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Finn News: Finland's anniversary: The celebration of a century

Wow! That one word sums up 2017, a year filled with many wonderful and varied events brought to the Northland to entertain, educate and thoroughly celebrate our Finnish heritage during this special year of the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence. On behalf of Finns across the Northland, thank you to all of you who planned, arranged for, donated toward and attended these many events.

The year ended with several special parties celebrating not only Christmas, but also Finland's 100th anniversary. I wish I could write about each one, but I have neither the space nor the time. So, I want to concentrate on "walking" you through the most special of them: the Finland 100 Gala Event held Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Duluth Depot.

Sponsored by the Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter and the Finland 100 Group, this one event drew about 600 people from all over the Northland to the Duluth Depot to celebrate "Yhdessä — Together." This was a totally awesome celebration!

"The turnout absolutely surpassed any of our wildest dreams and imaginations," commented Hanna Erpestad, a member of the Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter. "This is absolutely wonderful."

As people started arriving after 5 p.m. for the celebration, they were greeted by blue and white lights on evergreen and birch trees, blue and white streamers hung from the ceilings, and Finnish flags proudly displayed everywhere you looked.

As you entered the Great Hall, there were two huge maps of Finland. Every incoming person was encouraged to put pins on the maps to mark where they and/or their ancestors immigrated from. We Northland Finns covered that map and discovered others whose ancestors came from the same area as ours.

Each table held a beautiful centerpiece — some with birch baskets, others with clear vases and all of them arranged with candles, evergreen boughs, pine cones and cedar or birch branches.

In the few minutes when you weren't greeting and hugging Finnish friends, there was even a display to examine, filled with Finnish books of various types as well as information about the honored Finnish war veterans.

And the food! Each end of the Great Hall had tables filled with traditional Finnish foods, including huge dishes of smoked salmon and pickled herring; large platters of different kinds of crackers and cheeses; trays of squeaky cheese and cardamom bread; bowls of butter and lingonberry jam; and large plates of finger sandwiches with a variety of toppings. Nobody went hungry, that's for sure. For your drinking pleasure, you could choose from coffee and punch (free) or wines and assorted hard drinks (to purchase).

The "Together — Yhdessä!" Art Exhibit was in the upper gallery and was filled with artwork by local Finnish-American artists ranging from paintings to drawings, stone work to textiles, pottery to coffee art. The gallery was filled with the buzz of people exclaiming over the beautiful artwork and talking with each other and with the many artists available. (If you missed this wonderful exhibit, it will be available for viewing until early January, so make the time to see it.)

The "Finland 100th Anniversary Program" started at 6:30 p.m. and included several special guests and speakers. Emcee Hanna Erpestad did an excellent job at keeping the program running smoothly. The U.S., Finnish and Sami flags were presented and the Kuuma Sampo Band played all three national anthems very nicely.

Congratulations and greetings were given by Emily Larson, the mayor of Duluth; James Paine, the mayor of Superior; and Hannah Alstead, from U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan's office.

Finnish Honorary Consul James Johnson brought special greetings from the president of Finland and then helped to honor the Finnish War veterans.

The well-loved Finnish song, "Metsäkukkia" ("Woodland Flowers"), was performed by Tracey Gibbons.

Sheila Packa and Hanna Erpestad shared several poetry selections, and the program concluded with a wonderful and engaging Finnish language lesson by the children of the Duluth Suomi Kerho.

The whole program was a delight. But I think most attendees would agree that the most moving part was the recognition of the Finnish World War II veterans: Rainer Mäkirinne, Suoma Sibilla Joutsi, Yrjö Kaarlo Johannes Gronquist and Tyyne Lothberg. Bios were read about Rainer and Suoma — the only two who could attend — and they were presented with white roses and special commendations.

After the program concluded, some attendees mingled further, unwilling to end the magic of this special night. Others left to head home, full of warm and happy memories.

Many made a point to drive by and see the Duluth landmark, Enger Tower, which was shining brightly, bathed in blue and white lights in honor of this special day.

On that note, I wish each of you a wonderful and blessed New Year 2018. During this quiet January, when most Northland Finnish organizations are on their winter sabbatical, please take time to reflect on this past year filled with special adventures of all kinds in honor and celebration of Finland's 100th anniversary. Remember the music, the laughter, the sharing, and give thanks to everyone involved in bringing to our area all of these awesome, once-in-a-lifetime celebrations and events.

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