Viiu Ann Vellisto Klein, 66, laboratory technician at Hopkins School of Medicine

February 04, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Viiu Ann Vellisto Klein, a native of Estonia and a laboratory technician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine since 1975, died Monday of cancer at her home in Perry Hall. She was 66.

"We had a surprise party for her last year, and people came from all over the world," said Dr. Paul T. Englund, who heads the Hopkins lab where she worked studying the biochemistry of parasitic protozoa. Mrs. Klein's role went beyond conducting experiments, and she befriended graduate students studying to become scientists.

"People came from as far away as Belgium, Czech Republic and China," he said of the party, "and honored this woman who had meant so much to all of us."

"She worked until about eight weeks ago, continuing to make contributions to our lab, both professional and personal, until the pain caused by her illness made it impossible for her to work any longer. She was truly heroic and an inspiration to all," Dr. Englund said.

When people learned of her life, "they were absolutely amazed," said her husband of 45 years, the Rev. Elmer J. Klein, former pastor of St. Michael Lutheran Church in Perry Hall. "They had no idea that she had that kind of a background."

She was born in 1934 in Estonia, where her family changed their name from Wechtrstein to Vellisto during that country's period of independence between the two world wars, according to a family history she gave her daughters. After Russia invaded Estonia in 1940, her father, a former director of a research institute, was taken to Siberia by cattle car in the night. He reportedly died there of pneumonia. She and her mother, a school principal, later fled to Germany, where they lived as displaced persons.

In 1949, under the sponsorship of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Baltimore, she and her mother came to Baltimore, where they stayed with a family and learned English.

While a student at Eastern High School, Viiu Vellisto became a U.S. citizen. After graduating from Eastern, she received a full scholarship to Goucher College and earned her bachelor's degree in biology in 1956.

That year, she married Mr. Klein, whom she had met soon after her arrival in the United States. She worked as a bacteriologist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Arlington, Va., for about eight years while Mr. Klein served as assistant pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Arlington. The couple moved to Pittsburgh in 1964, where Mr. Klein served as pastor of Stewart Avenue Evangelical Lutheran Church.

In 1969, he became the pastor of St. Michael. He retired in 1995.

Mrs. Klein was an active supporter of Eastern High School reunions and the Goucher Alumni Association.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Kristine Ann Wille and Karen Lee Brooks, both of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

The family suggested contributions to the memorial fund of St. Michael Lutheran Church, where services were held Thursday.

Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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