The Finnish Heritage Museum is proud to recognize those outstanding Finns and Finnish⁄North Americans as well as others of Finnish ancestry from countries around the world who have made positive far-reaching, long-lasting contributions and-or significant achievements during their lifetime. They are exemplary creative and influential individuals from all fields.

This honored registry will be added to at the end of each calendar year by a formal vote of FHM members at our November meeting. We welcome recommendations and nominations.

CLASS of 2005
CLASS of 2006
CLASS of 2007
CLASS of 2008
CLASS of 2009
Inductee is in Finland
Inductee outside of Finland

Inductee is from local area

CLASS of 2010
Jorma Lillbacka   Saul C. Olin
CLASS of 2012
Fanni Luukonen Beatrice Ojakangas Melvin Laurie John Hakola
Frans Eemil Silanpää    
CLASS of 2013


MIKAEL AGRICOLA, born in Torstila, Pernaja, Finland circa 1510, was known as a Reformationist and the creator of the written Finnish language. In his early years his aptitude for languages assisted his extensive religious training. He moved to Turku in 1528 and was ordained a few years later. Agricola produced the first Finnish-language translation of the New Testament based on the original Greek, Latin, German and Swedish. In a preface he explains how Christianity came to Finland, and his reasons for using Turku dialect in his translation. Of the 8500 Finnish words used by Agricola, 4500 are still in use today. Agricola became the first Lutheran bishop for all of Finland a few years before his death in April 9, 1557, which is now celebrated in Finland each year as The Day of the Finnish Language.

Rev. Aho was born in Sebeka, Minnesota October 9, 1897 and graduated from theSeminary of the Finnish National Evangelical Lutheran Church and was ordained in June, 1921. His first congregation was in Jersey City, N.J. but left in 1934 to serve churches in Ashtabula, Cleveland and Fairport Harbor, Ohio. In 1946 he became a full-time pastor a Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fairport Harbor.  In 1954 he became pastor of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lahti. Upon returning, he served parishes in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Canada, and Wakefield, MI up to his retirement in 1962. All the churches served were started by Finns, and Aho held both Finnish and English services every Sunday for 40 years. Aho served as secretary and president of the National Evangelical Lutheran Church and edited "Auttaja," the church publication and was ultimately conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Concordia Theological Seminary. He has published several devotional, doctrinal, and poetry books and translated devotionals. Aho died in 1973.

MARTTI AHTISAARI was born in Viipuri, Finland on June 23, 1937. He grew up in Kuopio and Oulu. He attained the rank of captain in the Finnish Army Reserve and earned primary school teaching degree in 199. He speaks Finnish, Swedish, German, English, and French. Involved in international affairs since 1960, he became active in non-governmental organizations later becoming the assistant head of the Bureau of the International Development Aid branch of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has served as UN Special Representative, head of UN Transition Assistance Group, and advisor to governmental leaders. Ahtisaari was elected Finland’s President and instituted a number of international policies concerning human rights. Halonen succeeded him. His post presidential activities centered around crisis management and resolution among many countries around the world including Kosovo, Indonesia, Northern Ireland, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa. His awards include: 1995: Zamenhof Prize for International Understanding, of the World Esperanto Association, 2000: J. William Fulbright Price for International Understanding, 200: Four Freedom Award, 2000: Hessen Peace Prize, 2004: OR Tambo Award, 2008: Delta Prize for Global Understanding, 22008: Felix Houphout-Boigny Peace Prize, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.

