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By Dr. Peter Lillback

Delivered via Address At Fairport Harbor Community Days as part of the Finnish Heritage Museum's celebration of the "Spirit of Finland" sculpture unveiling and dedication on September 15, 2013

 

Fairport, Ohio is a historic village. It was founded in 1812, when America battled the
British for a second time. It is in the historic Western Reserve, a tract of land in the western
frontier set aside for the people of Connecticut following the Revolutionary War. The land we
are in was once part of Trumbull County, named for Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., one of only
two colonial governors who continued on as governor after the colonies declared their
independence from England. To this historic area, Finnish people came to settle in the late
1800’s, making Fairport a center for a later wave of Finnish immigrants to America. Peter

And here today, we have the honor to celebrate the Finnish spirit as we unveil a new sculpture created by
the distinguished 1955 graduate of Fairport Harding High School, Ken Valimaki. I want to make it
clear that I hold no ill will toward Mr. Valimaki even though I am a Painesville Township
Riverside High School graduate. After all, we both are of Finnish descent, and as a member of
the Riverside class of 1970, I was only three when he received his diploma! Ken Valimaki’s new
work is entitled, “The Spirit of Finland” and becomes another important memorial to the Finnish
heritage of Fairport. It joins the Finnish Monument which is near where we stand today, as well
as the Finnish Heritage Museum, where we will end in our celebratory parade. At events such as
these, the existential character of life is impressed upon us. Although we are creatures of
time, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “God has put eternity into man’s heart.” (Ecclesiastes
3:11.) In spite of the fact that we are mere ephemeral creatures, at dedicatory moments, we
become like eternal beings. We soar to see things sub specie aeternitatis. No, that is not
Finnish! It is Latin meaning “from the vantage point of eternity”. This is the way that God
sees things. So let’s look at what we do today from a divine perspective beyond this moment in
time. Today, at this dedication, it is appropriate to reflect on the past, the present and the
future.

So let us consider, I. The Past of the Finnish Spirit. II. The Present of the
Finnish Spirit. III. The Future of the Finnish Spirit. So first, I. The Past of the
Finnish Spirit. I have had the privilege to work with scholars in Finland and the USA on the
history of Finnish American founding father John Morton. He lived near Philadelphia and was a
signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was interesting to learn of the DNA research that
has been done on descendants of Morton in attempts to establish the area where his forebears
lived before they left for the New World a few generations before he was born. That DNA testing
of Finnish people shows that the our DNA had a long pilgrimage traveling north out of Africa,
then east all the way to China and Korea, and then west all the way to current Finland.
Apparently the Finnish westward migration followed the southern edge of the receding ice sheet at
the end of the last Ice Age. The Finnish people finally took up residence in a far northern clime
where part of the year had no night and part of the year had no day. They learned to raise and
work reindeer long before Santa Claus taught them to fly! And given those long Arctic nights, it
is no surprise that Finns fell in love with coffee (kahvia!) when it was introduced to them many
years after they determined that the swamps, forests and lakes north of the Baltic Sea were to be
their permanent home. This history and geography of the Finnish people shaped them into a unique
people. An early reference to the Fenni was in 98 AD by Roman historian and traveler Tacitus.
In his Germania, Tacitus writes,

The Fenni are strangely beastlike and squalidly poor; neither arms nor homes have they; their
food is herbs, their clothing skins, their bed the earth. They trust wholly to their arrows,
which, for want of iron, are pointed with bone. The men and the women are alike supplied by the
chase; for the latter are always present, and demand a share of the prey. The little children
have no shelter from wild beasts and storms but a covering of interlaced boughs. Such are the
homes of the young, such the resting place of the old. Yet they count this greater happiness than
groaning over field-labour, toiling at building, and poising the fortunes of themselves and
others between hope and fear. Heedless of men, heedless of gods, they have attained that hardest
of results, the not needing so much as a wish. (Germania, Book 1 [46].) Based on this, one of
George Washington’s childhood textbooks spoke of the “Fenni” in a proverbial way. In The Wisdom
of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation written in 1691, John Ray states:

Tacitus saith of the Fenni, a Northern People, that they were secure adversus homines, secure
adversus Deos. They need not fear what God or man could do to them, because they were in as bad
a condition as could consist with living in the world. They could not be banished into a worse
country, nor put into worse circumstances than they were in already.

No wonder the Finnish language is so unique! Its closest relative is a distant second cousin
called Hungarian. Some have suggested that there might be a feature or two in common between
Finnish and Korean as well.

Our homeland is unique too. Suomi, the Finnish name for Finland, means “swamp”. Our
homeland of swamps and lakes is a land that is still rising from the sea to this day. It was
once pressed down for vast ages by a mile of ice. But now even thousands of years after the ice
melted, parts of the Finnish landscape are slowly rising out of the sea, at a rate faster than
the rising seas attributed to climactic changes or global warming. The rising of the land, in a
symbolic way, reminds us that after the Finns had been subjugated by the Swedes for centuries and
then also by the Russians. Nevertheless, Finland achieved its independence, and the Finnish
spirit has continued to rise upon and along with their beloved land.

To survive the harsh conditions of the frigid north, the early Finns developed some distinct
practices. This was seen for example in their agriculture with what has been described as slash
and burn farming. This was a method of fertilizing the barren soil with the ash of burned trees
that would then yield a richer barley crop for a year or two. Given their resulting skills in
forestry, they also developed and perfected the building of log cabins and the hunting of deer in
the forest. These skills got the Finns into trouble with the Swedish crown since these practices
often occurred in the king’s forests. Nevertheless their prowess in the wilderness woodlands
would prove useful. This happened when they were punished for their illegal hunting and burning
in the king’s forests by exile to the new world. They helped the Swedish colonists create their
new civilization by clearing forests, building log cabins, making a living from the forest, and
establishing peaceful relationships with other inhabitants in the forests, namely, the Native
Americans.

The arrival of the first Finns into North America occurred in 1638. This means that the
dedication of our new monument today occurs in an important anniversary year of the Finnish
immigration to America. When you subtract 1638 from 2013, you discover that the remainder is
375. Thus this year, 2013, is the 375th anniversary year of the Finnish arrival in the New
World! 1938 saw the appearance of a three cent postage stamp commemorating the three hundredth
anniversary of the arrival of the first Swedes and Finns to North America.

So given this incomplete summary of Finnish history, what might we call the “Past” of the
Finnish Spirit? Wouldn’t the word “Sisu” work well? As we all are aware, the sisu of the
Finnish people is their characteristic perseverance—some might call it stubbornness. Perhaps
some euphemisms or better words might be • “determination”, • “resolve”, • “single
mindedness”, • “will power”, • “unrelenting” or • “stick-to-it-ive-ness”.

Finnish sisu is our characteristic of striving to overcome insurmountable obstacles by
refusing to quit, by not giving up, by not being overcome.

As a preacher, I often enjoy acrostics and alliterations. Sometimes I can’t help myself! I
find that they can be useful teaching tools and that they often are memorable. Two acrostics
that have been helpful to me and my teaching are these: • FAITH = Forsaking All I Trust Him.
• GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. So let’s develop a good acrostic for the Finnish
Spirit of the past, using our defining characteristic of SISU. How about this: • Sauna
• Immigration • Suomi • Unique Here’s why I’ve chosen these four items.

First of all, the Sauna is known worldwide.

And Finns have Immigrated all over the world.

Suomi is the homeland from where we all come.

Unique is clearly our language and our history.

And to have accomplished all of the above, we truly needed SISU! Imagine any other culture
roasting themselves in self-inflicted heat from steam poured on baking stones, all the while
beating each other with birch leaves and branches and then finally jumping into a snow bank in
the midst of a sub-zero sunless day! Sisu has helped to warm saunas, strengthen immigrating
settlers to far flung new lands, to carve out a living in Suomi a swampy wasteland recently
liberated from ice, and to speak a unique language that no one else knows requiring the Finns to
learn the languages of everyone else! That is SISU indeed.

Well if the past of the Finnish spirit is Sisu, what is this present moment, here and now?

II. The Present of the Finnish Spirit.

Today, we have gathered here in Fairport, Ohio. At this present moment, we are by the
Finnish Monument, near the Finnish Heritage Museum, in a Finnish town called Fairport. Today is
a day of dedication of a new sculpture celebrating and commemorating the Finnish Spirit.

It is our collective desire to remember with gratitude those who’ve gone before us, and to
celebrate what they have accomplished. It has been well said that every generation is but a
dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants. We may see farther than our progenitors could, but we
can see nothing today that is not directly attributable to all that they accomplished and
invested in us by their lives, their loves, their labors, their faith, their sacrifice and their
sisu.

So we need more acrostics! How about another one based on FAIRPORT? This might work:
Finnish American Immigrants Remembered; Praising Our Remarkable Traditions Is this not what we
are seeking to do here in Fairport through the Finnish monument, the Finnish Heritage Museum and
the new Spirit of Finland Sculpture?

And then we might ask, “What do we remember and praise?” Of course, it is their FINNISH
SPIRIT! So how about these acrostics for our FINNISH SPIRIT? Family Independence Northern New
opportunities Imagination Sisu Heroism

Sauna/Sun/South/Sisu Patriotism Industriousness Religiousness Intelligence/Impact Thrift

Let’s celebrate the FINNISH SPIRIT, noting that it is marked by:

Family. Finns love their families both at home as well as their clans, their extended family
relationships.

Independence is in our blood due to our geographical home, our language, our DNA, and our
history of freeing ourselves from Sweden and Russia.

Northern life is seen in the Artic, the midnight sun and the long winter days of dark, along
with skiing and reindeer.

New opportunities can be seen in our ancestors who came to America as aliens, strangers and
orphans even mail order brides to become foresters, railroad builders, farmers, pipe fitters,
laborers, miners, mothers and housekeepers, all attempting to make a new start on a better life
in a new land.

Imagination is seen in the vision for a better life in what was until they arrived an unseen
and unknown land. Imagination, the vision of the mind, is a mark of the Finnish spirit that has
often produced mathematicians, architects, teachers, pastors, missionaries and theologians.

Sisu is here again, because you can never get it out of the Finnish spirit!

Heroism is a Finnish quality both in athletics and the military. Finns have competed in the
sports of the places wherever they’ve gone, including the winter sports of the Olympic games.
The heroism of the Finnish soldiers is the heart of the story of the Winter War with Russia.
Many Finns have proudly served in the American military in the bloody wars of the Twentieth
Century and recently as well. My father’s Silver Stars and British War Medal that hang on our
families’ walls remind us all that Finns have been warriors and military heroes.

So since we’ve celebrated FINNISH, let’s now also celebrate SPIRIT:

Sauna/South/Sun/Sisu are here all put together. If Finns have lived with and conquered the
Arctic cold, they did so in part by enjoying their saunas. But they’ve not only conquered the
cold, they’ve also loved the long days of the midnight sun as well as the sunny shores of Florida
as at Lake Worth or other places in the sunny south. It takes some Sisu to move to Florida too!

Patriotism is in the Finnish Spirit. Many families can testify that their forebears came
without an education to America. Nevertheless, many of their descendants today are educated and
accomplished leaders in varied fields around our land. My grandfather was an orphan and a pipe
fitter. His son became a university mathematics professor. His grandson, who speaks to you
today, is the president of a Presbyterian Seminary. Such a story of educational advance and
opportunity could only be written in a land of freedom like America. With such open doors and
liberty, no wonder Finns love their new country! Coming to Fairport on the Fourth of July to go
to the Mardi Gras to see the fireworks show on the beach was one of my favorite childhood
activities. Hip-hip-hooray for Fairport!

Industriousness is the disciplined hard working ethic and productivity of the Finnish Spirit.
Through many difficult jobs, the Finnish people made their way in the New World. They
consistently and faithfully labored to advance themselves and their families. The once nearby
Diamond Alkali had many Finnish workers, often performing highly skilled or extremely dangerous
tasks. The sisu that aided the workers in the slash and burn forest farming, and that aided the
colonists building log cabins in the primeval forests, was still at work in the industriousness
of the hearty people that came to Fairport to build a new dream for their children.

Religiousness is a at the heart of the Finnish Spirit. It is evident in the history of the
pursuit and worship of God seen throughout Finnish history. Our religious commitments are
evidenced by the Kavalla, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the Lutheran Church and the
various evangelical denominations that are cherished by Finns to this day. Each of these are
living faiths and active traditions among the Finnish people.

