Tucker’s Telegram

Tucker Henderson

As some of you may have heard in the past months, Finlandia University (formerly Suomi College) abruptly announced that they would no longer be enrolling future students and that operations would cease in May of this year.

This was a huge shock to the Finnish-American community nationwide as the college had stood as a cornerstone and beacon of the preservation of our heritage for over 125 years. With the closure and dissolution of the college, to many it feels as if the matriarch of our community has died.

My own family has a few ties to the late university, though perhaps small. My great great grandmother, Lempi (Anderson) Perala, is rumored to have been registered for school there in the fall of 1924, but she met my great great grandfather, Walter Perala, and love won out, so plans for college dissolved into starting a family.

Grandma Lempi’s sister actually was enrolled at Suomi College for a Business Degree that she earned in 1921 after two years in related courses. She went on to work in a variety of roles in the New York Mills community, including a stint as a switchboard operator for the Heinola Telephone Company.

My grandmother and I share the former aspiration of attending Suomi College/Finlandia University for our own college education and she recently joked that now that is our family tradition: wanting to attend Suomi/Finlandia—the private college in the Upper Peninsula.

My great grandparents, like many other Finnish-American families, sent a monthly sum to the college in support of its cultural preservation and contributions to their community. That wishful support was a large part of why the college kept going for so long. Families and individuals wanted the institution of higher learning with a Finnish background to continue for the future of their own children, grand children, and even great grandchildren.

Because I am so invested in history, especially Finnish-American history, I decided to peruse the online auction that the receivers of Finlandia were putting on to try and pay their teachers for the final months of their contracts. Being Christian and quite sentimental, it was an easy sell when I spotted the lectern from the college’s Chapel of St. Matthew.

An old seven-foot pew bench and two communion serving trays (one quite tarnished) quickly had bids placed and I watched every so patiently during the week to see when I was outbid and what I was willing to pay to get them. Apparently, I was willing to pay more than anyone else, and I got fairly decent to good prices on all of them.

Suomi College was actually founded in the tradition of the Suomi Synod, which was officially called the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Our own local Suomi Synod church was St. Peter’s Lutheran and after two main mergers, the Suomi Synod became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which explains St. Peter’s affiliation with the synod to this day.

After winning the auction bids and asking my sister, she eagerly volunteered to drive her 2005 Honda Pilot to Hancock, Mich. so that we could pick up the treasures I had bought nearly 400 miles away. She likes to drive, so 400 miles was nothing for her.

During the three-day adventure, we were able to enjoy a sauna, eat some Yooper pasties, celebrate Juhannus (Finnish midsummer festival) next to Lake Superior which has been held in that area since 1890, search for Yooperlite stones and walk around the former Finlandia University campus.

It was a bit strange and definitely slightly melancholy walking around Finlandia for the first time as a plunderer of sorts, rather than a student, but it was enlightening to see the deteriorating conditions the campus facilities had suffered in recent years.

Getting the pew bench and podium into the back of the definitely-not-seven-foot-long-trunk was another story entirely. After a few attempts, several concerned laughs, and some hair-brained ideas later, we had everything securely ratchet-strapped into the car and we (extremely) snugly sat in the front seats, which had just enough leg room for me to cram inside.

Crammed into the front seat, I had every chance to sit at attention for the Keweenaw’s beautiful scenery. Everything sat neatly where we had laid it and there was not sliding around, so for a couple of amateurs, I think our ratcheting jobs held pretty well for 500 miles of travel up and down the Copper Country and through Wisconsin and Minnesota. Even still, next time I think I’ll bring a pickup truck.