KREETA HAAPASALO was born in 1813 in Kaustinen, Ostrobothnia, Finland. At the age of six her uncle taught her to play the six-string kantele. During her teen years she became an excellent seamstress and perfected her kantele playing. Soon she was known as "Kantele-Kreeta," a peasant woman who became the most popular and famous singer and kantele player of her time. Although she was the mother of eleven children, she was able to support the family through her music. She favored contemporary folk songs. Her reputation was widely recognized and she performed for all classes of society throughout Finland as well as giving performances in Sweden and Russia. Finland's first pop star died in 1893.

was born on December 28, 1955 in Finland. He brought the gift of soccer to countless Finnish and Finnish/American youth and many Clevelanders during the 1980-90s. He played for the Cleveland Force of the Major Indoor Soccer League and helped Cleveland gain its own team in the 1990s. When he retired, he was the second all-time leader in MISL assists and he was listed in the top ten in goals, points and games played. Kai represented Finland in 12 World Cup matches and he was a member of MISL's 10th anniversary team. He was an eight time all star. Presently, Kai is a member of the National Instructional Staff for US Soccer. He is very active in helping youngsters learn how to play the sport in the most positive way. "I am thrilled to be able to make an impact on young players." * Click for picture

MelvinMELVIN LAURIE JOHN HAKOLA has made distinguished contributions to the musical arts. Born and educated in Fairport Harbor, he is a WWII veteran, having served with the 7th Army and after VE Day, with the Army Chorus, performing through Europe for servicemen and European communities. Following his discharge, he attended and graduated with honors from Baldwin Wallace College (1951) and received his Master’s degree from Western Reserve University (1952). For 38 years, he served on the faculty at Baldwin Wallace College, working individually with over 350 students in his studio. Many of his students have gone on to distinguished careers, performing in operatic and Broadway roles, including the lead female role in Phantom of the Opera and the lead male role in Forever Plaid. Many students worked in K-12 classrooms, where they introduced children to music. Since retiring, he has returned to his Lake County roots at Painesville Riverside HS.

Melvin Hakola made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1951. He has over 100 performances as a guest artist with the Cleveland Orchestra. He has sung approximately 25 operatic roles to critical acclaim throughout the Midwest, including his signature role as Gianni Schicci. It is noteworthy that he sang the world premier of the opera, Bartleby.

William Byrd (1536 – 1623) said, “Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men could learn to sing.” Music brings joy to people’s lives and, to that goal, Melvin Hakola has played an instrumental role as a teacher and performer.

TARJA KAARINA HALONEN was born in Helsinki in 1943. She joins an exclusive list of female heads of state as Finland's eleventh president. In 1968 she graduated from the University of Helsinki with a Master of Laws degree. Her experience as a government servant includes membership in the Finnish Parliament and as a supportive cabinet member for several presidents who preceeded her. President Halonen is concerned about human rights issues as well as maintaining a democracy and a civil society. Throughout her career, she has championed social justice and equality for all. President Halonen has played an active role in the international solidarity movement

Rev. Dr. BERNHARD HILLILA "Bernie" was born on May 21, 1919. He graduated Ishpeming (MI) High School, received a B.A. from Boston University, a theological degree from Suomi Theological Seminary, an M.A. from Case-Western University and his Ed.D. from Columbia University/Union Seminary. Hillila served as pastor in bilingual (English/Finnish) Lutheran congregations in Sudbury, MA, Fairport Harbor, OH, Brooklyn, NY and Warren, OH. He was also vice-president of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Suomi Synod) and helped form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Hillila served as President of Suomi College (Finlandia University) and Theological Seminary in Hancock, MI; Dean of Hamma Divinity School in Springfield, OH; Faculty Dean at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA; and Professor of Education at Valparaiso University. He was one of the founders of Fair Havens Rest Home, Middleboro, MA.  A prolific writer in English and Finnish, Hillila is published widely with histories, translations, poems, anthologies and three poetry books. In 1996, as Performer of the Year for Finlandia Foundation, Bernie presented humorous Finnishness sketches all over the country. Hillila died in 2006.

