Former Finlandia cultural institutions preserved

Important Finnish American cultural institutions, formerly part of Finlandia University in Hancock, have been preserved, thanks to the fund-raising efforts of a California-based non-profit organization.

The Finlandia Foundation National (FFN) completed the purchase of two buildings earlier this month, after a successful $3 million fundraising campaign. Finlandia University announced its closing last March and the university’s properties went into receivership. Some properties have been purchased.

FFN’s acquisition includes the Finnish American Heritage Center and North Wind Books store, as well as the Finnish American Historical Archive, Finlandia Art Gallery, Finnish American Folk School, Price of Freedom Museum and The Finnish American Reporter.

“Thanks to the support of donors, FFN has been able to purchase two buildings, the archival material, artwork, artifacts, inventory and the resources related to the folk school,” says Thomas Flanagan, FFN’s executive director. “FFN has also secured the positions of the six staff members responsible for the ongoing programs, operations, and conservation of and care for the material assets.”

The Finnish American Heritage Center boasts the largest collection of Finnish American archival materials anywhere and attracts visitors from all over the country. There are other museums and collections across the country but many of them are broader in scope, focusing on Scandinavian and Nordic cultures. 

“We are not just a local or regional cultural center. We are very much a national culture center, and, in many ways, international in scope as well,” says David Maki, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center and managing editor of The Finnish American Reporter.  “We are preserving Finnish American heritage in its entirety.”

What’s happening: Finlandia Foundation National, which supports and promotes Finnish American interests and offers related programming, scholarships and grants, this month completed the purchase of two buildings that were formerly part of Finlandia University. The structures are the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy St., and North Wind Books store, 437 Quincy St. 

The heritage center opened in 1990 and is housed in a former Catholic church. The archive collection was started by the university in the 1930s and later brought to the center. “We’re approaching a century's worth of collecting,” Maki says. “It makes me realize it really is quite an irreplaceable treasure that we have. It represents decades of collecting by many, many people, employees and volunteers and like-minded people across the nation who thought it should be donated here, so it’s not lost to history.”

Maki calls the bookstore one “of the treasures of Hancock,” with a collection that allows people to explore their Finnish American and Finnish culture. The store also offers a collection of regional and local books, many of which touch upon Finnish roots. 

Why is it important to preserve these institutions: “We are the only ones doing what we are doing on the scope of what we are doing – promoting and preserving Finnish American culture across the United States and beyond,” Maki says, noting the center holds the largest collection of Finnish American archival materials in the world.

“We have filled that niche quite thoroughly,” he adds. “For the (materials) not to remain here as a collection … would have resulted in decades of hard work being for naught.”

What is the status of The Finnish American Reporter: The monthly newspaper, which has been publishing since 1986, is part of the purchase. As editor, Maki is the sole employee and will continue to provide readers with connections to their Finnish roots and Finnish American culture. The newspaper was founded by a Finnish group in Wisconsin and was gifted to Finlandia University in 2000. The newspaper has never missed a monthly deadline and continued to publish even after the university announced its closing. The newspaper has subscribers in all 50 states, most Canadian provinces, Finland and other countries. 

What is the status of other Finlandia University properties: Since Finlandia University closed in May and went into receivership, nearly all of its buildings have been sold or abandoned. According to Mary Babcock, Hancock city manager, buildings sold include the Hoover Center, Old Main and St. Matthew’s Chapel. Five more were sold to the city of Hancock: Mannerheim, Nikander and Wargelin halls, Quincy Green and the Ryan Street Community Garden. The Jutila Center and two parcels of land are pending sale. The Paavo Nurmi athletic center has been abandoned by the receiver and is going into foreclosure. Finn and Hirvonen halls are potentially going back to their mortgage holders.

How extensive is Finnish heritage across the United States: In sheer numbers, Finnish is not one of the largest ethnic groups in the country but there are pockets of Finnish Americans across the United States. In the U.P. 's five most-western counties Finnish is the dominant ethnicity, according to the U.S. Census data. In Houghton County, roughly one in three residents claim some Finnish ancestry. In Stanton Township, that number is 40 percent. 

“It’s certainly dominant in Copper Country,” Maki says. “It’s so dominant that people don’t even notice. It’s part of everyday life everywhere you go – in business names, the way people talk, their mannerisms and personalities. A lot of people reflect their Finnish roots in the way they interact with people. The Finnish people are a more stoic people.”

What’s next: In the short term, patrons of the center and bookstore shouldn’t notice any immediate changes, though operations are being evaluated for improvement. “If they do, it’s for the better,” Maki says. “We are moving forward confidently and excitedly under the new ownership. Their mission is synonymous with our mission. Our patrons will benefit the most.” FNN also plans to make materials more accessible to the general public, including the digitization of many of the archival records and creating touring exhibitions of the contents. “Additionally, the organization will create an endowment to ensure the future health of the FAHC and entities,” Flanagan says.

Freelance writer Jennifer Donovan contributed to this story.
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