fifth of six children of Hindrik, a merchant marine, and Mari, a farmer and homemaker.


After his father was imprisoned and killed by Soviet invaders at the outbreak of World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the island and many of his family members were interned in camps in Poland where they died or became ill.

 

The surviving members later returned to their homeland.

 

Since Elmar experienced, first hand, how vulnerable his homeland was to foreign invaders, he and two other men quietly escaped late one night right under the noses of the SS guarding the shores of Saaremaa.

 

The men paddled themselves to Sweden in a tiny rowboat during a nearly two-day journey across the Baltic Sea.

 

There in Sweden, Elmar joined his older brother, Arnold, who had previously fled on his fishing boat.


Elmar learned the construction trade – and mastered Swedish – while living for the next four years in Sweden.

 

Eventually, he and other Estonian refugees became concerned that the increasing reach of the Soviet Union, which had by then illegally annexed Estonia, would negatively impact their lives in Sweden.

 

Twenty-plus native Estonians pooled their money to buy a 36-ft fishing vessel, hired a captain and set sail for Canada in 1949.

 

Unfortunately, crossing the Atlantic, the vessel encountered hurricane winds and – with a broken compass – the boat was sent adrift and began to sink off the coast of North Carolina.

 

The U.S. Coast Guard pulled the passengers to safety and brought them to Ellis Island where they decided to petition for political asylum in the United States.


In 1950, Elmar met Joan Duffy, a shy telephone operator from New York City, on the stoop of their Manhattan apartment building.

 

Soon his neighbor became his blushing bride.

 

The pair would go on to have six children over a period of 18 years: Eileen, Michael, Joan, Mary, Alan and EJ.

 

Elmar was also active in the Estonian community in New York, often attending events at the Estonian Houses in New York, Long Island and Lakewood, NJ.

 

He remained a fixture at the New York Estonian House until the 1990s, regularly attending social events and dining at the restaurant.


From the early 1970s until 2009, Elmar owned his own construction business, E.J. Sepp & Son, eventually with his son Alan working by his side, building and renovating homes, commercial spaces and houses of worship – all around the Tri-State area.

 

Not slowing down with construction work until about the age of 80, Elmar then divided his time between his homes in the Country Club section of the Bronx and Palm Bay, Florida.


Elmar passed away quietly at the age of 95 at Calvary Hospital on July 31, 2020.

 

He joins his loving wife, Joan Sepp, his son Fr. Michael Sepp, his brothers Voldemar (who died in childhood), Arnold and Voldemar Sepp and his sister Alma Sepp among many other friends and relatives in the afterlife.

 

He was survived by his five remaining children, though Mary passed away soon after him.

 

He is also survived by his eight grandchildren; Erin, Scott, Matthew, Jessica, Kimberly, Taylor, Ava and Michael; and his great grandson, Tristan Sepp.


A Celebration of Life was held at Pelham Funeral Home on Friday August 7, 2020 followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at The Church of the Assumption Tuckahoe, NY. He is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla, NY.

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