EILA HILTUNEN was born in Sortavala, Finland in 1922. She became an internationally recognized sculptor in a typically male dominated field, working a lifetime fashioning fascinating and unique visions from metal. Her mother was an artist and her father a metalworker. Her creative life reflects their influence. Eila's prestigious career spans seven decades resulting in important artworks in Finland, Canada, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy. Hiltunen is world famous for her Passio Musicae, more commonly known as the Sibelius Monument, which was unveiled in 1967. Her lifetime of creativity continues to impact a world of people. She died in 2003.

AKSELI GALLEN-KALLELA was born in Pori, Finland in 1865. He became recognized as one of the leading artists of all time in Finland; some considered him the unofficial artist of Finland. He was named Axél Waldemar Gallén at birth. In 1876, he began taking art lessons at the Artists Association of Finland in Helsinki. By 1884 he traveled to Paris to further his art education. Throughout his career he knew some of the most famous and influential people in the art world. He was friends with notables Jean Sibelius, Robert Kajanus, Oskari Merikanto, Edward Munch, and Maxim Gorky. Gallen-Kallela's artwork focused on nature as a theme but later became increasingly nationalistic, romantic, and symbolic as it represented ideals from the Kalevala. In 1900, he represented Finland at the Paris World's Fair. At this time, he also began creating designs for the Finnish long-pile rug or ryijy. This was an aesthetic turning point in hundreds of years of traditional ryijy designs. After a significant artistic career, Gallen-Kallala died in Stockholm in 1931.

LINDA EVELYN HYPPA KATILA was born in Fairport , October 7, 1919 to John W. and Susan Hyppa.   A educator, Katila held a BS and MS in Education from Kent State University and was affiliated with Phi Delta Kappa and Delta Kappa Gamma.  She taught elementary school in Perry, Ohio, San Diego, California, and Painesville, Ohio where she became Educational Coordinator with a 33 year career.  A lifetime Zion Lutheran Church member in Fairport Harbor, Katila served on many church projects.  She traveled the world with husband Allan and son David and enjoyed reading, collecting antiques, and restoring their grand, Mentor Avenue Victorian home in Painesville.  Linda Evelyn Katila is to be remembered as the original founder of the Finnish Heritage Museum; wanting to preserve Finnish American culture before it disappeared. Katila cut the opening ribbon during FHM opening ceremonies.  She died in 2007. (SEE 

DR. AMY AGNES KAUKONEN WALSH is the first elected woman mayor in Ohio. Chosen in 1921, she won popular support and the election, transformed the village council, and continued regular civic work on building a community with paved streets, curbs, water service, electric service, trolley line, police and fire service, and schools. While serving as Mayor, she practiced medicine and delivered babies. Her most significant contribution however, is changing the culture of Fairport, returning it to honesty and civility and taking it out of the hands of bootleggers, prostitutes, and the criminal element which prior to her election "ran" the village. She was physically threatened many times, but remained steadfast in her convictions. She was nationally recognized for her work. Kaukonen abruptly resigned in 1923 and moved to Seattle, Washington, but her work had left an indelible impression on the village. (See American Finn Leaves a Legacy)

jormaJORMA LILLBACKA, born (1946) in Kauhava, Finland, is a leading machine manufacturer, international industrialist and entrepreneur.
The Lillbacka Corporation, which Jorma founded in 1969, became a successful machine manufacturing company developing the Finn-Power brand of crimping machines. He has over 10 patents in his field of crimping and metal work machinery. Today, his company’s machines are known worldwide for their high quality and Finn-Power is one of the best internationally known trademarks in the industry.
Lillbacka has received multiple awards for being a leading industrialist in Finland. These awards include the Republic of Finland Presidential Export Award and the first Seinajoki Technology Award in 2005 his life’s work and its merits in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Lillbacka Corporation has evolved into a multi-segmented enterprise that owns and operates a variety of companies in Finland and the United States. These businesses include sea and land shipping, logistics, and an amusement, entertainment and recreation area called Power Park in Alaharma. The park includes rides, restaurants, hotels, cabins, a world-class RV park, conference areas and world-class indoor and outdoor karting tracks. Power Park was voted the best amusement park in Finland for 2010.
Jorma Lillbacka is a man who cares about people and has given freely of himself to do his part to help make Finland the number one place to live as rated by NewsWeek magazine. His philosophy in his own words: “Live life openly so the public sees life phenomenally revealed.” “We are all the same people” and “keep your word and do what is promised.”

