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STATE OF THE FINNISH HERITAGE MUSEUM
By Lasse O. Hiltunen, President

Consider an All VOLUNTEER organization and it could, by its very nature and definition be a very unstable organization due to a myriad of issues. So the logical question is asked— is this the case with the Finnish Heritage Museum? 

The answer is a resounding NO.  The organization is alive and well, with dedicated, friendly, hard-working volunteers who are always willing to go the extra mile. The organization wants to grow into the next decade, with new members and ideas.  For this reason, I am declaring 2015 to be Nuorten Vuosi, or the Year of the Young.   We are going after younger members to replenish and strengthen our ranks. 

Let's look back at 2014, and recollect and perhaps reminisce about the wonderful year that it presented.

Starting with our programs, which are presented every month with the exception of January, FHM had a full and vibrant schedule of programs which had a wide range of appeal. 

Every second Monday, at 7:00 p.m. a program is presented by an FHM member or someone who has volunteered to offer insights to a particular subject. 2014 saw and heard the following programs: 

February saw an Entertainment Tonight—style program which traced the origins and progressions of Finnish fantasy. Jovette and Lasse Hiltunen used video clips to explain and illustrate each of the tales, legends, characters, and stories they presented.

The following month, FHM member Ron Toivonen and his wife Arlene recounted their experiences on their trip to Finland to discover Ron's roots. Ron found the Elimaki family, whose recorded history goes back to 1452.  The couple showed pictures, artifacts, and related a genealogical gem to the audience. 

April's program was presented by four FHM members.  Carol Vrabel presented Tuomio Kirkko, the Helsinki Cathedral, also known as the "white church." Her husband John Vrabel presented the other large church, the Uspenski Cathedral. These two were followed by Anne Pohto, with her description and pictures of the Tempeliaukio Church, which is commonly called the "rock church." Finally, Paula Hern showed pictures and discussed the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, just recently constructed. 

One of 2014's highlights was Park Cofield's program.  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.

Cofield related that 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 FHM's genealogist Ann 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 church graveyard, both living and deceased. He discovered grave markers of relatives and met a real live relative 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.”

This story will continue with another visit to Fairport and another program by Cofield, perhaps in 2015.

In a most pleasant short recognition program called "Aiti's Apron," FHM members wore aprons to honor their own mothers as well as mothers world-wide.  The apron symbolizes the warmth and comfort of dear Aiti.  Another short program recognized "Finn Hollow Day," May 15, which is the now the official date recognizing the Finns who settled in Fairport.  Finn Hollow is the area to the south of the FHM building where most of the early settlers lived.

June took our regular meeting and presentation outdoors to Finn Hollow Park where we broke picnic style bread and hot dogs to welcome the Summer.  Our FHM members shared the evening with members of the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum, who gave us a tour of their facilities just down the street. FHM members also celebrated some sea shanty-type songs compliments of our resident sailor, John Ollila.  The president also recognized the retirement of Elaine "Ace" Lillback as FHM reporter, who after turning ninety felt it was time to give the pen and pad to someone else. Also, the Suolahti project, presented earlier this year, was updated by Ron Toivonen, who will finish the research.  This came after Ron discovered that he had been part of that project  in 1949 as a cub scout.  A historical notebook was presented to Ron and the museum by Kathie Pohl, Mentor Ohio's information liaison. 

In July, FHM member Mike Loovis, a semi-retired Cleveland State University professor, took us on a wonderful journey through Finland.  In all sincerity, Loovis declared himself to be a Finn, albeit adopted.  He truly loves the country, its people, its history and culture.  This comes after only a five month Fulbright Scholarship study in Finland. This was Mike’s second presentation, the first dealt with spectrolite.

Historically, the Finns have found a spiritual belief and church attendance to be more than a requisite; they had woven it into their very life fabric. The physical church was most likely in the center of every Finnish community to serve as the hub of daily or weekly activity. At the very least, members would attend the Sunday service which was deemed mandatory, by custom and not necessarily by rules.

Life in Finland for many was difficult, with so much dependent upon items which were simply out of the control of man’s efforts. Crops, medical issues, births, money, land, and other things brought hardships, often drastically changing the lives of a particular family unit. Add to that the domination by other countries or principalships which compounded the suffering.

Even with those handicaps, the strength of the Finnish resolve shines through. Rather than let those matters overwhelm them, the Finns turned to their pastors and the physical church to help them through whichever harm or possible ruin lay within their futures. The church building became so central that pictures, paintings, needlepoints, or church symbols or artifacts decorated their front or sitting rooms.

The Finnish Heritage Museum used these ideas to capture the real spirit and meaning of churches which were in their family’ s history. Thus, through audience participation, many churches were discussed, and many fascinating artifacts were shared at the August meeting. 

“If you want to win, hire a Finn” captured the spirit of the September meeting where Fairport Harding High School's principal Tom Fazekas discussed education and the famous Finnish Rally Racing, two seemingly disparate subjects. By explaining Sisu through the racing venue, wanting to win and hiring a Finn became apparent. 1963 Fairport Harding graduate Bob Krueger contributed Formula 1 racing information about Finns, capitalizing on his life-long interest in racing.  There is no doubt, FHM took the checkered flag with this program.

The second iteration of the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, circa 1950, fundraiser proved to be a rousing success. Using an actual and factual Fairport Harbor event as a foundation, The interactive play, written by Jovette Hiltunen, uncovered a “Dead Ringer” under the erosion rings being installed on the beach. After much investigation and interrogation (and of course, hearty laughter), the culprit was handcuffed and brought to justice. The core group plans another unusual fundraiser in the Fall of 2015.

