Erick J. Laine, formerly of Richmond, died Tuesday, December 1, 2020, at his home in Olean, NY, after a long illness.
Erkki Johannes Komulainen was born on August 13, 1933, in Petrozavodsk in the Soviet Republic of Karelia, where his Finnish parents, Ernesti and Irma (Salminen) Komulainen, had found work during the Depression. Erkki was nine months old when the family fled Stalin’s purges by rowing across Lake Ladoga to Finland, and four years old when his parents rowed across another watery border, from the Canadian shore of the Sault Ste. Marie locks to the U.S. shore.
The family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Erkki started kindergarten without knowing English but learned quickly — an early indication of his native intelligence. He took up speed skating, winning a Silver Skates Championship. At age 13, he paddled the Boundary Waters of Canada for six weeks with friends. When Erick was 16, his brother Tom was born, becoming the family’s first American citizen; Erick would gain citizenship ten years later.
Erick was the first in his family to graduate from high school and college. At the University of Wisconsin, Erick was a brother and president of Sigma Phi fraternity; a ski jumper on Wisconsin’s ski team and vice-president of his senior class. He graduated in 1955 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and immediately went to work for the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) as an industrial engineer in its New Kensington, Pennsylvania plant.
Erick worked for a quarter-century in positions of increasing responsibility at ALCOA plants across the Midwest. From 1970 to 1976, Erick was director of business development for ALCOA’s closure division in Richmond. He pursued an active life with first wife Nancy and their four children, playing tennis, skiing, sailing, and performing in community theater. He also served on the board of the Society for the Preservation and Use of Resources (S.P.U.R.). Erick turned down promotions at ALCOA so his three older children could graduate from Richmond High School. In 1976, he accepted a transfer, and in 1977 ALCOA sent him to one of its subsidiaries in Olean, New York: Alcas Cutlery Corporation.
Alcas knives made in Olean had long been sold alongside ALCOA’s Wear-Ever cookware, but the parent company was moving away from consumer products. ALCOA charged Erick with assessing Alcas, with the expectation that it would be put up for sale. Erick, however, saw tremendous potential in the little knife factory. Over the next several years he assembled an executive team, mapped out a different future for the company, and in 1982 led a leveraged management buyout from ALCOA.
As president, CEO, and Chairman of Alcas (now CUTCO), Erick oversaw its transformation into the largest cutlery company in North America. Even as the company grew, Erick greeted every employee by name — and asked after family members by name, as well. He retired from CUTCO on January 1, 2008.
Erick was proud of his Finnish heritage. Through Erick’s efforts, family ties were re-established between Finland and the United States. When Erick Marianne bought a lake cottage, he added a log boathouse and sauna. Visitors surprised to see steaming bodies running from the sauna into the lake were told, “That’s Erick Laine. He’s a Finn.”
Sisu is a Finnish word that is often used to describe the Finnish national character. The word doesn’t have a good English equivalent, but it can be described as a combination of integrity, courage, and tenacity that is passionately and purposefully directed. Erick Laine lived with great Sisu.
As his family gathered around him to sing his favorite skiing and Sigma Phi songs, he gave his paddle one last, strong pull and crossed to the other shore.
Erick is survived by his wife of 41 years, Marianne Letro Laine; children Kristen (Jim Collins), Erick, Jr. (Susan), Peter (Constance Ensner), Christopher (Ulli Valentini); brother Tom (Aleta) , nieces Joanna (Vik Penna) and Sarah; 8 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; and extended family in the U.S. and Finland.
Arrangements are under the direction of Letro-McIntosh-Spink Funeral Home in Olean, NY. There will not be a funeral service, but a celebration of Erick’s life is being planned for a future date.