Story Circles Revolve and Involve Around Our Past
by Lasse O. Hiltunen
“This was a most unusual presentation for us, “ said FHM program director and resident genealogy specialist Anne Pohto. She remarked that the museum was fortunate to have a person of Park Cofield’s stature to come to present. (pictured below--right)
Cofield is a theatre director, a playwright, and puppeteer, and has a close relationship with the Finns in Fairport Harbor. He presently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. (pictured below left)
The project began with a first visit last year to Fairport Harbor and the museum where Park found fascinating connections with his past. He discovered through Pohto’s help that his great grandfather built the Ojala homestead on Courtland Street, right next to where Pohto presently lives. Park also found other relatives in the Fairport Zion Lutheran graveyard, both living and deceased. He discovered gravemarkers of relatives and met Niles Oinonen, who happened to be there working as the sexton. Together they found additional graves of even more relatives. These discoveries solidified other information Park had discovered in a recent visit to Finland.
Cofield said “that was it, I knew I had to do something to capture this whole idea.” He settled on writing a play, capitalizing on the Finnish connection and the new ones he had uncovered in Fairport. Cofield’s great grandparents, Maria Adolphina Knuuttila and Johannes Andrew Ojala arrived in Fairport in 1900, immigrating from Finland. Thus, the story circle idea was initiated with the idea of capturing Fairport Harbor’s story as well as the story originating in Kauhajärvi, Finland. The two stories would meld together in a play or two depicting both, from different sides of the Atlantic Ocean. “I hope I learn something new,” remarked Cofield, adding “I’m here tonight to listen and learn.”
With a variety of questions during Monday night’s standing room only story circle, Cofield kept everyone’s interest and made them feel a part of the experience. Birth order, personal philosophies, and other questions revealed information that he wanted. These general questions lay the play’s foundations. “What would you want me to be sure to tell Finland about Fairport Harbor?” Park asked. “We want them to know that the church was and is very important to us” responded one participant. From the back of the room, a booming voice said “so much. We had a common sauna in Fairport. Our Mardi Gras is a huge celebration for us. Our families worked hard to get here and to make a life.” The stories brought laughter, memories, tears, and understanding not just to Park but those who attended the circle. (Pictured above left are L to R: John Olilla (with mic), Larry LaBounty, Lasse Hiltunen, and Ken Quiggle.)
The FHM audience proved that it was fascinated with the stories and with the project. Many had questions and volunteered answers. Below and to the right, Dane Pentilla discusses his interest in the project.
Dane's Pentilla's brother Mathew also had things to add. He is pictured below and to the left.
The Story Circle was presented a second time the following evening at the Fairport Harbor Senior Citizen’s Center with an open invitation to all community members. This two hour session featured different questions and revealed other features of Fairport Harbor’s past. It featured participants whose ages spanned from five years old to about 90. Each of them readily answered questions and responded with stories of their own.
Cofield was accompanied by his wife Katie (pictured below on right) and his father Gene who flew up from Atlanta. Katie also served as photographer and recorder.
For further information please visit www.sisuisintheheart.com where you can share your stories, learn about Cofield and his story, see upcoming events, blog, and contact him. This project is in its infancy, with nothing but growth and development in its future. Its goal is to have a play performed in Fairport in a year.
Pictured are FHMmembers responding to Park's questions. Directly on the left is Susanna Hinkleman anwering a question.
Pictured below is John Vrabel who related his own Czechoslovakian stories, but quickly added "that he's married to a Finn!"
As FHM tradition dictates, a coffee and refreshment table provided by (L to R) Jovette Hiltunen, Jane Hiltunen, and Nina Boyett gave everyone something good to eat and drink. Each is wearing her Marimekko fabric apron.
FHM Marks APRON DAY, 2014
ADDITIONAL: The meeting not only marked the beginning of the Sisu in the Heart project , but it also was used as Finnish Heritage Museum's annual "Apron Day." That celebration for both women and men captilize on the idea that a simple APRON is a remarkable symbol as well as a piece of protective clothing. It represents Aiti, or Mom, and Mumma, Mummu, or Grandmother, who in most memories conjures up warm nisu, beef stew, or any number of heart etching memories.
So, with that in mind, FHM presents Aprons for 2014.
Pictured to the left is Juanita Cleary talking to Sharon Mackey.
On the right are L to R: Janine LaBounty and Linda Pentilla.
Smiling at left is Dottie King, wearing her Cleveland Orchestra apron.
On the right, Jane Hiltunen wears her Marimekko fabric apron, while Larry King wears chef white.
At left, Sharon Mackey celebrates her love of baseball on her apron, while. Bernadette Armbruster came to show her apron resplendent with matching gloves.
Text © Lasse O. Hiltunen, Photos © Bill Lukshaw 2014