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Former Forest City native appointed an Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia

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Approximately eighty years after Estonia refugee Helvi Luckadoo fled the European country during World War II, her son Tommy Luckadoo, formerly of Forest City and now Hickory, has been appointed an Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia.

"This is a very special honor for our family," Tommy said. "Our mother and her family fled Estonia in 1944 and came to the US through Ellis Island in 1949. Every member of her family became a US citizen but their home country remained in their hearts," he said. He was officially sworn as an honorary consul for the European nation by Kristjan Prikk, the Estonian ambassador to the United States. Mrs. Luckadoo was among those attending the ceremony.

Mrs. Luckadoo, 92, talked about escaping Estonia during World War II.

"We had to leave. The Russians were coming and we did not want to live in a communist country," she said of fleeing her home.

The family -- her parents, two brothers and a sister -- fled the country to escape communist rule. They would first go to Germany where they lived a Displaced Persons camp for five years during WWII before coming to America.

Later they would be put on a train, led by the military, who at one point told all of the passengers to get off the train and the family felt doomed as they marched through the woods, not knowing where they were going.

For years they found refuge in old military barracks before coming to America, Mrs. Luckadoo said.

"They were given a choice when they were in Germany as to the country they wanted to go," said another son, Bill Luckadoo.

"They chose the United States," he said. Mrs. Helvi was 18 years old at the time.

The family went first to New Jersey and other places in America before boarding another train that brought them to Gaffney, South Carolina, where the church that sponsored the family was located.

A few years later she came to Rutherford County and has been here ever since. Her parents, who were successful in America, lived in several places before going to Ocala, Fla. They also lived in Forest City for the last decade of their lives.

Mrs. Luckadoo said she is proud of her son's appointment as Honorary Consul.

"I am very excited. He will do well. I know he will," she said.

Luckadoo's duties will range from assisting Estonia citizens in North Carolina to fostering cultural and business connections between Estonia and the United States and North Carolina.

"Being appointed as Honorary Consul is very meaningful to my family," he said. "Not only does it honor our heritage, but it is a chance for us to bring more attention to this small, amazing country that sits on the border of the world's biggest geopolitical bully. Russia's invasion of Ukraine affected us all deeply and it is important to me to now have a platform to remind people that the free world has to stand firm against Russian aggression," Tommy said.

"I have already had conversations with UNC, Duke, and Appalachian State about potential partnerships and exchange programs and I hope we have success with those," said Tommy. "One of my other responsibilities is to be a resource to Estonians living in North Carolina, of which there are about 800."

Tommy, who lives in Hickory with his wife Mary, grew up in Forest City with his parents, Bobby and Helvi Luckadoo and his brothers. He and Mary have two daughters.

"After kindergarten at Mrs. P.D. Nanney's house in Spindale (Pat's mother) I went to Forest City Elementary, Dunbar, Cool Springs, and East Rutherford. I played Little League baseball and sang in a choir with a large youth group at First Baptist Church in Forest City," he said.

His dad worked at Spindale Mills for 56 years and Mrs. Luckadoo was the manager of the bookstore at Isothermal Community College.Tommy said while she was at Isothermal, "ever now and then, someone would pick up on my mom's very slight accent and ask where she was from. When she answered "Estonia," more often than not the reply was "Oh, Gastonia!'."

The couple actually met at Rutherford Hospital where Helvi was visiting a friend -- the sister of Bobby Luckadoo.

During his high school and college years, Tommy worked at the Rutherford County News.

"I was eager to learn everything there was to know about the newspaper business. I have very pleasant memories of those years," he said.

He was later hired as a Congressional staff member and spent 20 years in that field, most of it as the District Director for U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger. He later spent several years in the commercial real estate business.

Tommy is retired and has served on numerous boards and commissions dealing with education and local government.

"These days, I focus on my various board duties and my new role as Honorary Consul for the Republic of Estonia," Tommy said. "With the Soviet occupation of Estonia until 1991, we had little contact with our relatives there and there was little news in the press. What I knew about Estonia was limited to the stories told by my mom and grandparents, and I had little hope of ever visiting."

Tommy said the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 also inspired him to take on the role. He said seeing the war refugees made him think of what his mother went through. "I know I'm on the far end of the bench and I can't do much, but helping people learn more about Estonia, just in case something happens in the future, is important to me," he stated.

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