Contributed photo
Markku and Annika Mäkelä are visiting relatives in the New York Mills area.

By Tucker Henderson


It was almost 30 years ago when Markku Mäkelä, a resident of Haapajärvi, Finland, first met his relatives from America: Tina Barkes and her daughters, Ruth and Martha, while they were on a sightseeing trip to Tina’s homeland of Finland.

Contributed photo
Markku and Annika Mäkelä are visiting relatives in the New York Mills area. Markku and Annika live in Finland, but The pair will be hosting a presentation on Tuesday, June 18 at the NY Mills Library at 10:30 a.m. entitled What is life like in Finland?

Ruth Koehler is a native of the New York Mills area and has deep ties to Finland. She still maintains relationships with her maternal relatives back in the old country. Mäkelä is one of those relatives she maintains contact with.

Since they haven’t seen each other for nearly 30 years, Koehler and Mäkelä decided that it was time to get reacquainted after Mäkelä decided to take a vacation to the United States with his wife this year. 

It was then that Koehler realized what a unique perspective her relatives from Finland would have in contrast with local Americans. With a little effort, Markku and Annika Mäkelä will be presenting on “What is life like in Finland?” at the NY Mills Public Library on Tuesday, June 18 at 10:30 a.m.

“When they first were going to come to the United States, to Michigan, they decided they’d better come to Minnesota too,” said Koeher. “I only met him once and we wanted to meet again in person and then it just kind of evolved. We would like to know more about them, what they do, and I asked if they would mind speaking at our public library.

“He said, ‘oh, that would be great,’” she continued. “Then we just went from one thing to another organizing it. I talked to Julie about what she thinks people would like to hear. I was concerned about not understanding them real well, but on Facetime it went really well. They have very little brogue, I probably have more of an accent then they do.”

The Mäkelä couple will begin their vacation in the United States with four days in New York City, seeing the sights of what Manhattan has to offer including the Statue of Liberty and the larger museums on the island.

“We hope to see the popular sights,” said Mäkelä. “From there we’ll continue to Detroit where we’ll meet our American friends and their family. With them we spend another four days. Then we’ll come to New York Mills to visit our relatives Duane and Ruth Koehler and their family.”

The Koehlers will be showing their guests around the NY Mills area, including a requested stop at Finn Creek Open Air Museum.

“We are expecting to see the way of living in your country and hoping to see beautiful places, the nature and to meet new people,” said Mäkelä. “Especially New York Mills, we are looking forward to seeing the Koehler family and how Finnish immigrant heritage is shown there nowadays.”

Koehler said that she is looking forward to the presentation, hoping to learn more about the world class education system in the Nordic nation. Being that the Mäkeläs are both teachers, there should be a good source of educational-based perspective from them.

“I know in their schools, they spend a lot of time at recess during the day,” said Koehler. “They take time to go outside, I think regardless of the weather, and so I’d like to know more about that. They don’t have standardized testing either.

“They have giant mosquitos up north where he is,” laughed Koehler, remembering her visit to Finland in 1995. “I visited there once and we walked in the forest and we just ran all the way back. They are huge.”

The Mäkeläs look forward to visiting the NY Mills area and their relatives from across the ocean, especially given the hospitality they have enjoyed so far.

“We want to specially thank Ruth Koehler for the effort she has done for our visit,” said Mäkelä. “It has been nice to be in contact with her weekly and hearing about the things we are about to experience. We are very excited to come to New York Mills. We already feel that we are welcome.”