Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Heinz Otto Veinsreideris

This is another installment in our continuing series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials.

Heinz Otto Veinsreideris was born in Gotha, Germany to Lithuanian parents, and relocated to the United States six years later. He received his B.S. in Engineering and his MBA in Management and Finance from St. Cloud State University. He then began work with the 3M Company, from which he retired as Business Director in 2004 after a 37-year career.

Minnesota has a population of 5.3 million. It is home to the headquarters of a number of international corporations, including United Health, General Mills, Target, and Best Buy among others. It is also, according to the most recently reported census information, home to more than four thousand  Lithuanian-Americans and Americans with Lithuanian heritage.

The Lithuanian-American Community of Minnesota (LACMN) has about 200 regular members, and is the preeminent force of promotion for Lithuania and Lithuanian culture in the state. It sponsors activities like the Martyno Mazvydo School, designed to teach children from ages three to eleven to speak, read, and write Lithuanian, in addition to the country's history and traditions. LACM also sponsors a choir, a sports club, and a folk dance group. Annually, it holds a mid-February celebration of the original Lithuanian Independence Day of 16 February 1918, as well the second Independence Day on 11 March 1990. Celebrants partake in authentic Lithuanian food, and learn about Lithuanian history and independence through films, stories, and songs. At the May Festival of Nations in St. Paul, the LACMN hosts a Lithuanian cultural booth. In the summer, it holds the St. John's Day Festival, or Jonines Celebration. Then, in the fall, the community celebrates the completion of harvest time with genuine Lithuanian cuisine, the LACMN Lithuanian dance group, Vejava, and a children's show.

For Heinz Otto Veinsreideris, the Lithuanian culture is something imbedded within him. Following the end of World War II, he and his family immigrated to the United States with the assistance of the International Refugee Committee. They reached the U.S. in March 1949 aboard the USS General Sturgis and later settled in Long Prairie, Minnesota where his father worked for a large printing company. Although German by birth, Mr. Veinsreideris has always considered himself Lithuanian. "We only spoke Lithuanian at home," he told us, "and my sister and I still speak to each other in the language."

As Lithuania's Honorary Consul to Minnesota, Veinsreideris is in charge of Lithuanian affairs for the state, a task, he says, is composed of three parts: diplomatic, economic, and cultural. "In terms of diplomatic activities, these are largely the result of receiving requests for assistance by either individuals or various organizations," he explained. He is required to research and understand the Consulate's Lithuanian passport and visa requirements, length of stay restrictions, and visa issuance locations. If a Lithuanian citizen enters the U.S. illegally, specifically Minnesota, then Border Patrol notifies Mr. Veinsreideris. He then provides the necessary translation services, and any additional contact or general information that he/she might require.

Economic duties include membership on the American Lithuanian Economic Development Advisory Council, and ameliorating any further economic issues that arise at the Honorary Consul meetings in Washington, DC. As a member of the Consular Corps of Minnesota, he also meets six times each year with Minnesota business and political leaders, including Governor Dayton, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Senate Majority Leader. Their most recent topic of discussion was the possibility of an expansion of trade betweeen Minnesota and the international market.

To support Lithuanian culture in the United States, Veinsreideris has aligned himself with the LACMN (noted above). In addition, he is a Patron of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, a contributor to the Lithuanian Fund, and a participant in the Global Honorary Consul meeting in Vilnius. His involvement with Lithuanian-Americans spans more than fifty years. He even attended the very first Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival in Chicago. His goals as Consul are to nurture the United States' already strong ties with Lithuania, and to further strengthen them through consular and economic negotiations in partnership with cultural awareness programs.