The May 29 event to include history of Winter War and how the community helped during a time of great need
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN World War II was a time of great need and during its Memorial Day celebration, the Cokato Finnish American Historical Society (CFAHS) will share stories of how many locals lent a helping hand.
The Memorial Day celebration will take place Saturday, May 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Temperance Hall, located three miles north of Cokato on County Road 3.
This will include the first of a three-part series titled “Sisu Carried Them Thru.”
“Sisu” is the spirit of the Finnish people and it means having determination against great odds, according to Audrey Tack, historian and CFAHS member.
Also, during the noon program, Martin Kotila will be this year’s honored veteran.
Not only will he be honored for his service to the country, but also to the historical society, which Kotila finds to be very important.
Kotila served in the Army and was stationed in Japan from 1953 to 1955.
“I feel real honored to have served our country,” said Kotila, who was drafted into the Army. “Maybe we don’t like it, but it’s still an honor,” he added.
Kotila farmed for several years and then was a partner at Cokato Lumber from 1967 to 1973. He then went into car sales, before retiring around 1998.
“The society gives our thanks to the many men and women in the services who have given so much for our freedom,” said Susie Keskey, secretary of the CFAHS.
A light lunch will be offered. There will also be a bake and craft sale.
Temperance Hall is one of four buildings at Temperance Corner. All buildings will be open, along with many informational displays.
‘Sisu Carried Them Thru’
Part one in the series “Sisu Carried Them Thru” will include a PowerPoint presentation about the Winter War, which took place in 1939 between Russia and Finland.
This presentation will provide Finnish history and tell stories of people in Cokato, Dassel, Kingston, French Lake, and Annandale and how they helped support the relief efforts in Finland, along with the troops serving in World War II.
During the Winter War, Finland battled to the last bullet to keep its independence, while the Allies stood back and watched, not wanting to get involved, explained Keskey.
For many, it was a time of anxiety, she said, adding that at this point, the US became involved in WW II.
“Life in America was a struggle, but somehow they found a little extra to send abroad, whether it was a few dollars, some used clothes, or a box of food,” Keskey said.
At the time, Temperance Hall served as the headquarters for the Helping Hand Society, a group of women who collected clothing for the people of Finland.
The Society also had work days, raffles, rallies and, programs. They sent support via the Finnish Relief Fund and the American Red Cross, according to Keskey.
Stories will also be shared of the many contributions given toward these efforts.
For example, Tack remembers how, as an 8-year-old girl, she put a dime in a coat she had grown out of and sent it to Finland.
“It was aqua blue and had a big fur collar. It was extremely warm,” Tack said, whose mother had suggested they hand it down.
Knowing the circumstances in Finland at the time, Tack knew the girl who received the coat was probably poor.
“I put a dime in a handkerchief and folded it up, tied it in a knot and pinned it inside a pocket,” she said.
The young Tack also put her name and address with it, hoping she might get a response from her kind gesture.
She later heard from the mother of the child who received Tack’s coat, thanking her. The letter came from Oulu, Finland, Tack said.
Part two of the series will be presented Saturday, June 19 at the Midsummer’s event.
The third part will be presented at the fall festival Oct. 9. Both events will take place at Temperance Hall.