By Sara Cronk
COKATO, MN A traveling sauna, built by Cokato company Finnleo Sauna in honor of the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence, began its one-year journey around the US Jan. 14.
It was inaugurated in front of Minneapolis Orchestra Hall with Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi, Minnesota Orchestra Musical Director Osmo Vanska, and Finnleo president Keith Raisanen.
This special sauna, named Sisu (Finnish for courage) was chosen as Finland’s centennial mascot. As it travels, it will help celebrate the country’s achievements.
“Finland has developed into one of the great democracies of the world and is a shining light to the world in many regards especially in education,” Raisanen stated.
The Finnish Embassy reached out to the Minnesota chapter of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce for ideas to commemorate Finland and its centennial.
Raisanen, along with fellow co-founders Risto Sivula and Jouko Sipila, decided that “nothing is more Finnish than sauna,” and suggested building a traveling sauna.
“We were thrilled the embassy viewed the traveling sauna and Finnleo’s cooperation as the ideal year-long Finland promotion,” Raisanen remarked.
The embassy originally planned to run the program themselves, but they found they did not have the ability to execute it. However, this was not the end for the traveling sauna.
“Jouko and Risto felt so strongly that this was the ultimate way to celebrate Finland’s independence [that] they created [the TravelingSauna.com] company, raised funds through corporate sponsorships, and committed to taking on the challenge on their own,” Raisanen explained.
The factory launch took place in Cokato Jan. 11, and Sisu’s first stop was Temperance Corner (in Cokato), the home of the oldest sauna in North America.
“It was a wonderful way to tie Finnish history with Cokato the first home for most of the earliest Finnish immigrants” Raisanen said.
For Raisanen, Finland’s independence from Russia is a part of his personal history.
“All four of my grandparents emigrated to the US in the early 1900s,” he said. “It’s amazing that when they left Finland the country was still under Russian control. My grandparents loved the US and its free society, but they also loved Finland. Certainly, Dec. 6, 1916 was a big day for all Finns whether living in Finland or abroad.”
The traveling sauna’s 12,000-mile journey around the US will end in Washington, DC Dec. 6, 2017, the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence.
To find out more about the traveling sauna and its journey, go to www.travelingsauna.com or find it on social media as “traveling sauna.”