VÄINÖ LINNA was born in 1920 in Ursala, Finland. Linna became an acclaimed writer and academician. His first international success was the book Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon Sotilas), which has been regarded by some as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. In Unknown Soldier, Linna, himself a veteran of the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, provides a masterful depiction of the relations between a single company of men fighting on the Finnish side. His book is suspenseful, powerful, realistic, and deeply psychological. Many claim that Linna's work helped lead to the national healing of the 1960s. Linna is listed in the book 100 Faces from Finland: A Biographical Kaleidoscope. Linna died in 1992.

ELIAS LÖNNRÖT, known today as Finland's National Poet, was born in Nyland Finland in 1802. He began study at the University of Abo in 1822 becoming a physician in 1832. During his decade at the university, he began to publish contributions to the study of the ancient Finnish language, and to collect national ballads and folklore that were to then passed orally to each generation. Once he became a practicing doctor based in Kajana, Lönnröt further indulged his fascination with language, stories and history as he traveled throughout Finland and nearby Russian provinces. He collected songs and legends, eventually publishing in 1835 the great epic of Finland Kalevala. He also produced his important collection of the Kanteletar, folk songs of early Finland; Proverbs of Finland followed. He became a professor of Finnish language and literature, retired in 1862 and passed away 1884.

fannieFANNI LUUKONEN was born in Oulu, Finland, on March 13, 1882 and she passed away in Helsinki, October 27, 1947. She was the long-time leader of Lotta Svärd, the women’s volunteer auxiliary in Finland. Under her leadership, the organization grew from approximately 60,000 to 300,000 members between the years 1929 – 1944.
Fanni worked as a teacher in Oulu after she graduated from the College of Further Education in Helsinki in 1902. She became senior teacher at a girl’s school attached to the Sortavala Teacher’s College. In autumn 1917, following the February Revolution, the Civil Guard was founded in Sortavala to relieve tensions between Russia and Finland. Fanni began her auxiliary work for the soldiers when war broke out. After the War of Liberation, she joined the Lotta Svärd. In 1921, the Sortavala Lotta women appointed her District Secretary. She was elected to Lotta Svärd’s national board and she became Chairperson in 1929. By 1944, under her leadership, Lotta Svärd had become the largest voluntary auxiliary organization in the world as well as the largest women’s organization in Finland. She was also the editor of Lotta Svärd’s magazine from 1936 to 1944.
Fanni oversaw Lottas who worked in hospitals, air raid shelters, drove vehicles and worked in many other auxiliary capacities. She felt that Lotta work was more than just practical work for national defense. She believed that love for one’s country had to be the desire which drove this type of work. Over 90,000 Lotta women served during the Winter War and Continuation War. Some 300 Lottas died in the course of duty during the two wars. After the Winter War, Fanni strove to improve training and increase membership. She supervised the most important courses at the Lotta College in Tuusula. After the WWII, Lotta Svärd was disbanded as one of the conditions of the peace treaty with Russia.
For her distinguished service, Fanni Luukonen was the first woman to be awarded the Order of the Cross of Liberty, First Class with Swords. This award was presented to her by Marshall Mannerheim in June 1940.

