Miss Laina Maria Heikkinen was born in Jyväskylä, Finland on 25 January 1886.
She was the daughter of Erik Heikkinen and Fredrika Hermantytär. She had one brother, Toivo (1876-22 December 1940) and three sisters: Ida (b. 1879), Anna (b. 1883) and Tynne (who all died in the 1960s). Laina's father died at an early age.
Laina, a laundress, had emigrated to the USA in 1907 and worked as a maid in New York. Feeling lonely she returned to her native Jyväskylä in late 1911 or early 1912 to visit family and to convince her sister Tynne to return with her. Her mother forbade this and Laina therefore made plans to return without her. It seems she may not have been travelling alone and perhaps was to make the journey with Eliina Honkanen.
In April 1912 she left her home to board the steamer Polaris at Hangö (Hanko), Finland. She travelled to Hull via Copenhagen, before arriving at Southampton. Laina missed her intended ship due to the coal strike and was rescheduled to sail on the Titanic as a third class passenger (ticket number 3101282 which cost £7, 18s, 6d). Whilst aboard Laina recalled the many parties held in third class, with dancing and drinking, which she did not care for.
On the night of the sinking, she was awakened by some commotion in the passageway. Someone shouted "an iceberg". She dressed carefully, putting on three dresses in the hopes of keeping warm, went on deck and entered a lifeboat. She stayed for 6 hours in that boat, before she was rescued by the Carpathia.
After arriving in New York Laina was taken to St. Vincent Hospital together with the other surviving Finns. Later she spent a short time in Boston before heading west and settling in Astoria, Oregon where she had friends but did not stay there long and soon headed to Portland.
She was married in 1914 to a fellow countryman, Jacob "Jack" Arvid Penttilä (b. 14 December 1877), a ship's carpenter who had come to the USA around 1908. The couple went on to have only one child, a daughter named Inez Irene (b. 8 June 1917) and the small family initially lived in Rose Lodge, Lincoln County.
By 1918 Laina was living in Columbia City where her husband worked in the shipyards on the Columbia River. Later they used some of Laina's Titanic settlement money to buy property near the town of Clatskanie, Oregon and there lived the rest of their lives. At the time of the 1920 census they were listed as living in Oak Point near Clatskanie and her husband was described as a road labourer. The family residence was given as Quincy, Columbia County by 1930 and Jacob had reverted to carpentry by this point.
Laina was widowed on 17 November 1939. She remained living alone in her remote farm house which had no running water or electricity but she would often visit neighbours in the close-knit Finnish community; Laina herself never learned to speak English. She rarely spoke of her experiences on the Titanic, remaining deeply haunted by the memory of the screams of the drowning, and her daughter remembered that she would sometimes cry in her sleep and always wondered that her mother was dreaming of the disaster.
Laina Penttilä, née Heikkinen, died on 9 September 1943 aged 57 and was buried with her husband in Stewart Creek Cemetery in Clatskanie.
Her daughter Inez was married in 1938 to Gerald Harry Perry (b. 1915) and had two daughters, Rosalie and Carolyn, and lived in Clatskanie. A well-travelled woman, in 1952 she visited Finland for the Olympic Games and upon her return the Swedish freighter she was aboard collided with a whaling boat, with the ship going up in flames as well as down. Luckily, the ship did not sink. In 1953 Inez moved to Salem, Oregon where she worked for the State of Oregon and was host chairman of international tourists for two decades. Inez died in Salem on 8 July 2001.