The History of Grace Lutheran Church
Preface and Author’s Introduction – A personal immigration story
Karl and Carolyn Rundman
The foundation of Grace Lutheran Church in South Range, Michigan is a story of an immigrant people who left family and friends in Finland and journeyed to this mining community in search of a better life. This was a people with a rich grounding in the faith that had been nurtured by God through the people of the Lutheran Church in Finland for several centuries prior to the exodus years of 1880 – 1920, when most of the immigration occurred. Details of the history of the Lutheran Church in Finland goes back to the 1500s, not long after the reformation swept through Western Europe. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet about the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Selected sentences taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, at the website http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Church_of_Finland, summarize the history. “The Reformation in Finland took place relatively orderly, compared to Central European countries. The Swedish reformation was started by King Gustav Vasa, who wished to confiscate the church property. The reformation was accomplished in 1520s. The doctrinal reformation of Finnish Church took place during the episcopate of Mikael Agricola, bishop of Turku, who had studied in University of Wittenberg under Martin Luther. He translated the New Testament and large portions of Old Testament into Finnish. In addition, he wrote a large amount of Finnish liturgical texts in the spirit of reformation, however preserving a number of decidedly catholic customs.” Much more can be seen at this website.
In addition, there have been several books written about the immigrant Finns in America. The interested reader is encouraged to consult these texts, including The Faith of the Finns , historical perspectives on the Finnish Lutheran Church in America, edited by Ralph J. Jalkanen, and History of the Finns in Michigan, by Armas K. E. Holmio.
While our own (Karl and Carolyn’s) Finnish ancestry does not include any of the congregations that are the progenitors of Grace Lutheran, it is very similar in that all of our grandparents were in this same Finnish exodus who settled in another Upper Peninsula Mining Community, Ishpeming. The only difference is that Ishpeming was an iron mining community and not a copper mining community. Our grandparents brought with them the faith of their parents, the faith that had been nurtured through 3 centuries of history in Finland. That faith was, in our opinion, a very important part of their life stories, part of the “Sisu” for which the Finns are famous. We will try, in this introduction, to briefly tell what we know of the faith stories of our ancestors in Finland, to try to help understand the important spiritual dimension that those Christians passed along to the immigrants. We are sure that our family history parallels that of the immigrants that contributed to the birth and life of Grace Lutheran.
Carolyn’s grandparents on her mother’s side were from the more pietistic element of the faith in Finland; see the website above or the texts referenced above for a complete description of the pietistic movement. As a result there were many rules regarding what a person of faith cannot do, such as playing cards, whistling (it was said to be calling the devil), drinking, talking at the dinner table, etc. Carolyn’s grandparents on her father’s side were charter members of Bethel Lutheran Church in Ishpeming. They obviously had a very strong desire to continue their spiritual experience from Finland to this country, to nurture the faith by forming a strong community of faith in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Both of Carolyn’s grandfathers were iron miners. Carolyn’s faith connection to Finland today on her mother’s side of the family includes an ordained clergy person (with a pietistic background) in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, a pastor whose experience includes shepherding at the famous Church of the Rock in Helsinki. It should be noted that the Church of Finland is an inclusive church, embracing the whole range of Lutheranism from the more conservative Laestadians and those of the more pietistic understanding of faith, to those of a more liberal persuasion. That is unlike the Lutherans in America who have severed connections with each other in many ways, and threaten to continue this splintering tradition. Perhaps we can learn something from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
Karl’s grandparents on his mother’s side were both active members of Bethel Lutheran in Ishpeming, also likely from the pietistic tradition. Karl’s grandparents on his father’s side included several clergy in the Church of Finland, especially in the early years of Lutheranism in Finland. The family tree includes a person who was the pastor of a church near Oulu, in Northern Finland in the early 1600s, and another pastor who was instrumental in translating portions of the Bible into Finnish. One of Karl’s grandfathers was an iron miner and the other was a “mastari malari”, a master painter who started his own painting and decorating business on coming to Ishpeming in 1905.
Stories of specific immigrants contributing to the birth and growth of Grace Lutheran are included in this history for many families that still have a presence in this congregation. They, after more than 100 years, possess a sturdy faith that helps to sustain Grace Lutheran to this day, and will by God’s grace continue for many years into the future.
History of Grace Lutheran Church
The history of Grace Lutheran Church is one with an immigrant beginning like so many others in the history of the United States. These immigrants left their place of birth and most said a final goodbye to their families in Finland (see Map below) and came to Houghton County seeking opportunities not accessible to them in their native land. From hunts-upguide.com/keweenaw_bay_hanka_homestead.html, “Finland’s shifting 19th-century economy had transformed many independent farmers into a class of industrial workers and landless tenants without opportunities. Only the oldest son could hope to farm his own land. Finns emigrated to the northern U.S., and many found work in mines. Inexperienced as miners, they did the lower-paying work of timbering and tramming. Between the peak emigration years of 1899 and 1914, over 200,000 Finns came to the U.S., largely from two rural counties, Vaasa and Oulu. On the edges of Upper Peninsula mining towns, miners also farmed smaller plots to support their large families. It was a big step up from working in the dark, dangerous mines to buying a 40-acre farm under the Homestead Act and becoming a full-time farmer.”
In the preface to his book ”The Faith of the Finns,” Ralph Jalkanen describes these Finnish Immigrants as honest, hard-working, freedom-loving, fragmented, individualistic, courageous, creative and deeply religious. His book goes on to describe the journey that these Finns took in establishing a lasting presence of that Finnish “Sisu” in building a life, and a religious community in the United States. In Walter Kukkonen’s and Douglas Ollila’s chapters in “Faith of the Finns”, the Finnish immigrant numbers were described as 25% having some religious connection, with the remaining 75% either staunchly socialistic or else having little or no interest in the teachings of the church. The church people were essentially in three groups, the ones that eventually became the Suomi Synod (the largest and best organized), those of the Laestadian persuasion (which became the Apostolic Churches) and the Evangelicals (which eventually merged with the Missouri Synod).
The history of Grace Lutheran Church is a congregational example of the way in which these Suomi Synod immigrants built a church in a new mining community, a church that sustained its faith so that the congregation has survived and continued to worship God for over a century. The structure of this history will be divided into three major parts; first a brief story of the life of Juho Kustaa Nikander, the person who was “the right person at the right time” for the life of the early Finnish immigrant church in America; secondly the early years of Grace Lutheran from the beginnings in the early 1900s to 1950; and finally the later years from 1950 to the present day. Included with this writing also is a section on the pastors who have served Grace from its inception to today.
Juho Kustaa Nikander (from Ray Wargelin’s compilation of pastors in Suomi Synod.)
Pastor Nikander was the founder of the Suomi Synod (March 25, 1890) and Suomi College (1896) and first president of both. He was born in a small village in Finland on September 3, 1855. He came from a pious home; his father frequently quoted from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrims Progress”. His father’s death came as a result of famine conditions in Finland, in 1866, when Juho was only 11. His mother was remembered to be a very intelligent woman who saw the great promise in her son, especially because he had indicated an interest in the Christian Ministry, and she made sure that he was able to get an education. He received his theological training at the Finnish Theological Seminary in Helsinki, writing his very complete thesis on “Beckian Theology”, a study of the Theology of J.T. Beck of Tuebigen University of Germany. Beckian theology is an idea that says that Jesus died for the sins of everyone and not only for those who have accepted him. It comes with no strings and is not dependent upon a pious lifestyle that include outward manifestations such as great outbursts of emotion in public, speaking in tongues, or other exuberant physical displays. It is therefore a more inclusive view of Jesus’ love for humankind. It was this Beckian theology that Nikander later taught at the Suomi Theological Seminary. He was Suomi’s first president, serving from 1896 – 1919.
Dr. Nikander came to the U.S. in 1884 and was pastor of the Calumet Parish (which would eventually become Faith Lutheran Church) from 1885 – 1901. He married Kristine Rajala of Finland in 1902. He was well liked and respected by all in the Finnish immigrant community and is arguably the glue that kept the Suomi Synod as a stable presence in this immigrant era. It was he who had contacts in Finland that provided the first pastors for the growing Suomi Synod churches. From Wargelin, “It is important to realize that expressions of the church of Finland, such as the Seamans’ Mission Society and the Finnish Mission Society, were the main means whereby the resources of the church of Finland clergy came to work among the mission fields and congregations of the Suomi Synod. The Church of Finland (by itself) did very little to help the immigrant church. Furthermore, what little the Church of Finland did, it did only with the Suomi Synod. Neither the Apostolics or the Evangelicals in those formative years of the late nineteenth century or the early twentieth century sought to maintain a connection with the Church of Finland. The status that J.K. Nikander achieved had much to do with the recognition the Church of Finland afforded the Suomi Synod.” Pastor Nikander had a stroke at work on January 11, 1919 that caused his death on January 13, 1919.
Early Years in the Range Communities (1903 – 1950)
The beginnings of this congregation, in the early 1900s and continuing through the first half of the twentieth century, involved commitments on the part of both the immigrants and religiously trained pastors from Finland, many of whom were “recruited” by Juho Nikander. The congregation in Atlantic Mine was the first congregation to be organized on the Range (1890), and the first building was built there in 1899 (You can still see the original sandstone cornerstone in the foundation). The pastors who served Atlantic Mine also eventually served the other four congregations in the Range communities, Painesdale, Baltic-South Range, Trimountain, and Toivola. The first parsonage was in Atlantic Mine, but then moved to South Range in 1917, and has remained there. After the Atlantic Mine closed in 1906, many of the people who lived in that community moved on, and the majority of church members were in the South Range area, closer to the operating mines, not in Atlantic Mine. Each of the first eleven pastors who served in the Range area congregations in the time 1903 – 1950 were born in Finland (See the pastoral history part of this writing.) These men were usually very young and many (seven of the first eleven) were recent graduates of the Theological Department at the University of Helsinki. Of the other four, three graduated from the Suomi Theological Seminary in Hancock. It is important to point out that these men were also immigrants, people who brought a knowledge of and a love of the faith that nourished the souls of the people that were a part of this community.
Some of the people that made up these first immigrant members of what is now Grace Lutheran Church are listed in Wargelin’s History of Grace Lutheran. In that work Dr. Wargelin often used the Kirkollinen Kalenteri, (annual written ongoing record of the people of the Suomi Synod) to describe the significant events in the life of the Range community of churches mostly in the years 1903 – 1965. Immigrant Families that are still represented at Grace.
A significant number of people who are members of Grace at this writing have kept the faith of their forefathers and mothers who were members in the early years of the twentieth century. Grace Lutheran, a congregation that is like a family, cherishes these members who can trace their families back to those immigrants who carved a life out of the opportunities on the Range. In this portion of this history, several of these families will be presented as a record of this continuity over the years.
Kolehmainen Family (Baltic-South Range)
Alice Kolehmainen has lived in South Range all of her life and has been very active in the many organizations of the church. Her sister, Joan Illgen and husband Richard have newly returned to the Range and have recently joined the Grace congregation. These sisters trace their family history back to John and Hilma Lohela on their mother’s side, and Hemming and Anna Liisa Kolehmainen on their father’s side. Their grandparents emigrated in the early 1900s. Grandpa Kolehmainen came first and then Anna Liisa joined him a few years later. Alice said that her Grandma Anna Liisa started out from Finland with two children on the boat, but they both died of scarlet fever during the passage. Son Eino, father of Alice and Joan, was born a couple of years after Anna Liisa arrived in the Copper Country. Grandpa Lohela found employment as a butcher in South Range at Kivi’s Store and Grandpa Kolehmainen was a carpenter. Grandpa Hemming had been a church council president in the early years.
Laitila Family (Baltic-South Range)
Karen Marie Laitila Johnson was a member of Baltic – South Range in her youth, taught Sunday School, was active in the Luther League, moved away and married, and then returned to Baltic where she has made her home for many years and currently sings in the church choir. Her first memory of this congregation was attending a Christmas children’s program, with the lighted Christmas trees. When the Lord’s Prayer was spoken, in unison, it was a thrilling experience (possibly spoken in Finnish) that to this day is remembered fondly. Each child was given a small bag of hard candy after the service. Her Parents were Helmi Elizabeth (Moilanen), born February 17, 1911, and Elias (Eli) Laitila, born March 7, 1900, both in this country. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were Henry and Valpuri (Heikkinen) Moilanen and on her father’s side Sanna (Laakaniemi) and Elias Laitila. Regarding her parents, Karen said “My father, Eli, preferred the Finnish language; he thought in Finnish. He married my mother on Nov. 1, 1930 in Laurium. They moved to Baltic in 1937.” Karen and her brother Bill were both born at home in Baltic with a midwife’s assistance. Eli was a logger, farmer, miner, sawmill operator, carpenter and operated a public sauna among other things. Eli was baptized and confirmed in the Atlantic Mine church in 1915 by Rev. Mauno Kuusi. Helmi Laitila was a homemaker, a Sunday School teacher (when first married), sang in the church choir,and often read in Finnish at church. All of Helmi and Eli’s five children, Edward, Helen, Karen, Barbara, and Bill were baptized and confirmed in the Baltic-South Range church. Eli’s funeral was held at Grace in August of 1991. Helmi’s memorial service was held at Grace on July 13, 2007. Grandparents on both sides emigrated before 1900. Valpuri Moilanen played the organ and was a song leader. When she became blind she went to the School for the Blind in Lansing and became a masseuse. Henry Moilanen was a farmer, miner, temperance speaker and made Kanteles. Sanna Laitila was a homemaker; Elias Laitila worked first in the Atlantic Mine and later in the Baltic mine, and was a farmer. Vacation bible school (this was in the 1940s) was memorable, and was a special time, lasting a week or two, probably in the month of June. We had very good teachers, Mrs. Mattila, the Jarvenpaa sisters, Vi and Ellen, Elsie Ollila Ruohomaki among others. They presented Bible stories on the flannelgraph board. We also had crafts, for example making wooden plaques. We rehearsed for our evening program (on the last day). We had to memorize and recite bible verses, and we sang hymns. We were treated with ice cream cones after the program usually with the help of Mr. Wilhart Ollila.”
Onkalo and Moilanen families (Baltic-South Range)
Delores (Onkalo) Paavola and Susan (Onkalo) Koskela have lived a large part of their lives in the Range area, and have been active members of Grace all their lives. Their parents were Helen (Haivala) Onkalo and William V. Onkalo. They trace their family history back to Sofia Katri (Fjader) and Jacob Henry Haivala on their mother’s side, and Aliina (Laitila) and Jacob Onkalo on their father’s side. Jacob and Aliina Onkalo emigrated in 1890. Grandpa Haivala found employment as a miner, unfortunately dying in a drowning accident in the Painesdale mine, and Grandpa Onkalo was at various times in his life a farmer, logger, and miner. Jake was active in many local organizations and was the subject of an extensive article in the July 17, 1954 Mining Gazette. Both grandmothers worked as cooks in lumber camps. The Onkalo’s had been part of the Baltic-South Range congregation since its beginning. Mr. Onkalo was a church council member at Baltic – South Range, was a regular attendee at the Suomi Synod conventions, and was not bashful about speaking.
Edna Caldwell is currently an active member of Grace, and has lived all of her life in the Copper Country. Her parents names were Edward (son of Perttu Moilanen), and Mary Moilanen (daughter of Jacob and Aliina Onkalo). Perttu was a home builder, shoe maker and a jack-of-all-trades. It was also reported that Perttu was a healer. Edna recalled a story she heard from her parents concerning Esther Kangas (a former member who has passed away) when Esther was a small girl of four years. Apparently she had a terrific earache and her parents were very concerned and called Perttu to come and see Esther. When Perttu got there he took out his puukko (knife), asked for some boiling water, stirred his knife in the boiling water and then saying some words, flicked the water from the knife with his fingers on to Esther’s ear. Apparently the earache ceased and Perttu went on his way. Esther testified to the accuracy of the story a number of times. It is not know what words were used but the result for another person with a bad cut from an axe was similar. A knife, some hot water, some words and flicking of the water onto the cut was sufficient to stem the bleeding.
Kokko and Karna Families (Baltic – South Range and Painesdale)
Irene Kokko is the daughter of Eric and Ida Olivia (Perala) Kankanpaa, the only living child of that marriage. Eric and Ida married in the Baltic-South Range church in 1908, shortly after they emigrated from Finland, both having come through Ellis Island. They had nine children, Lyla, Urho, Osmo, Severi (he was a twin to a sister who died at one month), Wesley (who died while serving our country in World War II in Italy) and Aulie (twins), Irene, and Paul. Eric and Ida were both active in the Baltic-South Range church until moving to Painesdale in 1928, when they became members of the Painesdale church. The Kankanpaa name was changed to Karna sometime after they were married, a result of the family in Finland moving to an island named Karna. Eric died in the Painesdale mine in December of 1929, a result of a rock fall. He was buried from the Baltic – South Range church on December 16, 1929. Ida insisted that the burial be made from Baltic- South Range because Eric had spent most of his adult life involved in that church. Some of Eric’s brothers who lived in lower Michigan changed their name at the same time to Kangas. Ida was also buried from the Baltic-South Range church on March 15, 1965.
Janet Kokko has lived all of her life in South Range and has been a member of Grace since she was born. She is the daughter of Jacob and Irene Kokko (now deceased) and the niece of Ted and Irene (Karna) Kokko who also have been members of Grace throughout their lives. Both Ted and Irene’s parents emigrated from Finland.
Ted is the son of Henry and Liisa Kokko. Henry and Liisa emigrated is the years 1904 (Henry) and 1905 (Liisa). They had nine children, Kathryn (born in Finland), Signe, George (1909), Ellen (1911), Wayne Urho, Wesley, Elsie (1918), and Theodore (1920). Grandpa Henry was active in the church and was a Sunday School teacher as listed in Wargelin’s history of Grace. Ted also related a story about the raising of the bell to the bell tower in the Baltic-South Range church. Apparently a man from Baltic with the name Kemppainen, who was either helping or watching said “I wonder who the bell will toll for the first time?” As is came to pass it tolled for him, as he died in the mine the next day.
Mikkola Family (Baltic-South Range)
Charles Emil Mikkola has spent his entire life in the Copper Country, son of Kaarlo Mikko Mikkola and Elma Elizabeth (Lehtola) Mikkola. Charlie’s grandparents on his mother’s side were Matt and Elizabeth Lehtola (members of Our Saviors of Atlantic Mine). Charlie’s father emigrated in 1910. Kaarlo and Elma had three children, Helen (1917), George (1919) and Charles (1929). Kaarlo was a farmer and miner? Charlie married Janice Torgerson on October 23, 1973. Charlie and Jan have been very active in the life of the church. Charlie was a faithful member of the brotherhood, and a member of the church council. Jan has been active in the quilters group and has been the social conscience of the congregation, reminding us of the need to support Lutheran World Relief and other causes. Charlie has a niece, Laurel, a daughter of Helen, who is also a member of Grace.
Palonen Family (Baltic-South Range)
Rudy (Rudolph) and Joanne Palonen retired to the Copper Country and returned to membership at Grace Lutheran after being away for a significant part of their working years. Rudy’s parents were Matti Ilmari and Mamie Palonen who were members of Grace. Matti was an active member of Grace for most of his life, serving on the church council for a number of years. Rudy’s immigrant grandparents were (on his mother’s side) Abram and Kaisa Saari and (on his father’s side) Matti Petteri and Hilda Katrina Palonen. Matti Petteri emmigated to the US in December of 1902 and Hilda came in October of 1903. Matti P. found employment as a miner, logger and farmer, and after marriage Hilda was a homemaker, raising the family. Joanne Palonen’s parents were Henry and Lydia (emigrating with her parents in 1903) Kaarlela; her maternal grandparents were Ander Arthur (miner and farmer) and Kreeta Jakunaho, emigrating to the US in 1903, and her paternal grandparents were Mathias (miner and farmer) and Kaisa Kaarlela, emigrating in June of 1881 (Mathias) and August of 1893 (Kaisa). Joanne’s family moved to South Range in the 1940s and Joanne first started attending the Baltic-South Range church in 1946. It was in church that Rudy and Joanne met. Joanne was singing in the choir and Rudy, on noticing her, mentioned to someone present that “There is the girl I will marry.” Joanne’s mother and stepfather, Lydia and Eino Rajala owned and operated the Finnish Rrestaurant on the main street in South Range from 1945 – 1950.
Pelto Family (Baltic-South Range)
Donna Jeanne Karvonen was a member of the Baltic-South Range parish as a child and has been a member of Grace since its formation. She is the daughter of Mary (Pelto) Tohinen. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were Herman and Maria Pelto. Her grandfather, Herman, born Herman Peltonen in Finland on April 25, 1880, emigrated to the US on April 4, 1901. He was a miner in the Range mines. Her grandmother, Maria Junila, who was born in Finland on June 14, 1884, emigrated to the US on March 3, 1903, was a cook and baker. Herman and Maria were married in Houghton County by Pastor John Back (Pastor Back was the first pastor to serve the Range area churches, see section on pastors) on May 20, 1907, and raised 12 children in the Range area. The children went to Sunday School and were confirmed in the Baltic-South Range church. Some were also married in the Baltic-South Range church.
Sivonen Family (Painesdale)
Esther (Sivonen) Hrabosky was a member of the Painesdale congregation growing up as a daughter of immigrants Henry (Henrik) and Amanda Sophia (Leinonen) Sivonen. Henry, born in June, 1875, in Ouliainen, Finland, emigrated to the US in 1899 and went to work in the mine in Painesdale. His wife, Amanda, and their first three children emigrated in 1907 and joined Henry in Painesdale. Esther was born in 1914 after her older brother August had been killed in a mining accident. Esther remembers that her father was a Sunday School teacher in the Painesdale church for several years, teaching the youngsters of kindergarten age. Esther went to Sunday School in the Painesdale church, and to confirmation (3 weeks) at Baltic-South Range when she was 15 years old. Pastor Luttinen was teaching the class at that time. Esther remembered a good story (during the confirmation lesson time) having to do with the boys making spitballs and throwing them at the girls. She recalled Pastor Luttinen saying to the boys “There will be time enough in hell to throw spitballs.” She was an active Luther League member as a youth. When Esther was 18 she began playing the pump organ for Sunday services receiving $2 for each service, which was good money in those days. She also taught Sunday School and confirmation classes (in the Finnish language). Sunday services were in Finnish, usually in the afternoon, and not every week. She remembered that because she was missing some local Sunday afternoon hockey games. Esther follows her beloved Detroit Redwings to this day. There was an active Ladies Aid group in Painesdale and a ladies choir as well. Esther moved to the Detroit area in the 1940s, married Bob Hrabosky and then after many years retired back to the Copper Country.
Maki Family (Baltic-South Range)
Amanda (Maki) Mountjoy has been a member of Grace for many years. Her parents Hilma (Nikula) Maki and Henry Maki were members of Our Saviors of Atlantic Mine from the time of their marriage on July 31, 1909, until the time of their passing (Hilma on July 4, 1963 and Henry on January 19, 1973). Hilma was born into the Apostolic Lutheran faith but joined Henry’s church in Atlantic Mine. Henry emigrated to the US in 1906 and was employed as a miner. Amanda’s grandparents on her mother’s side were Anna (Laukonen) and Peter Nikula emigrating in the early 1880s. Peter was a miner. Amanda’s grandparents of her father’s side were Manda (Hirvesaho) and Matti Hautamaki. It was Matti and Manda’s son Henry (Amanda’s father) who emigrated in 1906.
Ollila and Piipo Families
Leonard and Sally (Piipo) Ollila lived a large part of their lives in the Range area, and were active members of Grace all their lives. Leonard was on the church council a number of times, was a member of the choir for many years, and was the smiling face of the usher that Grace’s members saw on entering the sanctuary. Leonard and Sally raised three children, John, James, and Susan. Leonard served in the U.S. Army in WWII, seeing service in England and France. Sally also sang in the choir, was active in the women’s organizations and was especially fond of the quilting effort that continues today. Leonard’s parents were Matt (born December 27, 1877 in Finland) and Sanna (born September 10, 1874 in Finland) Ollila. Matt Ollila emigrated to the US first. Sanna came to America in July of 1910, bringing sons Louis (born Nov. 3 1901) and Eino (born Nov. 3, 1901). Both Matt and Louis worked in the mines of the copper country. A daughter, Sanni, was born but died as a baby of scarlet fever. Other children included Ewald, Wilhart, Leonard and Elsie. Leonard and Sally were raised on farms in the Superior district. Leonard was confirmed in Baltic South Range in 1931 and Sally was confirmed in 1932. Sally (Piipo) Ollila was the daughter of John Hendrick and Selma Margaret Piippo. John was born in Piippola, Oulu Laani, Finland on March 27, 1879. Selma Margaret Kemppainen was born in Pulkela, Oulu Laani, Finland on March 12, 1875. John and Selma married on Oct. 19, 1901. John worked as a farmer, purchasing 80 acres on Superior Road, a property which remains in the name of John Ollila.
Sutinen Family (Baltic-South Range)
Naina Howard is a second generation person from an immigrant family who emigrated in the late 1880s from Finland. Naina, born on March 11, 1940, is the daughter of Richard and Kathryn (Karling) Sutinen. Richard was the son of Jonas Sutinen (Finnish immigrant) who married Anna Kyllonen (emigrated in 1888 from Puolanka, Finland) on April 26, 1890. They lived in Atlantic Mine, and had four sons, Edward, Jacob, Leonard and Richard (born on March 16, 1899). Jonas and Anna moved the family to Superior Road in 1901 and homesteaded the family farm, a property that Naina and her husband Robert currently own. Jonas and Anna expanded the family in the years 1901 to 1905 with three girls, Elma, Amanda, and Edith. Naina’s mother Kathryn (born in Ripley on September 22, 1908 to Matt and Elizabeth Karling) was a faithful member of the Baltic-South Range parish and then Grace Lutheran. Kathryn was an enthusiastic quilter and was instrumental in making chair pads for the quilters as they worked (She complained that the chairs were too hard.). Naina attended Sunday School and confirmation at the Baltic-South Range church, and she remembers first having instruction in Finnish, and then in English by Wilhart Ollila. Pastor Hautamaki was her confirmation instructor. Naina recalls many good times in the Luther League, “We had such a great Luther League group, we would invite other church groups and we would have a great time. One time was not so great. We had a taffy pull, and we didn’t realize how messy that was going to be but we found out. We spent a lot of time cleaning up after that one.”
There are other examples of families that are still involved in the life of Grace Lutheran whose grandparents emigrated here as well. Our church family is blessed to have this legacy from these folks and we pray that this will continue for years to come. Unfortunately, the lack of opportunity for employment locally has taken away many of the children and grandchildren of our immigrant lineage and the numbers of people like those above has been dwindling.
These early years could also be described as the Finnish years, when most of the education, meetings and church services were conducted in the Finnish language. It wasn’t until the 1930s that an English language program was supported by the Suomi Synod. In the Range communities prior to the service years of A. Paananen (1947 – 1950), only occasional English services were held in Baltic – South Range, services that were usually led by the seminarians from the Suomi Theological Seminary. The “Aapinen”, the Finnish language reading primer, was used in the Sunday school to help students to learn to read in the Finnish language. This was used from the early 1900s until late in the 1940s(as per Alice Kolehmainen and Joan Illgen). During Pastor Paananen’s tenure, the transition to mostly English was made, although Finnish services were held monthly until the 1990s.
Later Years (1950 – 2009)
Changes in congregational makeup and financial stresses.
After the formative years of the first half of the twentieth century, the congregations in the Range area were experiencing significant change due to a number of factors. Many of the immigrants who had formed these congregations were passing on and the membership roles were decreasing. The copper mining activity in the entire region was steadily decreasing, and many young people (second and third generations of the immigrants) who had grown up in these communities moved out of the region to find education and employment elsewhere. It was in this time period also that the Suomi Synod merged with several other Lutheran church bodies to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA, 1962), which eventually merged with other Lutheran synods to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA,1978). During this time also, the Finnish language was disappearing as a spoken tongue in the homes of second and third generation Finns, and church membership began to include people with non-Finnish backgrounds. Perhaps the most visible changes in this Finnish Lutheran community occurred during the ministry of Dale Skogman (1965 – 1971), the first non-Finnish speaking pastor to serve the Range churches. It was during Pastor Skogman’s years that the merger of the four congregations in Toivola, Painesdale, Trimountain and Baltic-South Range occurred and Grace Lutheran was born in 1968. The merger culminated in the construction of a new building in South Range on four acres of property on the east side of town, property donated to the congregation by the Copper Range Mining Company (Copper Range had donated the original property to the Baltic – South Range congregation back in 1909.) The new house of worship was built at a cost of $153,163 and dedicated in 1969. The building contractor was a member of the congregation, Mr. Ted Palonen, a person who had immigrant roots (Ted was the son of Matti Peteri Palonen described earlier and was the uncle of Rudy Palonen). The congregation in Atlantic Mine (Our Saviors Lutheran) did not merge with the other 4 churches, but Grace and Our Saviors remained as a two-point parish served by one pastor from 1969 – 2002.
The 40 years from the construction of Grace in 1969 to the present (2009) were years of significant change, when ties to the initial immigrant membership were diminished primarily through the death of the older generations and a resultant reduction in church membership and involvement of its people. For example, the average attendance at Sunday worship, which was about 85 in the years before Skogman’s ministry, went as high as 170 per Sunday in 1969 after the new church was built, but then decreased slowly and continuously to about one half the peak or 85 by the mid 90s and has remained fairly stable to the present 2010. The ethnic makeup of the congregation changed in this time so that there are many members who have no Finnish immigrant heritage, but instead have a variety of religious backgrounds including other Lutheran (Skogman’s immigrant background was from the Swedish Augustana Synod), Methodist, Catholic, and former Apostolic Lutherans. In addition, the pastors serving Grace no longer were able to speak Finnish even though Wickstrom and Tahtinen, who immediately followed Skogman were of Finnish descent. Both of these pastors grew up in households in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Their grandparents were immigrants who settled in other communities with Suomi Synod churches. Currently Grace has some members who have similar histories, with immigrant grandparents settling in the mining communities in Gogebic County and Marquette County. Employment opportunities took them to the Copper Country and it was quite natural to look for a church similar to their home congregations.
In the time 1969 to 2002 Grace was a member of a Parish with Our Saviour’s of Atlantic Mine, which was much smaller than Grace. In 2002, after the time of Pastor Smythe, the Grace congregation moved to separate themselves from Atlantic Mine, having convinced themselves that they could and should stand alone in ministry and support a pastor on their own. Pastor James Gallagher served Grace in the period 2003 – 2006, but it became clear after about two years that our congregation was unable to financially support a pastor on our own. Therefore the congregation has recently (2007) joined in a yoked agreement with First Lutheran Church of Dollar Bay, a financial agreement in which Grace pays 60% of Pastor Hopman’s salary and First Lutheran pays 40%.
There are two primary factors that contributed to Grace’s inability to support a pastor on its own in the years after 2002. First and foremost, the annual income which was received from the congregation was unable to keep up with the increasing costs of ministry. In the years 1969 – 1995, the annual income grew at a relatively constant rate, but then due primarily to the deaths of many members the annual income leveled off and has been relatively constant from the mid 90s to the present day. (Perhaps this also reflects the fact that a large number of Grace’s members are retired with fixed incomes.) At the same time the cost of providing for a pastor has continued to increase, with the pension and health care growing at a very rapid rate. Thus Grace’s inability to grow its income while simultaneously requiring ever increasing costs of a full time ordained pastor has created the need for a yoked agreement.
Pastoral Memories: Pastors Skogman and Gallagher were kind enough to provide some memories of their time here at Grace.
Memories of the South Range Lutheran Parish / 1965-71
Pastor Dale Skogman
Its been said that the rural parish is the “cradle” in which many an “infant” pastor’s been laid to raise to maturity. In my case the “cradle” couldn’t have been better. I experienced a vast array of joys and challenges in my first parish and my teachers were excellent! Our six years in the Range Parish provided us with a grounding in Christian life and faith that’s served us well through 45 years of ministry in a variety of settings. In my reflections, which are more “pithy” than “pious”, I’ll recall just of few of the people and situations that grounded me in ministry. The reflections will take you “behind the scenes” as I recall them so that in the words of Paul Harvey you’ll know “The rest of the story.”
Pastor Martin and Elma Halinen were our gracious predecessors in the parish and we formed an English/Finnish foursome. At funerals Martin and Elma would preach and solo in Finnish and Dale and Jo would preach and solo in English. Jo and Elma accompanied each other.
When Dale interviewed in the parish, Shirley Maki cornered him saying “I pray that you’ll accept our call!” Shirley sorted used clothing for the Salvation Army and often retrieved clothes for our children and we always hoped that church members wouldn’t recognize their charitable gifts on our kids!
The merger of Painesdale church with South Range was mandated by Synod President Ted Matson who felt that a four point parish was untenable. Call votes were held in four separate congregations and, knowing that merger was part of the deal, Painesdale voted against issuing the call to me. President Matson forced Painesdale to have a second vote which, under duress, passed. When I accepted the call I immediately engaged in some “fence mending” in Painesdale visiting each of the homes. One day Jo and I were visiting in the home of faithful church members Ivar and Fanny Seppanen. Fanny, whose eyesight was failing, served us moldy apple bars. Decision time: Dare we insult her further by refusing to eat the bars??? Down the hatch, all for the sake of the gospel!
Toivola congregation dissolved and joined Grace. Twice we tried to merge Grace and Our Saviours, Atlantic Mine. In one congregational meeting I praised the members of Our Saviours trying to get them to vote for merger. I thought I was making progress when they said “Would you repeat what you just said.” When I finished, they said that I had so encouraged them by my affirming remarks that they wanted to continue as an independent congregation. It’s known as “backfire!”
Onni Malila, director, and Ingrid Laru, accompanist, were the backbone of the Grace choir for years. Onni’s favorite hymn was “Nearer My God to Thee” and it was sung at the new church dedication. Mrs. Blum, from the Methodist Church in Painesdale, was often recruited to sing “O Holy Night” at Christmas.
Remember turtle necks, leisure suits and neck pendants for men? I thought I was really “in style” until Anne Juntunen, Atlantic Mine, informed me that it was dress unbecoming a pastor!
When we were dedicating the stained glass windows at Grace, the designer gave a prolonged slide presentation. In the middle, Senia Hiltunen announced, in Finnish, “I’m going for coffee now, that guys talking too much!”
One fall we sponsored an inter-church Halloween Party at the South Range town hall. Catholic and Apostolic youth attended, a real ecumenical coup, but I got a 2:00 a.m. phone call informing me that I was no longer needed in South Range as I was leading our youth astray!
Seeking to acquaint our youth with life and death issues we arranged a tour of the Jukuri Funeral Home. Laura, our infant daughter, was with us and let out a scream in the middle of the presentation. About six youth almost fainted! Mr. Salmi, from Toivola, retired in the senior housing across from the funeral home. Dave Jukuri asked him if it was depressing to live across from the funeral home and Mr. Salmi replied: “Heck no, funerals are most of my social life!”
Gordon Peterson, Memorial Chapel, purchased, at a discount, suits that didn’t sell in stores. When he had a new batch he’d say to me “Go and take your pick of the lot!”
When we arrived in South Range almost half of the church budget was raised by pasty sales. I was taught in seminary that commercialism in the church was wrong, so we had a good stewardship effort and discontinued the pasty sales. The women missed the fellowship, however, so I suggested a father/son dinner with pasties on the menu. The women had a hard time recruiting volunteers. After a successful dinner Helene Palonen waddled out of the kitchen, plunked down in a chair and said “I’m exhausted.” I said “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to make pasties every week?” to which she replied “Humph, if you hadn’t stopped it I wouldn’t have gotten out of shape!” Moral: Never try to have the last word!
Finally, they say “There’s no love like a first love,” and that was certainly true of our days on the “range.”
Pastor Jamie Gallagher
Some fun stories of my time at Grace:
I learned how to shovel my roof from the expert, Tom Savola.
I learned the value of gardening with rocks, since we couldn’t seem to grow anything else, and besides the rocks were really beautiful “blooming” in the spring time as the snow melted down.
I remember the day Kim called up and said that a fawn that was often seen in the area was hit by a car and was laying at the church driveway, so I came down with my wheel barrow to move it out of the way, since it didn’t seem right to leave it there. I tossed it in a crevice behind the house and monitored it for predator activity. It took a couple of days, but one day it was entirely there and still in one piece, the next it was entirely gone. