Sharon Mackey

saralaatikkoThe May meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum (FHM) began with the members and guests listening to a CD by musician Sara Pajunen titled “Laatiko”. The music and presentation are superb. If you get a chance to hear this remarkable recording, please take it.

For this month’s meeting, members had been encouraged to wear aprons, as the day was dubbed “Apron Day.” Anne Pohto, Program Director, informed the gathering that this was in honor of our mothers and the sacrifices they had made in leaving their homes to come to a strange country.

As the members continued to enter the Museum, Anne announced that the program for the evening would focus on stories our members recalled or had researched concerning their individual family travels to the United States. But before these stories began, Amy Werronen Moyer asked if she could read a poem written by her brother Henry Werronen. This was the second year that Henry had been involved with a poetry contest at Fairport Harding High School, and 300 students had entered 200 poems to be judged. The poem, titled “Footsteps,” followed Henry’s life as he went from high school to college and on through his adult life. Amy’s reading was powerful.

Then Anne took the floor to tell us about her family’s 25 trips between Finland and the United States. Her Paappa Kalliomaa made three trips to work on the U.S. railroads so he could make enough money to buy a home and farmland in Orismala, Finland. In Anne’s father’s generation, each of the children managed to emigrate to the U.S. At least one returned to Orismala and made his permanent home in Finland. Anne’s father, Sulo, was the last of the family to emigrate. He had been drafted during WWII, and consequently could not come to the U.S. until 1954. His wife and three children followed in 1955.

The next story was told by Elaine Holson Kangas. Her grandparents, Jaakko Evald and Ksenja Susanna Mononen, had emigrated to Provo, Utah, where Elaine’s mother was born, and Matias, the two-year-old boy who would have been Elaine’s uncle, died of severe burns from the hot water used for rinsing clothes. Mumma Mononen insisted that America was too harsh, and she wanted to return to Isokyro in Finland, so back they went. Jaakko returned to the U.S. in 1924, by himself, to make money to support his family. Elaine’s uncle Walt and mother Sylvia returned to Fairport in 1931 and 1937, respectively; Mumma Ksenja came in 1947. Elaine’s aunt Kyllikki, born in Finland, came to this country in 1948 and earned her citizenship 11 years later. Uncle Walt died in April, 1976; and Mumma died in August of the same year. She said no parent should have to outlive two sons; and died of a broken heart.

Annikki Tompkins was next, and what a story she told. She flew from Finland to New York City by herself in 1958, and lived on her own in the Big Apple. Times were exciting; she wandered the streets of the city with no fear; saw the Radio City Rockettes; and went to school in the evening to learn English. Unfortunately, the school she went to was all in Spanish, but somehow she managed to learn enough English to prosper in the U.S.

Janine LaBounty is not Finnish, but had stories that she wanted to share with the group. Her grandfather came to the U.S. from Norway when he was 18 years old. Like so many others, he went through Ellis Island before he was allowed to settle here. Janine’s mother was living in Wales in 1944 when she met Janine’s father, who was fighting in WWII. She came to the U.S. alone, because her husband was still involved in the war. When the war was over, they reunited and started their family, buying a house when baby number three arrived.

Amy Werronen’s grandfather, Emil came to the U.S. from Routio, Finland, at age 17. He never told anyone he was leaving his home. In 1885, he landed in Ashtabula Harbor, coming to Fairport in 1890. Emil was naturalized in 1892, and brought his first wife to Fairport that same year. They had five children. Amy’s grandmother was Emil’s second wife. She came to Fairport at age 17 with no idea she was getting married. When she was on the train to Painesville, Ohio, she told them she was going to Pinesville; the train people put her off in Linesville. But somehow she made it to Painesville and married Emil. Amy’s maternal grandfather Hilston married Sanna in Finland in 1883, and migrated to Ashtabula Harbor at age 25. He had five boys with Sanna; and nine children with his second wife, Amy’s grandmother.

The Finnish family of Ken Quiggle consisted of Matti and Lisa Hietinen. They bought a farm and settled in Leroy, just outside of Painesville, Ohio. Ken’s German ancestors, the Quiggles, came to the U.S. from the Rhine area of Germany in the early 1700s. They first lived in Pennsylvania and became part of the “Pennsylvania Dutch” population. Later, they moved to Hambden, Ohio. Ken’s maternal grandfather also migrated to Ohio from Germany.

Lasse Hiltunen’s father worked for the American Legation in Helsinki, so had a relatively easy time of it to get tickets to the U.S. They arrived in Fairport Harbor in 1949. When Lasse started school in 1950, he didn’t know a word of English. Paradoxically, he later taught English at Fairport schools for twenty years.

In 1901, FHM member Ron Toivonen’s maternal grandparents came to the U.S. from Soini, Finland. They took a wagon from Soini to Vaasa; a train to Hanko, then a ferry to Sweden. The next step was to take a train across Sweden and another ferry to Hull in England. From there they took another train to Liverpool and a boat to New York City. From New York they took a train to Red Lodge, Montana. Ron’s grandfather worked in the mines in Montana for a while, then went all the way back to Soini in Finland. Why? No one seems to know. Later they came back to the U.S. and settled in Jacksonville, Ohio, where Ron’s mother was born in 1909. Another trip was made to Montana, then back to Jacksonville, where the family finally put down roots.

How many days or weeks must these journeys have taken? What hardships were faced? These stories illustrate the sisu that our families had when they decided to leave a country they had grown up in, to come across an ocean or even another continent to find their dreams. You can see how fascinating it was for our members to learn their family history. Do you know yours?

Text © Sharon Mackey, Photos © Bill Lukshaw 2017









Our Creative Aging project funded by a grant through


Please support our advertisers






Web Hosting Services donated by LuxSci, Inc. providing secure web & email hosting services worldwide. Contact: 1.800.441.6612

About Us | Privacy Policy | Contact Us |