In Memory

Jorma Sahlstedt

Jorma Sahlstedt

Jorma Sahlstedt, our senior-year foreign exchange student, passed away on November 30, 2023 in Helsinki, Finland. This is his obituary. RIP, Jorma.

Jorma (Jocke) Sahlstedt  
April 29, 1954 - November 30, 2023 

Our Finnish Friend in the Class of 1973

The Billings West High School Class of 1973 was fortunate to have as their foreign exchange student a young man from Helsinki, Finland:  Jorma Sahlstedt, whom we knew as Jocke. (pronounced Yo-kay).

He lived with the Agnew family, with Stuart and Laurie who were also seniors in ’73, and their parents and younger brothers, Scott and Kirk.  Jocke was well acquainted with the tradition of studying abroad with the foreign exchange program since both his older brothers had participated and thrived in their exchange terms, one in the UK and the other in Southern California. 

In Billings, Jocke excelled in developing great friendships as well as in academics. He “stood tall” among us, not only because he towered in height above the average high schooler (at 6’ 5”) but also because of his friendly nature, openness and sense of humor.  Smiles abound when Jocke stories and memories are shared.

After his year in Billings, Jocke returned to Finland to graduate and attend to his mandatory 12 months of military service required of all male Finns. (Everyone in Finland can fight the Russians if needed! And they did!).  As swedish was his mother tongue, he attended the swedish speaking Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki.  In a students New Year’s party 47 years ago he met a girl, who became his beautiful wife Leila. She became a doctor, ultimately specializing in researching blood cancers and therapies.  

Following his time at the School of Economics, Jocke joined Metsa Serla, (later MReal ) one of Finland’s largest paper and cardboard companies and stayed with them his entire career.  He grew into leadership positions with the company and travelled globally to its many factories, offices and customers in all parts of the world.  This allowed him and Leila to have the most spectacular vacations, all over the world, than most of us can imagine. Among his favorite cities were Paris, Buenos Aires – and  New York. His favorite vacations with Leila included alpine skiing in Europe and in the US.  Unforgettable were the trips to the Amazonas and South Africa, and sailing in the Caribbean. Although taking his job very seriously, he did not hesitate to enjoy life when possible: during a business trip he  visited Macchu Picchu. He could speak four languages fluently: Finnish, Swedish, English, German and some French.

He became the Head of the MReal Americas, and was based in Connecticut in the late 1990’s. He and Leila had residence there for over 15 years, while he served in the highest levels of the company’s executive suite. While Jocke travelled frequently and globally and Leila was working in Helsinki, they talked nearly every morning and every night and were rarely separated for more than 2 months. 

Sadly, an aggressive lymphoma was diagnosed in 2010 , but luckily he  was able to get the best possible treatment, including  two bone marrow transplants, at Sloan Kettering in NYC.  With Leila taking sabbatical and nursing him back to health, he recovered and ultimately retired in 2014. They moved back permanently to enjoy their life in  fashionable downtown Helsinki. 

In the last few years his health was fragile but his good spirits, inner strength, and magical loving care still made for upbeat cheerful conversations and outings.  

In the summer 2023 Jocke once again had to face cancer. With his strength and optimism and the best care available he was able to live a full life including trips in Finland and abroad. 

On November 30,  2023, he passed away peacefully at home, even while planning to attend the mid-winter festival at Bromarv, the summer cottage on the Baltic Sea he shared with his brothers.

We will always fondly remember Jocke, our really good friend. A service for Jocke was held in Helsinki Jan. 5, 2024

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12/01/23 01:10 PM #1    

Kathi Bjorgum

Oh, this is just so sad. We will miss him as we have loved him in our own ways, RIP Joki keep heaven going with that Oly beer we so fondly chugged during our shared school years, and we will see you soon.

12/02/23 09:30 AM #2    

Susan Axe (O'Leary)

Thinking of Jorma always makes me smile. He was so joyful and fun!!  And I so appreciated how he always made such an effort to come to our reunions. Love you, Jocke. 

12/02/23 02:11 PM #3    

Sandy Murray (Brewster)

So sad! Such a nice person. RIP Jorma

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