beatriceBEATRICE OJAKANGAS, a second generation Finnish-American, is known as the “The Voice of Scandinavian Cuisine in America”.
Beatrice, the oldest of ten children in a Minnesota family, began cooking before she was even able to read a recipe. At age twelve, she won state and national awards for cooking demonstrations. She won second grand prize for the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1957. She was inducted into The James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2005. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from University of Minnesota in 2007.
There were no Finnish cookbooks printed in English until Beatrice wrote the Finnish Cookbook in 1964. It is now in its 38th printing. Beatrice spent a year traveling in Finland studying local Finnish cuisine before writing the book. Her knowledge of the Finnish language helped her to record recipes that had been passed down orally from generation to generation. The cookbook is hailed as the definitive source for Finnish cooking in North America and Finland. She has gone on to publish twenty-nine cookbooks, many of which relate to Finnish and Scandinavian cooking.
Beatrice and her husband owned and operated a restaurant in Duluth. She has been Food Editor for Sunset Magazine; written articles for newspapers and national magazines such as Bon Appetit and Gourmet; and appeared on TV shows such as Baking With Julia and Martha Stewart Living. Beatrice has developed recipes and products for major companies such as Pillsbury and has taught in many national cooking schools. Her Best Casserole Cookbook Ever was picked as one of the top 100 cookbooks by Cooking Light Magazine.
Beatrice has been a presenter at many Finn Fests and has served as Honorary Co-Chair of Finn Fest 2008. Her efforts to share her rich Scandinavian background have educated many in Finnish traditions and culture.

SAUL CHALMER OLIN  (1903-1965) was the son of former Fairport pioneers, John and Mary Ollila. He was born October 12, 1903, and was baptized Sulo Hjalmar Ollila, but later changed his name. Saul’s father, John, was one of the founders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fairport. The church was built on his land. Saul graduated from Fairport High School in 1923.
From his early years he was interested in writing. He penned many articles for local newspapers, as well as poetry. In 1936 he published “Hometown Sketches 1796 – 1936”. This was a collection of stories about the history of Fairport. It included information about the Erie Indians, the harbor and docks, schools, politics, the early Finnish and Hungarian immigrants and much more.
Saul married Martha Bjorlund of Ashtabula in 1938. She was a teacher, choir director and taught piano. In the 1946, he wrote “The Story of Fairport Harbor, Ohio – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”. This publication was written for Fairport’s Sesqui-Centennial Celebration in July of the year.
Saul’s parents were both born in Finland, and his writing showed a great appreciation for his Finnish heritage. His writing was done in both Finnish and English. He wrote two books that were a tribute to his Finnish heritage. The first was Finlandia: the Racial Composition, the Language and a Brief History of the Finnish People. The second was Sauna, the Way to Health, which included everything concerning the sauna, from its history to how to construct a sauna. Through his writing, Saul Olin has made a significant contribution in preserving the history of both Fairport Harbor and Finnish-American traditions for future generations.

LILLIAN LUTHANEN ROBINSON was born August 27, 1911 in Fairport Harbor, Ohio to Finnish immigrant parents.  With an 1931 education degree and a 1937 law degree, the Ohio State University graduate practiced as an attorney for 56 years. Giving legal advice to immigrants, Robinson served her childhood Congregation Immanuel Lutheran in Fairport as its attorney. She was active in area politics: 16 year member of Painesville City Council, member of Painesville League of Women Voters, and president of the Lake County Democratic Women's Club.   She was instrumental in founding St. Paul Lutheran in Painesville, Holy Cross Lutheran in Madison, and she helped draw up the Constitution for the Fairport Harbor Historical Society and the Fairport Marine Museum. She was a founder and charter trustee of Lakeland Community College and chair of the Lake County Planning Commission, and a trustee of N.E.O. Hospital.  She received the Woman of Achievement Award, and Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Citizen Award. Robinson died in 1993.

