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KESKUS launches pivotal legacy campaign

Updated: Jan 13

Update # 203

“Girl from refugee camp” gives back as first KESKUS legacy donor

When Ene Riisna crossed the Atlantic Ocean to North America for the first time, it was as a teenaged refugee who had spent her early years living as a displaced person in Sweden, with her sister and parents.


And when Ene travelled back across that same ocean many decades later, by then it was as an Emmy-award winning producer on her way to interview U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with renowned television personality Barbara Walters.


“Pretty amazing for a girl from the refugee camp!” she laughs, as she recounts the story of how she and her parents, Eduard and Olga Riisna, along with her older sister Aime, escaped from Estonia in a small fishing craft as boats were torpedoed around them.


“We had a low, grey fishing boat that slipped through unnoticed,” she said. “The larger vessels were targeted, but we got lucky. It was a clear moonlit night and I remember it vividly.” They were rescued by the Swedish Coast Guard, and their new life began. After six years in Sweden, the family came to Canada and settled in Toronto.


It all started with a family TV interview


Ene was six years old and Aime was nine when they escaped to Sweden. “Living in the camps rocked us to our core. But it also shaped me, made me self-reliant, curious, taught me to persist,” she explains, and navigating the competitive world of television certainly called for those skills through the years of her career as a news magazine producer.


“In the late 1950s, my family was invited to do a TV interview on coming to Canada as refugees,” she said. “It was a seminal moment for me. It was the beginning of television news around that time, and I saw how this little camera could bring the world into people’s homes.”


The rest, as they say, is history, and Ene plunged into becoming a ground-breaker in many areas. 


Ene is the first KESKUS legacy campaign donor

Three women posing in front of entrance
Ene (on the right) with niece and family

Ene becomes the KESKUS legacy campaign’s first legacy donor as she has pledged a bequest to support the ongoing future on the Estonian community. 


“When I heard about KESKUS, I thought it was such a fabulous idea,” she said. “This is a centre that will be for everyone. It will be a focal point for Estonian events, and a place where we can share our music and culture with the rest of the world. It’s very exciting, and I’m honoured to be the inaugural donor in this valuable campaign.”


A career that has charted many milestones


Ene earned an Honours degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Toronto. Her career as a fashion model in Toronto and London, England took off, but she returned to Toronto first to became a producer-director for the CBC in Toronto, then a freelancer for the BBC in London.

Her first job in network television in the U.S. was as executive producer of a new morning program, "Woman", for CBS in New York in 1970. This made her one of the first women to create and produce a television news program. With few other women in network programming at the time, Ene insisted on hiring an all-female staff to produce the show, a concept that caused quite a stir.

She produced documentaries for NBC and PBS and wrote magazine articles including for MS magazine. She also produced and directed documentary films for ABC News with anchor Peter Jennings as the host.  

It was at the well-known news show 20/20 that Ene really made her mark. She helped create the show, and during her time there produced a series of Emmy Award-winning stories and worked with Barbara Walters on a number of high profile interviews including Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsen, Nancy Reagan and Barbra Streisand.

She is the recipient of over a dozen major awards including two Emmys, a Television Academy General Achievement Award, and Columbia School of Journalism's prestigious Dupont Award.


Ene’s passions encompass an unwavering Estonian spirit

Ene retired after a 23-year career at 20/20, but her work and passions continue. She collaborates with her husband James L. Greenfield, who heads the Independent Journalism Foundation, which he created in 1990 for the study of journalism, and which has centers in Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Cambodia. James served as United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and was one of the editors of the New York Times who published the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The couple live in New York City.

A couple with garden in background
Ene Riisna & James Greenfield

Her top-of-the-list passions includes supporting the Estonian community, and Ene has left a legacy gift for KESKUS so that future generations can benefit from the strong traditions of Estonia in what she calls an “an extraordinary place.”

“Estonia is such an interesting little country, it’s unique and always has been. The people are so talented and creative, and have strong values.”


Her parents instilled a love of their homeland and culture

“The reason I am so Estonian is because of my parents,” she explains. Her father, who was a lawyer and politician in Estonia, (he was a member of VI Riigikogu, the sixth legislature of the Estonian Parliament) and was involved in helping establish many beloved institutions in Toronto that continue to serve the community to this day, including involvement in Northern Birch Credit Union’s predecessor Estonian Credit Union and one of the local Estonian weekly newspapers.


“My mother, who was a linguist and musician, helped organize a refugee association when we lived in Sweden,” she cites as another influencing factor. “I was in and out of their office all the time. It shaped who I am.”


Ene has made several trips to Estonia and while there she met Kadri and Anu Tali, who founded the Nordic Symphony. She is one of the symphony’s benefactors.


Ene visits Toronto often; she helped raise her niece, Anya Thompson, who lives in Newcastle, Ontario. Anya is a teacher and has a daughter, Siobhan.


“As time goes on, I  believe it is important to leave a legacy,” she explains. “I have been fortunate in my life and I want to give back. There is a saying that it feels better to give than to receive, and it’s true!”


What’s also true is that the strong and unwavering spirit of the “girl from the refugee camp” will live on in the very foundation of KESKUS.


Discover the benefits of giving wisely       


Please join the growing list of KESKUS capital campaign donors to help bring this extraordinary project to completion. KESKUS leadership donors are recognized here.

There are many ways to make a contribution to KESKUS. 

  • To donate, click here, or call +1.647.250.7136 or email Donations may be made as a family gift, or in honour of an individual or family. All donations are issued a tax receipt, in Canada via Estonian Arts Centre, US tax receipts via Myriad USA and Estonian tax receipts via Eesti Rahvuskultuuri Fond. Donations by credit card may be made here.

  • Legacy gifts made to the Estonian Arts Centre, the charity associated with KESKUS, are creative and tax-effective ways to provide support. These are known as “planned gifts” because with thoughtful planning, we create a win-win situation that benefits both you and our community for generations to come.  Find out how to provide a bequest in your will by going to

  • For information on making other types of planned gifts, including gifts of appreciated securities or insurance policies, or if you have any other questions, please contact EAC Donations Manager Taimi Hooper via email at or phone +1.647.250.7136.

Let’s keep in touch

  • Visit the KESKUS website for all the latest news

  • Sign up for the KESKUS monthly email newsletter

  • Follow us on Facebook @EestiKeskus, X @keskus, Instagram @keskus.iec


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