By Kristen Miller
Four Dassel-Cokato residents recently returned from FinnFest 2008 in Duluth where they each presented Finnish-related topics.
FinnFest is an annual event celebrating the Finnish heritage and includes topics in genealogy, Finnish-American history, immigration, and more.
The event, which brought in more than 8,000 people included the president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, and Minnesota’s well-known Fin, Osmo Vanska, director of the Minnesota Orchestra.
Those who presented including Keith Raisanen, who gave the presentation “Sauna in North America: Past, Present, and Future Trends,” Ainie Busse gave a lecture on her life in Marengo, Wis., Richard Tormanen presented “Kvens: Finns to Norway and Russia, then on to America,” and Audrey Tack sat on a panel speaking about Finnish domestic workers, which Busse also participated in.
Being the founder and president of the Cokato-based manufacturing company Saunatec, Raisanen gave a presentation on saunas and how they are much a part of the Finnish heritage.
Included, were how saunas has evolved throughout the years from the earliest saunas built by Finnish American settlers to what they have become today.
With Cokato being one of the first Finnish settlements in the US, more specifically Temperance Corner north of Cokato, Raisanen showed pictures of what could be the earliest sauna built in America.
“It was nice to get the invitation and be there to present,” he said.
With Cokato being one of first Finnish communities to be settled in the US, it is very well known at FinnFest, according to Raisanen.
“It seems everyone at FinnFest has heard of Cokato,” he said.
The event, which took place at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, is of academic and cultural nature, and is best enjoyed by those who are interested in learning more of the Finnish history and culture.
“It’s a really fun event and a good chance to celebrate the Finnish heritage and the impact the Finnish immigrants and their ancestors had on the US,” Raisanen said.
Included at FinnFest was a Finnish marketplace with arts, crafts, music, food, textiles, and more. along with many informational presentations regarding Finnish-American history and genealogy.
Tormanen also presented at FinnFest with a Power Point on Kvens; “Finns to Norway and Russia then on to America.”
Kvens, Tormanen described, are descendants of Finnish speaking people who immigrated from northern Finland and Sweden to northern Norway.
Richard and wife, Ann belong to the Finnish Genealogy Group of Minnesota, had traveled in the northern parts of Scandinavia and kept a travel log.
Richard also happens to be a Kven descendant in which he discovered through a librarian in Norway who researched his great-grandfather’s records finding he was Kven.
The main motivation for the immigration to Norway was a severe famine in the 1860s.
“It’s a huge learning experience, not only genealogy, but history and its culture,” Tormanen said.
In doing research, Tormanen found a large number of Kvens had immigrated from Norway and Russia to Cokato.
Busse presented on life in Marengo, Wis. highlighting three generations of a Finnish immigrant family.
Her family were Finnish immigrants who migrated from Ironwood, Mich. to Marengo, Wis. in 1902.
Her grandfather settled there where he founded a church and also designed the elementary school Busse attended as a child.
Included in her presentation were 168 images of machinery, clothing, the school, church, and more.
According to Busse, the town, which is located 15 miles south of Ashland in Bayfield County, is still 32.5 percent Finnish.
What was most surprising to Busse was that the man who currently owns her grandfather’s house, which is more than 100 years old, was in the audience.
“It blew me away,” she said, explaining she had never met the current owner before.
Tack, along with Busse, sat on a panel and spoke about Finnish immigrants who worked in private homes as a cooks and maids.
Remembering conversations from her mother who was a domestic worker, Tack spoke about all that was involved in the job.
Tack explained her mother worked in the homes of well-known people in Minneapolis, one being that of the owners of Harold’s Clothing Store on Nicollet Avenue, she said. Another person Tack’s mother worked for was Virginia Safford, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star.
The things Tack’s mother learned as a domestic would then be brought into her own home.
For example, she learned to fold cloth napkins and to properly set a table.
“All summer long we had fresh flowers on our table,” Tack said, recalling just another thing her mother learned while working as a domestic.
Busse herself, also lived and worked in a private home during her junior and senior year of high school where she would nanny and do some cleaning, she said.
Tack enjoyed all the topics one could choose to attend at FinnFest.
“I felt the opening ceremonies were awesome,” she said, which included welcome speeches by various dignitaries.
She also enjoying listening to the president of Finland.
“She is a dynamic woman who speaks fluent and flawless English,” Tack said.
In Finland, women have held the vote since 1906, according to Tack.
Another favorite of Tack’s was the Sami camp, which featured four luvvus, which are Sami tents similar to Native American teepees, as well as reindeer.
Samis were indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, according to Tack.
She is also excited about her new musical instrument; a hand-crafted kantele, which is similar to an auto harp.
Tack does intend to learn to play, but for now she is just plucking away and “having a ball,” she said.
FinnFest is a national event, and has most often taken place in Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula where a great majority of the Finnish Americans settled.
Next year, FinnFest will include a cruise from Seattle to Alaska, where there is a lot of Finnish history, especially in the city of Sitka.