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Celebrating Finndepence

(Jon Jaehnig / For the Daily Mining Gazette) Hancock’s Finnish Independence Day celebration included performances of the lives of historic Finnish women as well as musical performances by Finnish composers.

HANCOCK — The celebration of Finnish Independence Day on Dec. 6 has occurred in Hancock since the first Finnish Independence Day in 1917. This year, however, celebrations at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock celebrated a number of things. 2020 is the one-hundredth anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Finland, as well as the one-hundredth anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in America. A theme of the evening was “Finnish Women of Strength.”

“(Finnish women) are strong. They had the right to vote to vote in Finland long before they had the vote in America,” said event host and Honorary Consul for the Republic of Finland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Honorable James Kurrti. “Many Finish women gave up the right to vote when they came here and had to wait until the passing of the nineteenth amendment to be represented in government.”

The celebration included singing Finnish songs including the Finnish National Anthem, and “Kotaimanni Ompi Suomi,” a song composed by a Finnish immigrant who arrived in Hancock in 1895.

Pianist Kathleen Alatalo-Arten played a number of songs including two by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, a bust of whom can be seen in the entrance to the Finnish American Heritage Center. Much of the evening was dedicated to the dramatic performances of monologues by volunteers portraying women from Finnish history.

“History has forgotten my name,” said Alice Margerum, portraying Lemminkainen’s mother. The character from the Finnish national epic the Kelevela, was the mother to the hero Lemminkainen and, by saving him and bringing him back to life “gave him life twice” as pointed out in the performance.

(Jon Jaehnig / for the Daily Mining Gazette) The evening culminated in the crowning of this year’s Heikki of Hancock, a local individual recognized for his or her contributions to Finnish culture. This year’s winner, Mary Pekkala, was recognized on stage, pictured above.

Other historical women portrayed included activist Minna Canth, Maggie Waltz – the first unwed immigrant woman in Houghton County to become a naturalized citizen, Minnue Perttula-Maki – a student in the first class of Suomi College, now Finlandia University, and Tarja Halonen – the first female President of Finland.

The evening also included a trailer for a locally produced documentary about Sirkka Tuomi-Holm, a Finnish-American newspaper owner and suffrage activist. The documentary will premiere at the Finnish American Heritage Center next year.

Kurrti and David Maki, the Chairman of the Finnish Theme Committee, also used the evening as an opportunity to announce this year’s “Heikki of Hancock,” to be honored in the annual Heikinpaiva parade.

“Every year, we honor someone who has made a significant contribution to Finnish Heritage … This year’s choice is long overdue,” said Kurrti. “If I was to tell you everything this person does to promote Finnish culture here in Hancock, we’d be here for another hour.”

The honor went to Mary Pekkela, who was called out of the audience to be crowned on stage.

 Following the event, guests were invited to stay for refreshments provided by volunteers.