The final presentation of 2014, presented by historical researcher and FHM member Tim Hadden was the most ambitious of all the programs. Hadden spent hours researching and presenting the stories of twenty six Fairport Harbor military veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. As usual, the entire family contributed to the total show. Dressed as USO volunteers, the Saari sisters, Ailiin, Helen, and Mary, gave each visitor a plain brown bag filled with a sandwich, donuts, and a Coca Cola, just as was done historically. Hadden conducted interviews with family members of the veteran, researched newspapers, obits, the Harbor Light school yearbook, and church records. Many vets were in attendance, with the Kennard family travelling from Virginia just to witness the production. The show was complete with memorabilia including medals, uniforms, documents, posters, and patch displays. Quite moving were the actual Purple Heart medal and the Bronze Star. Everyone in attendance was moved by the extremely well done presentation.

The Museum continues to improve other areas of the building. The Spirit of Finland sculpture in the front of the building continues its shine, attracting visitors and others who just stop and stare at the impressive artwork. Completed this year were the two bronze plaques now affixed to the wall; one commemorating the donors and the other explaining the sculpture. Lighting is still in the works, with group members working with a company to provide the right equipment.

The museum is not just a repository of Finnish/American artifacts; our goal is to make it live through history and these items. Wonderful items have been graciously donated this year.

The Genealogy Section of the museum continues to grow and flourish. Imagine a few short years ago, the Genie Group had researched twenty four original Fairport Finnish families. That led to other families and their genealogies, resulting in hundreds of Finnish families and their genealogies being collected . 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 come to the museum by appointment to discuss our findings. Our resident genealogist Ann Pohto continues the improvement of that department.

All of our programs, in fact the museum itself, could not exist and function so well without the dedicated volunteerism of our members.

One very active group is the Membership committee, chaired by Elaine Kangas, and members Bill Lukshaw, Beverly Harbour, and Virpi Buck. The group reports that FHM has 441 active members up from 332 members as of January 15. Many are local, but some are as far away as California and, of course, Finland. The membership committee updated its working spreadsheets and thank you form to better track data. It designed a beautiful new application form and membership cards. The year’s work also included collecting news clippings and obits for the genealogy files. Overcoming spreadsheet issues with help from Bill Lukshaw was significant. Thus, this FHM department accomplished its goals.

2014, from January 1 through December 31, saw 3817 volunteer hours, with 44 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 to provide current information readily. New members are welcomed.

Events during the year that are separate and distinct from the monthly programs also contribute to a well-rounded experience. The Spirit Plaque Dedication, a picnic and lighthouse visit, the Juhannus celebration, village valuables sales, a Purse Swap/High Tea, a Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, Christmas shopping, and our annual Christmas party all contributed to 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, Ohio has contributed a brand new flat screen television for the last three years.

Our financial status at this time is healthy. The Finance Committee chaired by Hal Pelto has completed a Donation and Gift Acceptance policy revision passed by the membership, a major accomplishment. Working with the treasurer, the committee has prepared budgets for 2014 and 2015. The group also will continue review of all financial statements and will set up an audit procedure. Future grants are also targeted by this enterprising committee, comprised of Pelto, treasurer Sharon Mackey, and David Katila.

Another major project continues to be on FHM’s horizon. The Building and Grounds Committee, with Chairman Heikki Penttila and members Tim Hadden, David Katila, Dennis Nelson, Ken Quiggle and Lasse Hiltunen, recognize the need for a better meeting room. Thus we have embarked on refurbishing our upstairs “front” room. The walls, lighting, and ceiling have already been completed, but the floor still needs to be re-covered with appropriate material. Quotes have been obtained for installation of the flooring in the meeting room and on the main staircase.

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 attraction.

The committee also has accomplished weatherizing the glass entry system on the south entrance and erecting protective burlap fencing to protect landscaping on the High Street side.

The two bronze plaque installations, which describe the Spirit of Finland sculpture and list its donors, were erected after the Spirit Committee hammered out all of the intricate details.

2015 goals for the building committee include: finish painting and floor coverings for the meeting room and staircase, constructing of a ramp and handrail via removal of a pesky concrete step, caulking all windows on the outside, installing retractible shades on the main gallery, and affixing new lights to the Spirit Sculpture.

The Spirit of Finland Committee, chaired by Pentti Maki, with Ailiin Andrews, Tim Hadden, Lasse & Jovette Hiltunen, Sharon Mackey, Linda McAdams, Heikki & Linda Penttila, and Ken Quiggle as members, continued its fine work. Two plaques were affixed to the wall with a dedication ceremony, and the memory book has been completed. All work will be completed this year, including lighting and future disposition of the sculpture.

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.

The Museum contributed to the Fairport Harbor village re-vitalization program launched in 2014. We hosted a dinner party of village officials and a special group from Columbus. As Ohio’s official historic preservation and Main Street organization, Heritage Ohio fosters economic development and sustainability through preservation of historic buildings, revitalization of downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts, and promotion of cultural tourism. This group was employed by Fairport Heritage Foundation to revitalize Fairport Harbor's downtown area. Working with Fairport Harbor's new Economic Development Director, Kathie Pohl, the group toured Fairport Harbor and gathered information about the village, the businesses, the attractions, the economy, the infrastructure, the buildings, and the schools. The group evaluated and presented its findings at a conference the following day, December 4.

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 and 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 e-mail messages frequently regarding Finnish and other 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.

In a move to perpetuate our organization, a committee was formed to investigate endowments and other methods to provide an endless financial 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.
No niin! So be it.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

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©2014 FINNISH HERITAGE MUSEUM 301 HIGH ST.FAIRPORT HARBOR, OH USA (MODIFIED March 16, 2016 )