VEIKKO MALKAMÄKI as born in Lapua, Finland, September 5, 1946 to Katri and Kustaa Malkämäki, the youngest of seven. Graduating Seinäjoki Business School, Malkämäki also served in the Finnish Air Force’s mechanical weapons division. A Zion Lutheran Church Council member, he also serves as an ELCA representative, and has been president, secretary, and treasurer of the Finnish-American Youth Association.  A folk dancer, he participated in many groups and has refereed soccer games for the Greater Cleveland Soccer Association.  He is also a member of Knights and Ladies of Kaleva Virkkusen Maja 22 in Fairport. He owns and operates his own business and has for 40 years.  Married to Laura (nee Heikkinen), he has two sons.  Veikko was instrumental in the formation of the Finnish Heritage Museum, supporting, organizing, and bringing Linda Katila’s vision of a museum to fruition.

JOHN MORTON was an early Finnish/American who was born in 1724 in Ridley in Chester County, now Delaware. John practiced farming, surveying, and jurisprudence. He served eighteen terms in the Pennsylvania assembly and was active in civic and church affairs and served as Justice of the Peace for several terms. He was one of Pennsylvania's representatives to the 1765 Stamp Act Congress in New York. Morton was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775, and served as chairman of the 1776 delegation. During the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the final outcome depended on Pennsylvania's vote. Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson favored independence. Signing below Franklin's signature, John Morton cast the deciding vote that freed the colonies from England's rule. All signers were guilty of high treason, a crime punishable by death. John Morton was the first of the signers to die; he passed away in 1777. As he lay dying, he believed the day would come when his vote for American Independence would be his most important act. A monument in his memory was erected in 1848. He is a true American hero.

PAAVO JOHANNES NURMI was born in Turku, Finland in 1897. Nurmi was known as one of the famous "Flying Finns." During the 1920s, he was recognized as the greatest middle and long distance runner in the world. He excelled at and dominated all long distance running for many years. He set forty world records for all distances between 1500m and 20km. Competing in three Olympic games 1920 to 1928, Nurmi won nine gold and three silver medals. His incredible supremacy of the various distances that he raced is a testament to his greatness as a world-class athlete. He was the best! Today, Paavo Nurmi is considered a Finnish national hero, an idol to many. He was chosen to light the Olympic Flame at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. His significant achievements resulted from tireless hard work and a truly dedicated individual character. He once said, "Mind is everything. Muscle - pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind." Nurmi died in 1973 in Helsinki and was honored with a state funeral.

ELIEL GOTTLIEB SAARINEN was born in 1873 in Rantasalmi, Finland. He became one of the major influences on modern world architecture. "I always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context - a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan." He was a major contributor to the Finnish Pavilion at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. Some of Saarinen's best-known designs include the Railway Station and National Museum in Helsinki, the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana (a collaboration with his son Eero), and the Cranbrook Academy of Art campus in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he was an artist-in-residence and its President. He died in 1950 after a distinguished career.

EERO SAARINEN was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland in 1910. He studied in Paris and at Yale University, after which he joined his father's practice. Eero initially pursued sculpture as his art of choice. After one year of art school, he decided to become an architect. Much of his work shows a relation to sculpture. Saarinen developed a remarkable range, which depended on color, form and materials. He showed a marked dependence on innovative structures and sculptural forms, but not at the cost of pragmatic considerations. He easily moved back and forth between the International Style and Expressionism, utilizing a vocabulary of curves and cantilevered forms. One of his most famous creations is the St. Louis Gateway Arch completed after his death in 1966. It is the tallest memorial in the United States. Eero Saarinen died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1961.

JOHAN JULIUS CHRISTIAN SIBELIUS. Sibelius was born in 1865 in Hämeenlinna, Finland. In 1885 Sibelius moved to Helsinki to study law at the University and music at the Helsinki Music Institute, the present Sibelius Academy. Sibelius abandoned legal studies because music took up all his time - initially by the violin and then by composition. He began his career as an orchestral composer. Sibelius led a frenzied life: he composed, taught, conducted, and played chamber music. Sibelius became a national figure in almost the same way as Churchill in Britain. For most people, he was Finland. By the beginning of the century, he became a symbol of national self-determination and his fame penetrated areas of the world, which barely knew where Finland was. His musical personality is the most powerful to have emerged in any Scandinavian country. He was able to establish a sound that was entirely his own. His inner world was dominated by his love of the Northern landscape, and of the rich repertory of myth embodied in the Kalevala. From the time of Finlandia onwards, Sibelius was probably the best-known Finn, and many people who would never have become aware of Finland's existence and her national aspirations, did so because of his powerful music. He died in 1957.

