STATE OF THE FINNISH HERITAGE MUSEUM 2014
By Lasse O. Hiltunen, President
Without any doubt, the highlight of 2013 was the conceptualization, the planning, the
construction, the fund-raising, the cooperative efforts, and finally the celebratory unveiling of
the “Spirit of Finland” sculpture on September 15, 2013. The intense work that covered about ten
months from the beginning to end showed that unquestionably Finnish concept or conviction of
“SISU.” Members worked together, through differences, to realize the finalization of the
project. A Fairport Harding graduate, Ken Valimaki designed and oversaw the spirit come
together. The FHM website carries a photo essay which shows the complete project (click here for essay).
The work of the committee is not complete. Remaining are the “lighting” of the sculpture and ofcourse the very important plaque that will identify contributors to the project. Both will becompleted this year, with another ceremony, which will “unveil” the plaque in the Spring. That too, promises to be exciting and will bring additional visitors to Fairport Harbor.
The museum is not just a repository of Finnish/American artifacts. It remains vibrant in its
approach with monthly programs that cover a wide range of ideas, concepts, and history. Every
second Monday of the month, FHM conducts a business meeting and a program. This past year (2013)
saw 2012 FHM Hall of Fame inductees, a Finnish jouster, Finnish Stamps, two Finnish foreign
exchange students discuss Pori and Jyväskylä, Marimekko and Finnish textiles, Finnish jewelry,
the Potti family and Dr. Amy Kaukonen, Nokia, Finnish candies, and finally, the Edmund Fitzgerald
and the Hill family connection. 2014’s programs are not completely set, but February’s program
will entertain the idea of Finnish fantasy, while March’s program will feature Ron Toivonen’s
search for his family.
Genealogy is of premier importance at the museum. Our “Genies” group started with 24 original
Fairport Finns and researched them. That led to other families and their genealogies, resulting
in two and a half filing cabinet drawers filled with Finnish families and their genealogies.
Important documents relating to those families are also found there as well as pictures of
family. The pictures are priceless. Some families have chosen to immortalize their families
with a “family presentation wall hanging.” Many of the original members of FHM have their
families already on display. FHM has had many, many contacts from Finns outside the Northeast
Ohio region asking questions about certain “names” in their families. Many have actually come to
the museum by appointment to discuss our findings. The most recent email came from France,
asking about a Finnish name.
All of our programs, in fact the museum itself could not exist and function so well without the
dedicated volunteerism of our members. We number over 300, many are local, but some are as far
away as California, and of course, Finland. 2013 saw 4040 volunteer hours, with 60 members
contributing ten hours or more. Some volunteers don’t even record their hours, serving FHM
because they love the work. The work is rewarding, satisfying, and legacy leaving. A new
database has been established providing current information readily. New members are welcomed,
sometimes with a “new” Finnish moniker. We boast having an Irishman who now carries the last
name of Tuomasmaki, a Slovak who is now Ritamaki, and a Hungarian now known as Luksanen. They
enjoy their names and contribute to the museum regularly.
Events during the year, separate and distinct from the monthly programs also contribute to a
well-rounded experience. The Spirit Dedication, our nisu bakes, the Juhannus celebration,
Village Valuables sales, a ladies only purse swap event, Christmas shopping, and our annual
Christmas party, all made a memorable year.
An organization’s work is never complete these days, unless it keeps a handle on finances and
fund-raising. We have been fortunate that Fred’s Appliance from Madison, Oh has contributed a
brand new flat screen television for the last three years. We have another set ready to raffle.
The drawing will be during Mardi Gras time. We have conducted the TV raffle, a card raffle, a
purse swap, a garage sale, a nisu bake, and a sale of calculators. All contributed to our bottom
line and to our operating expenses. Our financial status at this time is healthy.
Another major project is on FHM’s horizon. Recognizing the need for a better meeting room
experience, we have embarked on refurbishing our upstairs “front” room. The walls, lighting, and
ceiling have already been accomplished, but the floor still needs to be recovered with
appropriate material. Plans are in place to make the room a state of the art technologic wonder,
with audio mikes and speakers built in, and visual displays via digital projection available both
upstairs and down. FHM continues to improve the nearly century old building, adding upgrades
and enhancements which maximize the building’s value, not only physically, but also as a village
FHM’s gift shop continues to provide a most necessary influx of money to keep the museum
operating. Featured at this time is the “Spirit of Finland” t-shirt, available in multiple sizes
and colors for men, women, and children. The shirt design is an exclusive Ken Valimaki drawing of
the Spirit. It is quite dramatic and is only available at the museum. New objects continue to
grace the shelves; including hand painted rocks and birch art stands which have become quite
popular. More items will be offered this year.
As an interesting development, the land directly to FHM’s south is a park with a few picnic
tables. Because it is historically significant to Fairport Harbor, via the Finnish connection,
it has been named: “Finn Hollow Park.” We hope that the park remains an open space
commemorating the Finnish contribution.
Without the digital world, FHM would not be what it is: a presence known to the world. The FHM
website (www.finnishheritagemuseum.org) continues to share its wealth of information about Finns
and the Finnish culture. We are also found on Facebook, with additional pieces of information.
We appear regularly in the Finnish American Reporter, a monthly newspaper from the campus of
Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan, with advertisements of programs and the recaps of
those programs. Our stories have also appeared in the Finland Foundation’s journal, the Swedish
American Journal with our help in an article regarding the sinking of the ship Venezuela during
WWII, and in the Finnish Migration Journal. Our president sends email messages frequently
regarding Finnish items and items of interest. As a side note, Finland’s system of Education has
frequently been highlighted in those mailings. Not to be outdone, the museum has Finnish
language lessons regularly scheduled. They have proven to be very, very popular…and lots of fun.
This year will see a revision of the FHM Hall of Fame qualifications. No new members will be
inducted for 2013, but a new class will be named in 2014.
In a move to perpetuate our organization, a committee was formed to investigate endowments and
other methods to provide an endless path for the Finnish Heritage Museum. As life’s scenario
transitions from one era to the next, we will do our utmost, to continue our mission. This work
would be impossible without the dedication, industry, and resolve of our officers and members.
Sisu and the Spirit of Finland are forever ingrained in us. So be it.