Remembering Erin Atanasoff Hamalainen: Youth Exchange Student to Finland, 1987-88

Ray and I first met Erin Atanasoff Hamalainen through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. We became friends and remained so all these years. She lived in Deerfield on a Christmas tree farm and attended Whitesboro High School. Everyone’s first impression of Erin was WOW? She was 6’ tall and drop-dead gorgeous. The members of the District YE Committee who vied to be her Country Contact were impressed with her willingness to take on a tough challenge, her open heart and mind and her kindness. Jerry Favro of Cazenovia, who handled exchanges with the Scandinavian countries, won. Erin went to Finland, 1987-1988. Language can be the biggest challenge and Erin mastered notoriously difficult Finnish, and also Swedish, which is often spoken in parts of Finland. She became a real “daughter” in her host families and developed friendships that lasted until her death last week.

Following graduation from Herkimer County Community College, she became a flight attendant for American Airlines on their international routes. It was then she met her future husband, of course, a Finn. At her wedding in Finland, I had the honor of walking her down the aisle.

She later worked in the medical field, went back to school and was about to receive her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Utica College.

Erin was diagnosed three years ago. Earlier this year when I met her at the M.D. Cancer Center in Houston, we both knew that it was likely the last time we would be together.

By teaching us that whatever our differences, people all over the world are fundamentally the same, the Rotary Youth Exchange Program offers each of us an opportunity to make the world a better place. Being an exchange student opened the world for Erin, and she left it better for her time here. She leaves two daughters and family in both the US and Finland.

submitted by Rotary Club of Utica PP Linda Allen

Erin’s Obituary