Tucker’s Telegram

Tucker Henderson

This past week a pioneering mover and shaker of the Finnish American community passed away.

Darrel Nicholson, who was 80 years old, passed away on Nov. 9 in Minneapolis, Minn. He was a U.S. Navy veteran, Spanish teacher, author, and musician among other things. Locally, he was known as the project director of Finn Creek in the 1970s when the museum was just starting out under the support of Chapter 13 of the Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society.

Nicholson was a Swedish-Finnish-American and had family from around our area. In the summers he taught high school Spanish in the Twin Cities and in the summer, he spent his time in the Tapio house and homestead, which is now the Finn Creek Open Air Museum. He worked many summers strengthening the museum and working with local individuals to create something that would stand the test of time and teach the incoming generations about the Finnish immigrants that came to this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He lived in the Tapio house during parts of the summer with his family. He grew a garden and raised both boars and older breeds of chickens there on the old farmstead. He recruited help from wherever he could find it for the monumental project.

Nicholson’s early idea for the future of the museum was to keep the site in pre-1914 era furnishings. He was not keen on the idea of people driving their 20th century cars into the grounds and had envisioned parking to be done in New York Mills or Deer Creek and a 45 minute buggy drive to bring the folks into the homestead.

Dozens of letters were written by Nicholson to organizations around the country and also to Finland to ask for support of the growing project. In a request into the possibility of holding a Finnish language camp at Finn Creek to Odell Bjerkness, then the executive director of the Concordia Language Villages, another Finnish American institution was born: Salolampi, the Finnish Language Village. Nicholson can certainly be credited with having a large hand in Salolampi’s foundation.

As Finn Creek grew and its future took shape with the handicraft fair that turned into today’s Finn Creek Festival, Nicholson parted ways with Finn Creek in favor of new opportunities. While Nicholson worked all his life at strengthening the Finnish-American heritage and cultural identity in the United States, and especially in Minnesota, he wasn’t always remembered for his contributions.

Nicholson’s efforts extended to having the unpublished thesis of Ralph Henry Smith, a former principal of New York Mills School, printed for all to read. Smith’s thesis was a sociological survey of New York Mills and the surrounding areas. Nicholson also advocated for the restoration of a 19th century home in New York Mills that was a historical importance to the city. The house was an unfortunate victim of condemnation and municipal blight.

Nicholson was a visionary and a pioneer of some of the most important Finnish-American institutions left in this state and nation. He leaves behind a legacy of functional Finnish organizations and the thought that anyone can do something impactful if they put their mind to it.