Intelligence/Impact are also evident in the Finnish Spirit. Intelligence and the cultural
impact of Finnish people can be seen in the fact that Finland has the highest SAT test scores
among high school graduates in the world. The intellectual impact of Finns can be seen in many
areas were Finns have made a lasting and significant contribution, such as: • Eero Saarinen,
the great architect who designed the Dulles airport and the Arch in St. Louis. • Sibelius’
Finlandia is an example of musical excellence. • Design, as in the works of Ken Valimaki and
of renowned designer, Eero Aarnio. • Mannerheim, the Marshal of Finland in WWII, led the
Finnish military to defeat Stalin’s Russian forces in the Winter War. • Business leadership
can be seen in global firms like Nokia and Finn-Power. • The computer world marvels at the
free LINUX computer language emanating from Finland. • Finnish mathematicians have made a
permanent impact on advanced mathematics in topics such as complex analysis, Riemann surfaces,
celestial mechanics, spherical trigonometry, topology, differential equations, integral
transforms, complex analysis, and aerological measurements. I remember my mathematician father
explaining Euler’s equation that yielded 41 prime numbers in a row. • Athletes from Finland
have won gold in the Olympics, with one of the greatest being Paavo Nurmi’s 9 Olympic gold
medals. • In theology, the Finns still recognize Mikael Agricola, the theologian whose
translation of the Bible into Finnish established the orthography for modern Finnish and whose
leadership helped establish Luther’s protestant faith in Finland. • Finally, there are
countless Finns who have served as teachers at all levels of education.

And what of Thrift? Well, Finland is the only country ever that paid back its war debt to
the United States! In fact, it is possible that the United States could go bankrupt given its
recent profligate spending that has accumulated trillions of dollars of national debt, while the
same is highly unlikely to happen for fiscally conservative Fairport or fiscally conservative
Finland! One of my distant relatives used to say, “Why take two when one will do?”

So the Finnish Spirit has now been celebrated in the Past with SISU and in the Present with
FAIRPORT and the FINNISH SPIRIT. But what of the Future?

III. The Future of the Finnish Spirit.

As we have already observed 2013 is the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the first Finns
to the New World. So consider the fact that 1638 plus 400 equals 2038. In twenty-five years,
there will be another major anniversary year. I don’t know if my Finnish DNA will allow me to be
alive then at what would be my 86th birthday! But hopefully some of us will be alive then.

But will the Finnish Spirit still be alive and well then here in Fairport? With the passing
of time, and with the passing away of our ancestors and most of the Finnish immigrants, many
expressions of the Finnish heritage have simply been absorbed into the melting pot and salad bowl
of our beloved America. And on one level, that is a good thing. But on another level, it is
something that we should not let happen completely. Our heritage and our Finnish Spirit are
worth preserving and celebrating today and into the future.

Since we’ve had enough acrostics for one day, how about alliteration this time? To celebrate
the future of the Finnish Spirit, let’s use four “F’s”. As mathematicians would say: F times F
is F squared or F2. F times F times F is f cubed or f3. And then, F times F times F times F is
F to the fourth power or F4. So let’s plan to celebrate the FINNISH SPIRIT in the Future and
call it F4 in honor of all Finnish mathematicians, even if it’s actually alliteration rather than
a mathematical statement.

FFFF or F4 stands for: • Finnish • Four-hundredth • Festival

Now wait, that’s only three F’s. I need a fourth. I can’t seem to remember what it is. Can
anyone help me? Oh yes, that’s it. The Fourth F is Fairport! Let’s put it as the First of our
Four F’s.

The future celebration of the Finnish Spirit should be called the FFFF or F4 standing for:
• Fairport • Finnish • Four-hundredth • Festival

So then, will the future of the Finnish Spirit be alive and well in twenty-five years in 2038
to celebrate the Fairport Finnish Four-Hundredth Festival? I hope it will.

Now if I know anything about the Finnish Sisu that made all of what we celebrate today
possible, I believe that there will be just such a Finnish Festival here in Fairport on the
Four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Finnish Spirit to the shores of our beloved
America.

So until the F4 in 2038, congratulations to Fairport for the new sculpture and your wonderful
success in keeping the fires of the Finnish Spirit alive!

Wow, that gives us an F to the fifth power—F5! • Fire of the • Fairport • Finnish
• Four-hundredth • Festival But then again, maybe we should just stick to four!

Thanks, then, for this opportunity to celebrate the dedication of the new sculpture. • May
God’s continued blessings be with you all. • May the Spirit of Finland ever grace the fair
town of Fairport. • May God forever bless America, our new homeland, with those who love the
Finnish Spirit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

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