Grape Dignitaries Visit on St. Urho’s Day, 2017

Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, FHM staff reporter

Members and visitors alike gathered at the Museum to enjoy a taste of mojakka with bread and butter, and the ever-present cup of coffee; and to hear the story of St. Urho. The members and guests were greeted by St.Urho himself and his wife, the Grape Princess. It’s odd, but, as in years past, St. Urho and the Grape Princess looked just like Jeff and Debbie Werronen. The Grape Princess passed out beads of purple and green, and gave everyone grapes to go with the mojakka. Then it was time to hear about St. Urho. It seems that this is one story, like St Patrick’s, that never gets old. However, it’s hard to agree on the absolutely accurate version. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that, if not for St. Urho, Finland today could be overrun by huge, green grasshoppers, and there would be no Finnish wine made from Finnish grapes.

FHM’s President, Lasse Hiltunen, introduced the program for the evening. Emcee was Finance Committee Chairman, Hal Pelto. hal pelsoAt first, Hal seemed a bit confused. He wasn’t quite sure how he had been chosen for this privileged opportunity, and blamed it all on Program Chair, Anne Kalliomaa Pohto. Somehow, she had talked him into telling us about St. Urho. He told her that he couldn’t sing and didn’t dance, but she said he could talk. Hal couldn’t deny that. So there he was, enlightening the Museum membership and visitors about St. Urho. That's Hal on the left.

Hal told us that he was born and raised in Copper Country, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There were a lot of Finns up there, but in all the years Hal lived there, he never heard of anyone called St. Urho. Years later, after he had moved to Ohio, he decided to attend church at Zion Lutheran in Fairport Harbor partly because there were quite a few members of Finnish descent; but once again, he never heard anything about a guy called St. Urho.

According to Hal, after a couple of years, someone at the church came up with the idea to celebrate St. Urho’s Day. Hal’s response was, “Who the heck is that?” Hal, being familiar with the Bible, knew there were quite a few saints in that book, but he also knew there wasn’t one called St. Urho.

He knew that some of the area Finns liked to celebrate Juhannus (St. John) in the summer and Joulupukki (Santa Claus or St. Nicholas) in the winter. But there never was a St. Urho. Some of the church parishoners finally took pity on Hal and explained who St. Urho was and why he should be celebrated. Hal was convinced, and thought we could have some fun with the concept of St. Urho.

Then Hal introduced David Katila on the right, who gave us a refresher course on the history of St. Urho.davidk David subsequently read “The Legend of St. Urho, ” by Linda Johnson, an account of this storied saint. According to the story, Urhu and his dad grew grapes for the Lutherans’ communion wine. When the grasshoppers invaded the land, the grape crop was in danger of being destroyed. What would they do for communion? Urho ran to the fields and shouted, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen, which means “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away.” The grasshoppers, instead of facing the courageous boy, took flight. Thus the plague of grasshoppers was averted.

Hal then introduced St Urho himself, who made sure to catch on his pitchfork any grasshoppers that might have invaded the Museum. He brandished his pitchfork over the heads of everyone present just to make sure no one had smuggled in any uninvited bugs. Jeff, uh, rather, St. Urho, had noticed earlier in the week that the Kent State radio station recognized St. Urho’s day, stating that where one or two Finns get together, there will be a festival. Tonight, it was at the Museum.


Hal mentioned that he had done a “googely search on his computer, and had found some frequently asked questions about St. Urho. We won’t list all of them here, and I’m sure you will be relieved when you see the first two. Mischievious Urho (Jeff Werronen) is on the left.

Q. When was St. urho born?
A. Along time ago.

Q. How tall was St. Urho?
A. Tall enough for both feet to reach the ground.

When all the groans faded away, Hal introduced the St. Urho singers, Grape Princess Debbie Werronen and her assistant, Ginny Radcliffe. They sang Urho’s song to the tune of Jingle Bells. The audience clapped loudly in appreciation as the ladies voices rang throughout the Museum.jennyp

Hal then read the poem, “Ode to St Urho “written in the 1950s by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson. Both men were employees of Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota. This is believed to be the beginning of the St. Urho legend, although people of Finland, Minnesota, will tell you differently.


After the conclusion of the festivities, dessert was provided by Suzanne Jokela. The mojakka, bread and butter, and coffee were provided by Laura and Veiko Malkamaki, Anne Pohto, Dennis Mackey, Barb Ollila,, and the Grape Princess. Museum President Lasse Hiltunen called the business meeting to order at approximately 7:45 PM.

Text © Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, Images © Bill Lukshaw, All rights reserved © FHM 2017










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