HANCOCK - About a century ago, there were many Finnish newspapers in North America. In fact, the first Finnish newspaper on this continent "Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti" was produced in Hancock in 1876, and the "Amerikan Suometar" printed on the campus of Suomi College from 1899 until 1962.
More than 100 years later, there are fewer Finnish-American newspapers, but there is still one in Hancock. The Finnish American Reporter, commonly known as FAR, is a monthly English-language newspaper produced at Finlandia University. It is the most widely read Finnish-American newspaper today, with subscribers in all 50 U.S. states, most Canadian provinces, and seven other countries. It is also available at numerous retail outlets across North America.
The Finnish American Reporter was founded in 1986 by the Duluth-based Ty'mies Society. A special meeting was held at FinnFest '85 - a national Finnish festival - at Suomi College in Hancock to discuss the future of the Finnish-American press, and in particular, to launch the vision of a new paper - one with no political or denominational affiliation but open to all.
By the following FinnFest, which was in Thousand Oaks, Calif., all of the 700 sample copies of FAR were taken by passersby before noon of the first day of the festival. From that spark, the newspaper grew into a monthly publication, which has published continuously since.
In 1999, the FAR was gifted to Suomi College (now Finlandia University). Dr. Robert Ubbelohde, president of the university at the time, wrote shortly after the FAR came to Hancock, "Above all else, the FAR will be a non-ideological, educational journal promoting the free and lively exchange of information and ideas."
That remains true, and the paper remains popular today. As it arrives in their mailbox each month, the thousands of subscribers are immediately drawn to the paper's full-color cover image, which can be contemporary artwork, nostalgic photos or occasionally something "quirky."
The interior pages are just as eye-catching as the exterior; each issue brings readers closer to the heritage they hold so dear with reminiscent articles, historic photos, news from Finland, language lessons and much more. An array of volunteer writers from across the continent contributes news items from their home regions; other volunteers review books or music, while others are columnists.
FAR is edited by Jim Kurtti and Dave Maki, both natives of Finnish communities in Michigan's Upper Peninsula; Kurtti grew up in Bruce Crossing, while Maki's hometown is Mass City. The duo has worked side-by-side for more than eight years. Kurtti's forte is Finnish studies, while Maki's background is in journalism, and together they produce a publication that not only educates and entertains its readers, but also brings them together.
"It's great, because we always hear from readers how they enjoy every part of the paper," Maki said. "The feature articles are the most popular, but our subscribers read everything, for instance, the letters to the editor and our regional news section are ways people around the country can see what their Finnish friends both near and far are up to."
One subscriber who wrote a letter to the editor learned first-hand how the paper connects people.
"I play viola in a string quartet," she said. "When I tune my viola, I always play the tune of "Paimenpoika," as a sort of "mantra." My friend liked the tune and asked for a copy of the music. I didn't have a copy, and though I asked several people, I didn't know where else to turn until I thought of FAR. That brought results! Now my friend has a copy and I have several ... I now realize that FAR is read not only in the U.S., but all over the world!"
Other readers have had similar "success stories." FAR can bring readers answers to many of the heritage questions theyve wondered about for years, such as the lyrics to a song they sang with grandpa, or a recipe for juustoa (squeaky cheese) grandma used to make. Each issue also includes a calendar page that lists Finnish-themed events as well as appearances by Finnish performers, preachers and dignitaries.
A subscription to The Finnish American Reporter is an ideal gift for the Finnish Americans on your holiday shopping list, and one can be ordered as easily as picking up the phone or logging on to the Internet. To order a subscription, call 487-7549, finnishamericanreporter.com, or send payment to PO Box 479, Hancock, MI 49930. The FAR s office hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Gift givers be warned, however. You might not hear from your recipients for days at a time.
"I only have one complaint," a subscriber once said. "The day it comes in the mail, nothing gets done until it's read from front to back!"