Celebration of culture

Hancock festival draws big crowd

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Many figures from Finnish history, like the medieval bishop St. Henrik, were represented in Saturday's Heikinpäivä parade.

HANCOCK — The thermometer said mid-April, but the banners, Finnish characters and polar dives said mid-winter.

Saturday’s Heikinpäivä festivities drew a large crowd to downtown Hancock to watch the parade, shop at the tori markets, see local art and more.

Saturday’s biggest event was the parade, featuring numerous characters from Finnish and Finnish-American Folklore. The Finnish-American legend St. Urho made an appearance, enlisting the help of paradegoers to track down the grasshopper he drove out of Finland.

“Has anyone seen a sneaky little grasshopper around here?” he said.

“He went thataway!” one audience member volunteered.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Joey Lusty of L'Anse bellyflops into the tank during the Polar Plunge on Quincy Green during Saturday's Heikinpäivä.

After the parade, Urho, the grasshopper, and fictional and real people alike joined in a spiral bear dance on Quincy Green.

Every Heikinpäivä takes on its own flavor, said Jim Kurtti, who leads the organizing committee. This year, abnormally warm, was no exception.

“When it’s mild, we have fewer people, at least outdoors,” he said at the Finnish American Heritage Center’s tori after the parade. “But it’s packed in here. The dance went well, and we had a lot of participants.”

They also had a large number of volunteers helping out, including from local fraternities.

The planning committee is also looking for new members. People can contact the City of Hancock to join, Kurtti said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Lindsay Jenson of Houghton pushes her daughter Seda Jenson, 10, on a kicksled during Heikinpäivä Saturday.

“It’s a pretty low-pressure membership,” he said. “There’s no dues, people participate as they would like.”

People at Saturday’s tori checked out vendors and a variety of traditional Finnish foods. Chefs Kayleen Holmstrom and Riikka Hepokoski prepared a large amount of food at the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in the days ahead of the event, including more than 500 korvapuusti (cinnamon rolls).

“Food is really part of culture,” Hepokoski said. “Everybody is very traditional, everything is what they have in Finland.”

The 2024 Heikinpäivä was the first since the closure of Finlandia University in June. The Pasadena, California-based Finlandia Foundation National stepped in to preserve some of the university resources most crucial to the Finnish-American community, including North Wind Books and the Finnish American Heritage Center.

The board had held an emergency session over Zoom after the news broke in March, said Executive Director Tommy Flanagan.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Carrying flags from America and Finland, members of Hancock 's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps lead off Saturday's Heikinpäivä parade.

“It was not really a question of if Finlandia Foundation National would do something, it was how and what,” he said. “I was new on the job … and to see that resolve showed me the importance of this.”

The foundation raised $3 million to purchase the buildings, closing the sales earlier this month. More than 900 donors from all corners of the country chipped in.

The foundation was honored as Hankookin Heikki for this year’s festival, recognizing contributors to Finnish-American culture.

“That’s a huge honor for Finlandia Foundation National and I think it shows us where we’re in the right place, and we’re doing the right thing,” Flanagan said. “And you know, we have a lot to learn, but we’re excited to be a part of the community.”

Flanagan took in the scene at the tori as he enjoyed his first Heikinpäivä. It’s an impressive community event, he said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The Heikinpäiva parade included marchers in traditional Finnish costumes.

“It’s celebrating the Finnish-American culture,” Flanagan said. “They don’t celebrate Heikinpäivä in Finland, but it was created here from the community. That’s really cool. And you meet a lot of people who have Finnish heritage, but you also meet a lot of people who don’t have anything to do with Finland, and who are just here in the community and celebrating that together.”

Flanagan served as grand marshal of the parade, and even took the last jump of the Polar Plunge.

Another popular event, the Polar Plunge returned after years away. It moved from the Portage Canal to Quincy Green, where organizers set up a large tank.

Giovanni Bommarito, a Michigan Technological University student from Armada, Michigan, cannonballed in. He and his Triangle Fraternity brothers volunteered in the parade, pushing Flanagan on the giant “Big Louie” kicksled.

“It’s really cool,” he said. “I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it before. It’s neat to see Finnish culture and all the events.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kevin and Madelaine Brannick of Lake Linden participate in Heikinpäivä's wife-carrying competition Saturday.

Many people braved the leap multiple times, cycling between the cold water and the saunas stationed behind it.

One such jumper was Joey Lusty of L’Anse, who belly-flopped into the pool with arms outstretched.

He takes a cold dip at his house every morning for his health, also going for a run.

And how was the water?

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s only about 60 degrees.”

Lusty also had fun watching the wife-carrying competition earlier on Quincy Green. Simulating a Saturday in the Copper Country, contestants ran in a square, dropping their partner at each corner for chores. At the first stop, they unfurled rugs. At the sauna, they thrashed each other with birch branches and dumped scoops of imaginary water onto the imaginary stove. At the final stop, they had coffee with their guests in the Finnish style — serving guests first.

Kevin and Madelaine Brannick of Lake Linden, who’d had the fastest time to that point, recently moved to the area.

They decided to try after reading about it in the Gazette and prepared by watching videos of other competitions. After seeing the icy playing field, they improvised and picked a sturdier position, with Madelaine climbing on his back.

The Brannicks plan to compete again next year. They also enjoyed the other events.

“I think it’s a lot of fun,” Madelaine said. “I like seeing all the customs and the different mythology.”

Any combination of people could jump in. Bree and Erich Bliss of Hancock had competed together in a similar race in Marquette. This time, they raced as a family. Erich toted Anya, 3; Bree carried their daughter, Sophie, 1, on her back in a baby bjorn.

Anya’s favorite part of the day was watching St. Urho look for the grasshopper during the parade. Bree’s favorite part is “a vital community.”

People in the area take pride in their Finnish identity, Kurtti said. The Finnish food and classes leading up to Saturday also help others learn.

“Here in the Copper Country I always contend that everyone is somewhat culturally Finnish,” he said. “It’s part of the fabric of this area and so it really gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Tommy Flanagan, executive director of Finlandia Foundation National, waves to the crowd during Saturday's Heikinpäivä parade. He stood in for the foundation, which was named Hankookin Heikki after preserving cultural institutions at the former Finlandia University.


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