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Finlandia celebrates 125th Anniversary

HANCOCK — A semester of celebration culminated on Sunday, Dec. 5, in a full day of dance, musical performances and worship. Dozens of Finlandia University friends and family members gathered to commemorate the institution’s 125th Anniversary alongside the observance of a now 104-year-long tradition, Finnish Independence Day.

David Maki, Interim Director of the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC) on Finlandia’s campus, delivered the Independence Day program’s opening remarks.

“Today is another significant milestone in Finlandia University’s history as we celebrate the 125th Anniversary of this institution,” Maki said. “This is also the 104th time that this institution is celebrating Finland’s Independence. That’s every year since Finland declared its independence in 1917.

“All sorts of folks, whether they’re Finnish or not, have taken pride in the Finnish heritage that created Suomi College and Finlandia University. So, please know that though they aren’t here to be recognized, they are appreciated.”

The program’s musical performances were led by Kent Washburn, Finlandia Foundation National Performer of the Year, and Finnish soprano singer Meri Siirala. The keynote address was delivered by FAHC Archivist Joanna Chopp following a stage performance by the Kivajat Folk Dancers. 

“For many of us, connections to Finlandia go back decades and that’s part of the reason that we’re here today; to celebrate the fact that the story of Suomi College and Finlandia University goes back one and a quarter centuries,” Chopp said.

“… If the thousands of immigrants had simply discarded their heritage, language and ethnic identity once they became Americans, they would not have celebrated when Finland claimed its independence in 1917, and we would not continue to celebrate Finland’s Independence Day in our small, isolated corner of the Upper Peninsula. But, we haven’t forgotten the shared history, and there is nowhere where that history and heritage is more valued than here at the Finnish American Heritage Center on the campus of Finlandia University, the only remaining institution founded by Finns in the United States. This isn’t just a school, Finland isn’t just a country in Europe, they’re both part of our identity and have made us who we are today.”

On display at Sunday’s celebrations was a one-of-a-kind commissioned gingerbread creation baked by Susan Halme of Solvang, CA. Susan and husband, Paul, long-time friends and supporters of the university, donated the creation in honor of Finlandia’s 125th Anniversary. Per tradition, the program closed with a beautiful rendition of “Kotimaani Ompi Suomi”, the Finnish Theme Song of Hancock, led by Siirala. 

Preceding Sunday’s one o’clock Finnish Independence Day program was a worship service presided by Campus Pastor Sarah Semmler Smith. Finlandia’s community gathered with parishioners at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hancock to celebrate Advent and anniversary with musical performances orchestrated by Washburn and Siirala and a sermon delivered by Bishop Katherine Finegan of the Northern Great Lakes Synod.

“As this season of Advent urges, Finlandia is forward leaning, expectant, and driven by a deep conviction that something good awaits,” President Philip Johnson said.

To learn more about Finlandia’s 125th Anniversary, see photos and recordings from Sunday’s celebrations, or take a virtual walk through time with FinnU’s digital timeline, visit finlandia.edu/125th.

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