Aino Buzby had come a long way, from a farm in World War II-ravaged Estonia to being the wife of the owner of a grand beachfront hotel in old Atlantic City.

And it wasn’t a straight trip.

Her journey began as Soviet troops invaded Estonia — for the second time — in 1944. Aino Peterson, then just 16, fled the country, said Dave Buzby, of Linwood, the younger of her two sons. But her father, mother and sister couldn’t get out. Aino, also of Linwood, never saw them again before she died last month, at 84.

In 1944, Aino evaded the Russians and got to Germany — an escape route that led to a year in a German forced-labor camp, then 18 months in a British displaced-persons camp. From there, she got to Canada in 1950 or so.

She taught swimming at a Canadian resort, which led to a job in the Bahamas teaching water-skiing. Then in 1954, she got a job as “social hostess” at the Emerald Beach Hotel in the Bahamas, then a “top destination for the rich and famous,” said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, her older son. “Marilyn Monroe came to stay there.”

Another guest was Walter J. Buzby II, the third generation of his family to help run the Dennis Hotel, an Atlantic City landmark. For Walter, the route to marrying Aino — she pronounced it Aye-nuh — was much more direct.

“He came back and told everybody he met this beautiful blonde who bowled him over like a tidal wave,” son Mark said. “People used to say she looked like Grace Kelly.”

Skip Uhrman, 83, a family friend from Linwood, confirmed that. His company did electrical work at the old Dennis, and “I had guys working for me who were just flipping over her,” he said. “I had to control them. I mean, she was a beautiful girl.”

And once she finally got here, she had a beautiful American life. Walter and Aino married in 1955, had their boys by 1958, and in those days, she didn’t formally work at the hotel. But Aino loved being around the Dennis when the Buzbys owned it — it’s now one of the city’s few surviving grand, old hotels, but Bally’s Atlantic City bought it in the 1970s. Walter died in 2005.

Along with her family, Aino also loved her new country. Dave, 54, a retired Longport police captain, and Mark, 56, both remember being kids at a Boardwalk parade with their mom, when she insisted on her family standing any time an American flag passed — no matter how much griping that caused behind them.

Aino didn’t care. She also never cared to go back to Estonia — even when a cousin called after the Soviet Union’s collapse to say her family farm was liberated, and she could try to claim it.

She didn’t want it. After her long trip to America, she wasn’t leaving for anything.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237