A Blast from the Past: FinnFest 2007 Program Notes

by , under Finnish, Newspapers, Northeast Ohio, Online Research, Uncategorized

I can hardly believe that it was 10 years ago that FinnFest was in Ashtabula. Having just returned from Minneapolis and FinnFest 2017, I was curious about what publicity for that earlier event might still be available. So I went online and checked the website for the Star Beacon, the daily newspaper published in Ashtabula. Here’s a preview of the program for the 2007 event:

FinnFest speakers to rival Redpath

By CHARLES A. ALTONEN

Finnfestusa2007.com [link no longer working]

ASHTABULA – One of America’s greatest assets during the early years of the 20th Century was the famed Redpath Lyceum Bureau.

Essentially a speakers club, the Redpath featured great orators and educators, people with ideas and ideology who could speak publicly and knowledgably on the subjects of their choice.

Interestingly, the annual FinnFest USA that has been held all across the country over 24 years is quite similar. Each festival features a host of speakers, experts if you will, in a variety of subjects from industry to drama, music to genealogy, and politics to film and more. All who dare to be involved as speakers oft times bite off more than they can chew for their audiences are not only critical (which is good) but nearly experts in the same fields (which is also good) for they have studied their heritage over and over and not only know it well, but live it well, as well.

The lecturer, presenter, speaker list for FinnFest USA 2007 @ Ashtabula is turning out to be full of interesting variety, nearly all of it related in some way to Lake Erie and her early American industries and to the activities and organizations that held a young immigrant nation together as they adapted and assimilated into the American way of life.

As of Dec. 17, the topical agenda established by the Ashtabula FinnFest program committee decided discussions should cover life on the coal and ore docks, the many industries in which our immigrant forebears labored, and farming; notable Finnish-Americans, and Finland today and yesterday from an historical, literary, artistic, musical and cultural aspect.

Those expert individuals who have already made arrangements to speak to FinnFest attendees include: Don Cleary, who will talk about the Diamond Alkalai Corporation in Fairport Harbor where hundreds of Finns earned the money to put bread on the table and save for retirement. Clyde Norton of Ashtabula will speak on the historical aspects of Haywood Beach in this community, founded and maintained by Finnish-Americans since 1936. Chuck Isaacson will make an interesting and musical presentation on the famed Humina Band from Ashtabula which toured Finland in 1927, playing for famed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. And Lawson Stevenson will make a presentation about the Hulett operators and the docks of Lake Erie.

Anna Bento and Juanita Erickson will become “storyweavers” in a presentation of Kalevala tales. Carl Rahkonen will discuss and play favorite Finnish and Finnish-American musical instruments, the fiddle and the kantele. Sherry Rahkonen will make a presentation on women’s suffrage in Finland and what the results have been over the last many centuries, and Marianne Wargelin will lecture on the Finnish people in America. Dr. Wargelin is an absolute expert in this field.

Peter Lillback will discuss his mother’s new book which he edited: “Rediscovering John Morton, the Forgotten Finnish Founding Father.” (Morton, a Finn, was a signer of the American Declaration of Independence. His name is clearly visible on that document.)

Steve Lehto will discuss the book, “Death’s Door,” which is about the famed Italian Hall fire in Calumet, Michigan in which many Finns lost their lives. Margaret Väiniö from Saarijarvi, Finland will travel here to tell us how the English Christmas Carol, “Good King Wenceslas” can be traced to Finland. Wally Huskonen [that’s me] will conduct a program on genealogy research, and Walfrid Huskonen [my brother] will discuss U.S. President Herbert Hoover and his relationship to the Finnish people.

Other speakers and lecturers include Melinda Laituri with a presentation on Finland’s natural resources (forest lumber, copper, zinc and more.) Robert Hill of Warren will talk about the American Steel Industry and the varied roles Finnish-Americans played in it’s development. Walt Plosila of Conneaut will explore his Finnish roots from the 1550ss into the 20th Century and their migration to Conneaut. Plosila will have two sessions for his presentation which will include his humongous postcard collection.

I (Chuck Aaltonen) will discuss the temperance movement and building of temperance halls in the Ashtabula area during the last two decades of the 19th Century. He will take two sessions to cover the material and displays. Finnish-American Reporter Senior Editor, Jim Kurtti will talk about his “Family Letters,” and Marie Fowler will discuss her Moomin tales.

Suzanne Koski will discuss Finland’s connection to world famous Faberge eggs; Bill Lagerroos of Madison, WI will present his Conneaut Connection; Mika Roinila will discuss the Finnish connection to the fishing industry on the Great Lakes; and a number of high franking Finnish officials will appear here to make presentations and take part in FinnFest USA 2007 @ Ashtabula.

We are expecting Varpu Lindstrom who will bring along his movie, “Letters from Karelia;” and Ben Strout, with the movie he produced, “Fire and Ice.” Local Finnish-American museums will be represented and the tours that have been arranged for Fairport Harbor and Conneaut, will be exciting additions to this magnificent festival.

I would second Chuck Altonen’s view of this presenter lineup providing a “magnificent festival.” Like other Finnish-American families, we Huskonens used the occasion to hold a mini-reunion.

I first attended FinnFest in 1996 when it was held in Marquette, Michigan. My wife and I were able to attend FinnFest 2013 in Houghton, Michigan, and had planned to attend FinnFest 2015 in Buffalo, New York. Life got in the way of those plans for 2015, so it was great to be able to attend FinnFest once again and participate in the 2017 edition./2007

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