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Getting a handle on the past

February 22, 2010

HANCOCK - Kent Randell has a strong Copper Country connection, so when he had an opportunity to get a job at Finlandia University, he enthusiastically applied for it.

Randell is the new archivist at the Finlandia University Finnish American Heritage Center, which is allowing him to make a living working at things he really enjoys; archiving, Finnish studies and genealogy.

In 2009, Randell, which is an Anglicization of the Finnish Rantala, was an adjunct professor at Northern Michigan University. He also worked at the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University archive, converting, updating, and making available online the archive's finding aids, which is a description of an archival collection, usually containing a history of the person or organization that produced the collection and an inventory of its contents. He also worked as a grant archivist for the documents, art work and architectural drawings for the Nebraska state capitol building collections, and he was a information technician in New England.

Article Photos

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
New Finlandia University archivist Kent Randell looks through a donated collection of Finnish-music records in the archives at the Finnish American Heritage Center.

Originally from Marquette, Randell received a bachelor's degree in history from NMU, and a master of information systems, formerly known as master of library science, from the University of Michigan.

Randell said his father, Clyde, is originally from Florida Location, and his mother, Karen, is formerly of Boston Location. Great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides of his family are either from Finland or were from Finnish-speaking families.

"All my grandparents spoke Finnish as a first language," he said.

Randell said he understands some Finnish, and he can read a little, but with effort because of all the rules of the language.

"Even reading a little is a lot of work," he said.

Randell said he was working as a paralegal in Marquette when he heard about the archivist job at Finlandia, so he applied for it.

As the archivist for Finlandia, Randell said his job is ongoing, with collections constantly needing to be processed. He's also working on developing online finding aids for the archive's collections.

"That's the big project," he said.

Randell said genealogy has been a hobby of his for years, and now he's putting that knowledge to work with the archive's genealogical collection on microfiche.

"It's a hobby that turned into part of the career," he said.

The genealogy information in the archive includes some from the Mormon system, and another, which is located at the archive.

"We don't own, but we hold the Knights of Kaleva collection," he said.

One of the current projects he's working on at the archive, Randell said, is processing a collection of recordings of musician Viola Turpienen and William Syrjala, both of whom were from the U.P. The collection includes recordings, hand-written sheet music and photographs.

Randell said he also assists people who come into the archives to do research, either about their families or something Finnish related.

"This is a destination for Finnish-American researchers," he said.

One of the things he enjoys about being an archivist, Randell said, is the constantly changing nature of the job.

"All archives are an on-going process," he said. "You never know who's going to walk in the door and donate something great, or walk in the door and ask an interesting question."

Kurt Hauglie can be reached at khauglie@



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