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By Reverend Don Tompkins, a member of The Fairport Harbor Finnish Heritage Museum

On this occasion sponsored by the new Fairport Harbor Finnish Heritage Museum we now dedicate these pavers in remembrance of the people whose names are engraved on them. Most of them are Finnish Immigrants or their children or grandchildren. Some are their neighbors and friends. How appropriate to use BRICKS. Bricks symbolize building: homes, schools, churches, communities and our nation.

Rev Don Tompkins

Already at the beginning of our nation in the year 1638, Swedes and Finns settled in the Delaware Valley near Philadelphia. Finland then was part of Sweden as one nation. At least seventy percent of those who immigrated to that area were Finns. They brought with them their Log Cabin construction for homes and forts and other buildings. This has become an American Symbol of Frontier Life. Later in our history Architect Eliel Saarinen of Finland even influenced skyscraper building to this very day. Along with his son Eero they have become famous in building churches, airport terminals, and other buildings in their unique modern architectural style throughout America. Finns have built buildings here not only out of wood but also brick, concrete and steel right from the very beginning of our nation and even now.

 

At the end of the 1880's, hundreds of Finnish families came via Ashtabula to Fairport and Lake County. Naturally they built, many of them,their own houses; some became contractors and built for others. Carpentry has been a Finnish trade here. They worked for themselves as well as for others. Many built area railroads and in the Harbor loaded and unloaded the ore, coal and stone boats; in the early days by wheelbarrow and shovels, later operating the mechanical cranes and unloaders. Through the years many men and women of Finnish heritage sailed out of our Grand River Harbor as deckhands, crews and cooks on the boats carrying cargo throughout the Great Lakes. At least three of them became Captains. They still service boats in dry dock here in the winter months. Long hours of hard labor were endured under difficult challenges to build our communities, Many of them laid the bricks for the streets of Fairport which still are in use.

RevDonTompkins

Hundreds of Finns worked in and helped build local industry such as The Diamond Alkali affectionately called the "moskamylly", slang for "dirty mill." Soda ash and other basic ingredients like chromate produced there were sent all over the world by rail and boat for manufacturing paint, glass, steel, basic for so many uses. It was indeed quite a dangerous, dirty and unhealthy place to work. Yet it provided jobs and was the major industry
that provided the necessities of life for the majority of people in the area. The "three o'clock Diamond whistle" was always the signal for people to pause to have afternoon coffee and nisu. When the Diamond closed in 1976 it really was an economic reversal felt all around northeastern Ohio.

 

Finland today is considered to be one of the most literate and educated nations in the world. When the Finnish immigrants left their homeland they were a part of Holy Russia. Then the Church of Finland and parents at home taught their children to read and write. The Finnish language is unique: Finno -Ugaritic, not Swedish or Russian at all. It was hard for Finns to learn English as was the case for my Grandmother who raised me in Finnish. Many of us learned Finn at home this way. But these grandparents who arrived here in the 1880's and the 1900's wanted to compensate and make sure their kids got the best education which had been denied to themselves.

We can thank God for the high standard of education we have had and still have in our Fairport Public Schools a blessing as part of our Finnish heritage. They helped build Garfield School now our Village Hall, Mckinley Elementary, and Harding High. Note well: brick walls, brick buildings, solid and they still stand today. Many sons and daughters of Finns became teachers and administrators here and instilled in all students the love of learning and respect for books especially for reading. This led to a local joke.
"Two boys were walking along on High Street. One asked the other, 'Say, are you Finn?' The other responded, 'No, but mine Englis teacher vas.'"

Of course this is just a joke and we see how many Finnish graduates of our Fairport Public Schools went on to Universities, colleges and trade schools
and became leaders in business, industries, trades and all professions. Some became University Professors and some Seminary Professors sending pastors into all parts of the world including Russia after the Iron Curtain came down. We have had a high number of pastors from our "Finnish Churches" here. Our nearby Lakeland Community College was organized by leaders in Lake County including a first generation Finnish Attorney at Law Lillian Luhtanen Robinson. Many of our Mayors in Fairport were of Finnish descent including Amy Kaukonen a Medical Doctor the first woman mayor in the United States.Mayor Arthur Ritari served Finns and even learned some Hungarian to serve all people here in legal matters. So FInns have served in local politics even as they do today on the Village Council and as leaders in civic and community organizations.

On the national level Emil Harju from Finnish parents in Northern Michigan became famous as an Advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was once featured on the cover of TIME MAGAZINE.  He pioneered statistical research and surveys of voters to predict elections. Today Gallup polls are used by all parties but you never hear of  "Harju polls." Now I'll ask a question about a well Known political party leader. Who was nominated for the office of the President of the United States more than any other candidate in our nation's history? Yes, he was a Finn! His name, Gus Hall nominated by the Communist Party of America. He never won but is in the history books anyway. Many local and national Finns have been very active in all of our political parties. Incidentally, a Sunday U.S.A. Magazine section once reported that President Roosevelt was of Dutch descent but also had some Finnish ancestry traced back to the Swedes and Finns in early Colonial Delaware.

The book, A History of Fairport Harbor Ohio, 1976, shows how well all of our ethnic groups' men and women served so well together and distinguished our home town in the international wars our nation has been involved in around the world. VFW POST 7754  and The Veterans' Memorial in the village park include so many Vets of Finnish Heritage. Two made the supreme sacrifice in World War I, thirteen in World War II. Many have served as officers and service personnel in Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and now Iraq and Afghanistan. An example to pay honor and tribute to all Vets from Fairport is Col. Donald Blakeslee World War II Airforce Ace who received the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the American DIstinguished Flying Cross. His Mother was the late Mrs. Gerald Jones who was of Finnish descent.