franzzieFRANS EEMIL SILANPÄÄ (1888-1964)was the first Finnish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1939). In his own lifetime, he achieved more international success than any Finnish author before him.
Sillanpää was born in Hämeenkyrö, when Finland was still part of the Russian Empire. He was an observer of human behavior and social conditions. At university, he studied philosophy, the arts and sciences and he associated with leading Finnish philosophers and artists. These experiences were the backdrop for his stories and novels.
His first novel, Elämä ja aurinko (Life and the Sun, 1916), about idyllic young love, was a critical success. Hurskas Kurjuus (Meek Heritage, 1919) dealt with Finland’s civil war and why an oppressed slaving people were forced into rebellion. Ihmiset suvlyössä (People in the Summer Night, 1934), his most important work, is about the decline of a peasant family.
Sillanpää achieved international fame when his writings were translated into Swedish and other languages. In 1939, Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Sillanpää for Färden till Kvarnbäcken (Trip to Kvarnbäcken). Sillanpää won for ”his deep understanding of his country’s peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with nature”.
Sillanpää wrote the words for Marssilaulu (Marching Song; music by Aimo Mustonen) just as the Finnish Winter War was beginning. The song became a great favorite , boosting morale of infantry soldiers and Finnish citizens. Sillanpää traveled to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize and he remained there to raise funds to support the war effort.
In his later years, Sillanpää delivered Christmas sermons on the radio from 1945 to 1963. He enjoyed wider popularity as a performing artist than from his many written works.
Sillanpää’s works have been translated into thirty languages, made into films and theater productions. Today, when new readers discover his works, they are enchanted by his style and the values of a rural life and era long gone.

JOHAN VILHELM SNELLMAN was born in 1806 in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of a sea captain. Snellman was a national awakener who believed that a nation's strength was in civilization, not in its weapons. He believed unless Finland established its own language, economy and identity, the country would be swallowed up by either Russia's or Sweden's culture. He dedicated his life to the awakening of Finland as a teacher, journalist, and Senator. He died in 1881; and today a statue of Snellman stands before the Bank of Finland in Kruunuhaka on Snellman Street.

ZACHARIAS TOPELIUS was born in Kuddnas in 1818 into Finland's Ostrobothnia Swedish culture. His father was a physician and young Zacharias was reading at an early age, especially enjoying folk poetry. He developed a deep moral and religious worldview. In 1845 he received a PH.D. from the University of Helsinki where he served as a professor and later it's Chancellor. By 1850, his writings became part of Finland's national awakening. He was a superb storyteller for both children and adults. He described Finland's landscape and people in a series of newspaper novels. His writings were both idealistic and conservative and have been translated into at least 20 languages. He worked as a journalist for the Helsingfors Tidningar and founded the YMCA in Finland. He died in 1898.

CARL WILHELM VALLGREN created the popular fountain sculpture Havis Amanda in 1908 in Helsinki near Market Square. Vallgren was born in Porvoo, Finland in 1855. He ventured to Paris in 1878 to study art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arats. In time, he became one of the most significant Finnish sculptors whose artwork and craft designs created in various materials illustrate a strong interest in the French art nouveau movement of the late nineteenth century. During his life Vallgren received numerous awards and commissions including a gold medal for a collection of his creations at the 1889 Paris World Exhibition. He was an active writer, lecturer, and traveler. He died in Helsinki in 1940. He said, "I have loved life. All that is wonderful, that passes through God's fingers into nature. You walk unto life, and I die tonight." Vallgren, 1949, page 276.

