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With planned giving, you can provide long-lasting support for Worcester Polytechnic Institute while enjoying financial benefits for yourself

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A Worcester Patriot

A Worcester Patriot
Cannons were firing on all sides as Lembit (Hans) Laasberg and his wife, Irene, fled their native Estonia in 1943 in a small boat at night during World War II.

Estonia was first occupied in 1940 and illegally annexed by the Soviet Union as a result of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Russia and Germany. When World War II broke out and the Russians were defeated, this small Baltic country was soon occupied by Nazi Germany, and it was then that Laasberg and his wife found themselves in a boat, caught in the crossfire as the two sides fought a sea battle that lit up the night.

For a short time in 1941, while still under the first Russian occupation before the Germans arrived, Laasberg had been part of a resistance movement against the Russians called the "Forest Brothers." He had just completed his first year in agriculture and biology at the University of Tartu. Now to escape, the couple deliberately steered the boat into the shallows, which was filled with landmines that the keel of their boat was too short to detonate. With that strategy, they evaded the larger ships from both countries, eventually making their way to Finland, where they stayed for about a year. Several of Laasberg's friends were not so lucky and were later captured.

This was one of the vivid stories that Laasberg— a supporter of WPI until his death in April 2014 at age 91—liked to tell, says his friend Villu Tari, president of the Boston Estonian Society. "His stories definitely stood out—not only because of his knowledge but also because of his memory," he says. "He was able to recall names, and dates, and days of the week from things happening 50, 60, 70 years ago."

Eventually, Laasberg made his way to the United States, where he settled in Worcester and became a distinguished biochemist and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He also served as director of anesthesia at Beth Israel Hospital, authoring some 50 scientific papers. Along the way he studied chemistry and engineering at Swedish universities and did graduate work in immunology and immunochemistry at McGill in Canada. He continued advanced studies at Harvard, Tufts, and MIT in physiology, pharmacology, and spectroscopy. But he never forgot the years of deprivation and hardship during the war. "It was a trait of Lembit to create a family around himself," says Tari. "If you gave him support, he would give it back to you 100 times more—that's the way his world worked."

The latest evidence of his generosity came last year, when Laasberg donated $100,000 to WPI to found a lecture series in the biotechnology department. "He wanted to make an impact in the future, and through his generosity, individuals will be empowered," says dean of arts and sciences Karen Oates, who met with Laasberg last year. "After speaking with him, I now better understand his forward thinking and his ability to see the power of biotechnology to make the future better for others."

Despite his pride at being part of the Harvard community, however, Laasberg was even more proud of living in Worcester. Introduced to WPI through history professor Leena Osteraas, a friend of his cousin Tamara, he felt that he could have more impact with a donation to WPI than to one of the institutions he had attended. In addition to funding the biotechnology lecture series, he set aside funds in his estate to endow the Oskar E. Lasberg, Tamara D. Lasberg, Lembit H. Laasberg, and Irene L. Laasberg Scholarship Fund, named for his uncle, cousin, himself, and his wife.

It is the perfect legacy for Laasberg, tying together his generosity with the love of home, education, and family. "He was an old-class man, in the best sense I can describe it," says Tari. "Given the life he'd been through with hardships and losing family during the war, he knew how fragile those connections are, and he held onto them. There is definitely something to learn from in that."

If you would like to learn about establishing your own philanthropic legacy at WPI through a planned gift, contact Donna Stock, executive director of leadership and planned giving, at 508-831-6073 or dstock@wpi.edu, or click here to learn more.
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