One of the most important aspects of our Finnish Heritage is the fact that the first immigrants to the later group brought with them the Bible as the very Word of God and Jesus Christ the very Son of God as the Savior of all people in the world. They established churches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit first in The Delaware Valley. The Finns and Swedes built the "old Swedes Church" now called  "Gloria Dei " where Betsy Ross was baptized. She with her sewing circle made the very first American Flag. The Church records there show her Finnish ancestry. The Finnish and Swedish Pastors began to share their faith in Christ with the native Americans the Delaware Indians in a practical way. They learned the native languages to communicate the Gospel to them. When William Penn and his immigrants landed they found the Indians friendly and with their help organized Pennsylvania the Quaker State.

One of the signers of The Declaration of Independence was a descendant of the Delaware Finns whose roots are commemorated with a memorial plaque in Savonlinna Finland. This is John Morton. Even the movie about the tough guy Rambo goes back to those Colonial Finnish immigrants.The original Rambo was a Finn whose real name was Ramponen before it was anglicized. Saul Olin Uncle of John Ollila whom I knew very well as I grew up here had a great deal of fantastic Finn facts and wrote several books about our Finnish Heritage.

Do you remember that Russia settled and owned Alaska from whom the United States purchased that State? At that time Finns were part of Russia and they built the first protestant Church in 1847 in Sitka. It is a tourist attraction a Church still in use known as A Finnish Legacy Church established in 1840 now the Sitka Lutheran Heritage Center.

As the immigrants came from Finland they were called Russian Finns and a
part of Holy Russia. They came and worshipped first in homes and public buildings. The Congregation I now serve was built in 1889 and chartered
by the State of Ohio in 1890. Others were already in process. At one time there were about eight Finnish Churches which eventually dissolved or merged with others and have become fully American. The language used now is English primarily.  What a wonderful example our Churches have given. We now have seven different Congregations with divergent ethnic backgrounds yet every one of us has Christ as Lord, and we all respect each others traditions. Most of the Church buildings are built of bricks!

People of Finnish Heritage have influenced others around the world in an incidental way even to the moon. One of the two Astronauts who walked on the moon was Buzz Aldrin who traces his ancestry through the Swedes and Finns on the Delaware and to Finland. As they prepared to land on the moon
he partook of Holy Communion with the elements having been blessed by his Pastor before. While they were on the moon they collected moon rocks. I was wondering? Did he get these for his sauna at home?

Yes our Finnish Heritage includes the Sauna.  The Finns here adapted the sauna kiuas, the oven to heat the sauna rocks for the löyly, the heated air to cause one to perspire in a unique way not used in Finland. The Wainionpää
public Sauna on Eagle street used steam radiators without rocks. Cold water thrown on them really gave one a hotter then normal löyly. The Kangas public sauna on High Street used coal to heat the rocks on their kiuas which gave a very good löyly. Many of the Finns built their own saunas at home and shared them with others. The public saunas are no longer in existence.  And like so much of the Finnish culture they too have become as American as spaghetti, pizza and apple pie. Most resorts, athletic clubs and many motels across our nation now have saunas. Even  "toiskieliset," people of other tongues, other languages have their own saunas now, too,

Fairport even had its own Finn Hall on Plum Street built of bricks. It was for many years a Community Center with Finnish drama productions, movies, dances, athletic groups and even living quarters for a few bachelors. The Finns called it the POIKATALO, bachelor home. My Grandmother was one of the cooks and bakers there when I was a young boy. It now is a Dance Academy and all American.

One more very important part of our Finnish Heritage is the following:
The symbol for our Fairport Harding High School is FHS. This can also stand for  Finns, Hungarians, Slovenes, Slovaks and So many other European and Asian ethnic heritages as well as Native Americans, African and those from other States such as West Virginia, Tennesee and the Deep South who call themselves "Red Necks." Of course we have English who brought their language to us which we all speak now. We in Fairport have such a diverse cross section of the world and we have worked together, played together, lived together in building our schools, churches and community now as All Americans. The Finns have been one part of this and have contributed their
share with their own special culture well with all the rest.

How many here have intermarried, Finns with other nationalities. Yes we have had Finns with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We also have another type of FBI to represent all families of intercultural Heritage. We have Finns Behind Italians.

We now extend a challenge to all Heritages represented in Fairport. We of Finnish Heritage urge all of you to build monuments or memorials here in the Fairport Village Park near ours. What a wonderful and meaningful Cultural Garden we would have to show to the world. Together we have built this community and this nation under freedom, under God. May He continue to bless us all.

We pray:

Almighty God our heavenly Father, Our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, We now dedicate these memorial pavers inscribed with the names of these people to your glory who have helped bring to us all the benefits and blessings of our Finnish Heritage. They have contributed to the building of our community in so many ways. We honor, cherish and thank You, Lord, for what they did for us and for all the future generations to come. May we continue to build for the future honoring them working together with our neighbors of various backgrounds in our common faith. Bless our newly formed Finnish Heritage museum so that we may continue to record the history and gather more material and information about Finland and those who came to our nation from there. We bless these bricks and remember those whose names are on them with the words of our Lord's Revelation to St. John. " Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes' says the Spirit,' they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.' "   Rev.14:13
Now the Benediction in Finnish.

        Herra siunatkoon  teitä,
        Herra valistakoon kasvonsa teille,
        Ja olkoon teille armollinen.
        Herra kääntäköön kasvonsa teidän puoleenne
        Ja antakoon teille rauhan.
        Isän ja Pojan ja Pyhän Hengen nimeen. Aamen


Address written and delivered by: Rev.Don Tompkins, a member of The Fairport Harbor Finnish Heritage Museum, September 18, 2005 at the Fairport Harbor Community Days Celebration.  Pictures © Lasse O. Hiltunen, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

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