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Keeping the Finnish heritage alive and well in Cokato
MAY 2, 2011
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By Kristen Miller
News Editor

COKATO, DASSEL, MN – “We remember so that others won’t forget” is the motto of the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society, which exists to promote and preserve the rich Finnish heritage that surrounds the Cokato area.

The society hosts a number of celebrations throughout the year that are open to the community, many of which take place at the historic Finnish Pioneer Park, located three miles north of Cokato on County Road 3.

Also known as Temperance Corner, this park features four historic buildings: a log cabin built in 1866, a savu sauna built in 1868, Temperance Hall built in 1899, and Lee School house built in 1899.

There is also a pioneer memorial that was erected in 1949, in memory of the Finnish pioneers.

The society hosts four annual events including a Memorial celebration in May, which is the society’s biggest event of the year; a Midsummer’s event in June, the fall festival in October, and Pikkujoulu, or “little Christmas.”

This year’s Memorial Day celebration will be Saturday, May 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Temperance Corner.

The event will honor veteran Lloyd Salmela, who was drafted into the Army and served from 1950 to 1952.

Vicki Lantto will present a program on the history of the Sami people, indigenous people from the Lapland region, which covers the northern portions of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Kola peninsula of Russia.

The event will also include a bake sale and raffle.

For the raffle, people can purchase a ticket for $2 and have a chance to win a handcrafted doll of a Lapland youth created by member and artist Lavona Keskey.

The society is supported through its membership, which currently is at 90 members. Memberships are $8 for individuals, and $15 for couples, and includes a quarterly newsletter.

Donations help the society with restoration projects and educational efforts such as Finnish language classes.

For more information about the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society, visit www.cokatofinnam.org or contact Harvey Barberg, president, at (320) 286-5823.

Finn Hall Concert set for Sunday, May 15

The Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society was given a unique opportunity this past year when they received 15 donated kanteles along with a year-long residency with internationally-known artist Diane Jarvi. The year will culminate Sunday, May 15 with a Finn Hall Concert event titled, “Singing on a Joy Stone,” at the Dassel History Center at 2 p.m.

Jarvi applied for a grant in association with New Bohemian Arts Cooperative, based in Minneapolis.

The grant was funded by the Minnesota Arts Board from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which uses a percentage of sales tax, made possible by the vote Nov. 4, 2008.

The grant allowed for Jarvi, who is a singer, songwriter, kantele player, and teacher of authentic Finnish folk music, to purchase 15 kantele and provide free music lessons to the Cokato community. This nine-month residency was entitled “Ancestral Fires: Stories and Songs from Finland and Finnish-America.”

The first session, which took place from September through mid-December, had 15 people of varying ages participating. The second session, which started in January, has 20 participants, since Jarvi found three more kanteles to use and two of the participants had their own, according to Heidi Barberg, society member, who is learning to play the instrument.

“I just thought it would be something fun to learn,” Barberg said, commenting that the 10-string kantele is much easier to play than the guitar.

She also likes the soothing sound the instrument makes.

Several youth have also taken this opportunity to learn how to play the Finnish folk harp.

“It’s fun to see [Diane] interact with the kids,” Barberg said. “They are inspired by her, and having the time of their lives.”

Jarvi found the kantele lessons to be more popular than she thought they would be, with people still on a waiting list, she said.

“My experience has been extraordinarily rewarding for me,” Jarvi said, adding that she has a lot of fun and laughs with her students. “It was wonderful.”

As part of the Finn Hall Concert, Jarvi’s students will have the opportunity to do a solo if desired, but all of her students will participate in performing several Finnish songs, including “Ruskie” and “The Kalevala Melody.”

The family-friendly show is expected to be typical of an historical Finn Hall evening with poetry, stories, dance, singing, and kantele music.

Jarvi will draw on local oral and written immigrant history in collaboration with Cokato area community members for a full concert performance.

Several other renowned Minnesota artists will perform with Jarvi and participants in the intergenerational kantele workshops.

Featured performers will include Dan Newton, accordionist from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion; and Brian Barnes, a world music guitarist and mandolin player.

Other guest artists will include internationally known Finnish-American dance group Kisarit, and members of the Finn Hall Band from the Twin Cities area.

There will also be a free educational program booklet available, also called Singing on a Joy Stone (the name was derived from the Finnish epic poem Kalevala). This will feature a collection of Finnish songs, music, and ancestral stories produced in collaboration with the community.

Refreshments and snacks will be provided by the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society and Cokato Historical Society following the program.

Also, at the end of the show, a five-string kantele will be raffled. Tickets will be sold in advance for $2.

For more information about the Singing on a Joy Stone Finn Hall Concert event, visit http://ancestralfires.blogspot.com.

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