SAHS led effort to restore 1888 log schoolhouse

Contributed photos
Frank Eld, Finnish historian from Boise, Idaho, gives the keynote presentation in the restored schoolhouse.

The last Saturday in July 2022 promised to be bright, warm and action-packed in Sebeka. 

There was much to celebrate—Red River Days, Sebeka High School All-Class Reunion, and across the Red Eye River in the City Park, the dedication of the restored 1888 log schoolhouse. 

At 7:30 a.m., those who attended the event could hear the clamor of chairs, tables and a podium being erected, doors to the schoolhouse, barn and sauna swinging open, flower pots set beside the building, the last-minute dusting of desks and wipe-down of windows, placement of textbooks and worksheets, and erasing graffiti from the blackboards. 

At 10 a.m., curious visitors arrived, some awed, some non-plussed by more than a year of restoration effort by the Sebeka Area Historical Society.

St. Urho, aka Jerry Miller, presents an original composition, “Ode to St. Urho,” on period percussion instruments—spoon and grate.

“The restored schoolhouse is striking and beautiful. I love the continuation of the simple rectangular form and the intimacy of the construction. I feel very lucky to be able to see and learn about this building my great-grandfather made, and I am grateful to all the people who made the restoration project possible,” said Valerie Stoehr, great-granddaughter of builder August Mattila, Afton, Minn.

The program began at 1 p.m. before a capacity crowd estimated at over 200. At the call to attention by the old school bell, SAHS presented an American flag flown over the US Capital to Sebeka Mayor Dave Anderson in appreciation of the city’s support for the restoration project. 

Sebeka Honor Society students Mindy Quaschnick and Elise Ness raised the flag and led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Following the pledge, SAHS president Bob Norman welcomed the crowd with a brief history of Sebeka and the log school’s role in it. Marlene Mattila Stoehr of White Bear Lake, Minn., granddaughter of builder August Mattila, followed with a glimpse into the family’s dedication to education and a few personal memories of her grandfather and the traditions of Finnish farm family life.

Time for a light touch in the program, and to that end, a surprise visit from St. Urho himself (aka Jerry Miller of Sebeka.) Miller, dressed in a regulation purple tee, regaled the audience with a reworked “Ode to St. Urho” commemorating the historic deeds of the revered saint.

“We enjoyed attending the dedication of the Pioneer School, organized in 1889 and closing in 1906. The program was well done with recognition to those who made it happen. The schoolhouse, barn, and sauna are a real asset to the City Park. Congratulations,” said Donna and Ralph Machemehl, donors, Lester Prairie, Minn.

Although St. Urho was a tough act to follow, Frank Eld, historian, culturalist, and Finnish log construction expert from Boise, Idaho, did it. Eld talked briefly about his work across northeastern US states with Finnish populations. Eld is a stickler for authenticity and has guided the Society in the restoration effort. 

“Such an awesome event. Well attended, and an appreciative crowd. Age doesn’t enter in when something needs to be done,” said Gloria Markkula, Pres, Menahga Museum, Menahga.

SAHS Secretary Betty Warren put the final touch on the program with a brief history of the Society (which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2022) and a plea for membership. Following the program, Sebeka Girl Scouts served coffee, water, cookies, and cardamom bread. 

“I walked in and stepped back in time. It was amazing to see all the care and effort that went into the schoolhouse. Thanks to the people who were willing to work to see this project through and for their appreciation of the school’s history and heritage,” said Kathy Eld, wife of historian Frank Eld, Boise, Idaho.

Following the half-hour dedication program, Eld gave the keynote presentation in the restored schoolhouse. In it, he discussed the role of Finnish immigrants in the colonies, their introduction of log building techniques, the wide array of log buildings and ended with a demonstration of log hewing for the iconic Finnish dovetail corners.

Secretary Warren reports that 122 people from nine states signed the guest register—Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, Washington, Missouri, Idaho, Texas, New Mexico and Minnesota.  There was even a visitor from Canada at the event. 

Now, the schoolhouse is restored and ready for the next 100 years—new roof and floor and windows and doors; restored and/or resurfaced logs; interior stripped of plaster and manually sanded, cleaned, and oiled; authentic (and often original) furniture and furnishings. All that plus two companion buildings—horse barn and sauna. 

The SAHS thanks everyone who donated time, energy, funds, publicity and artifacts. It especially acknowledges the dawn to dusk work of Rebecca Kumppa and family—sons Eric and Frank and daughters-in-law Anna and Megan, and all the Kumppa grandkids.