LASSE VIREN was born in 1949 in Helsinki, Finland. He was an outstanding world-class distance runner winning gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He is the only man to have achieved the incredible feat twice. In the 1972 Olympic finals of the 10,000 meters, facing the best in the world, Lasse fell during the race. Determined, he demonstrated personal "sisu." He got up, caught the leaders, and sprinted to victory setting a new world record. It was an amazing, exciting race! Lasse Viren continues to be involved in track and field. He sponsors an annual race in his hometown of Myrskyla, which attracts runners from all over the world and where he encourages young runners.

RAYMOND W. WARGELIN was born in Republic, Michigan, in 1911. He became a renowned clergyman, educator and advocate of Finnish-American culture. He served Suomi Synod Lutheran congregations in Berkeley and Reedley, California, and Fairport Harbor, Ohio; taught theology at Suomi College in Michigan, later served as its president; was executive director of the Suomi Synod Luther League; and was editor-in-chief of the Lutheran Counselor. He also served as Bishop of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Suomi Synod. His was a noted historian and scholar of Immigration Research whose papers reside at the Immigration History Research Center, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota. Raymond Wargelin died in 2003.

Urho Kaleva Kekkonen born  September 31, 1900 in Pielavesi, served five terms as Finland's Prime Minister, 26 years as its President, Speaker of Parliament, and Minister of Justice. He also served as Director of Karelian Evacuees Welfare Center and then as the Ministry of Finance Commissioner for Coordination.  During his second term as Minister of Justice, he oversaw war responsibility trials. His economic policies regarding free trade with east and west led to Finland's economic growth. The highlight of Kekkonen's political career was the Conference on Security and Cooperation held in Helsinki (1975).  The Helsinki Accords coming from this meeting aided the causes of world peace and human rights.  Kekkonen died August 31, 1986.

Carl Gustav Mannerhiem born June 4, 1867, Askianen, is considered one of the most significant figures in 20th century Finland.  Named Commander in Chief of the Finnish Government troops, he led Finland through its brief civil war in 1918. He founded the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and was chair of the Finnish Red Cross and marshalled the National Defense Council.  The Mannerhiem Line which he built across the Karelian Isthmus thwarted Russian troops in the fight for freedom.  Appointed by Parliament through emergency law, Mannerheim became President and unified the country and led Finland out of the war with Russia. Receiving 82 miliatary and civilian awards during his lifetime, Mannerheim achieved world-wide recognition for his leadership.  Mannerhiem died January 27, 1951.

Robert (Bob) W. Selvela born December 16, 1934 in Minneapolis, established FinnFest, USA and was its President, Executive Secretary, and board member from 1982-1999.  Due to Robert's efforts, FinnGrandFest was established as the first joint Finnish-Canadian-U.S.A. festival, first held in 2000.  Elected in 1997, Selvela served as U.S. representative to the Expatriate Parliament Delegate Assembly, which represents expatriate interests to the to Finnish Parliament and various ministries.  He recieved Suomi Seura's first "Expatriate of Finland" award. He also organized the Southern Minnesota Finnish American Society, served on Project 34 and as a board member of Salolampi Foundation, and was editor of "Finnfest USA, the First Decade; 1982-1992." Selvela died on April 2, 2000.

Elaine Lempi Charlotte Tikka Lillback born in Perry, Ohio, earned BA and MA degrees and taught in the Chardon, Ohio school system and has done missionary work in Canada and Finland. A world traveler, she developed into a watercolorist, writer, and a community service advocate.  Her four books focus on Finnish American themes illustrated with her own watercolors: Lempi of Finnish Hollow (story of her mother's life as a young girl in Fairport), Finn Hollow (the story of Fairport's Finnish community and their homes), Elma (a translation from Finnish), and a children's book called John Morton, the Finnish-American signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Lillback has also served as Vice President of FHM.

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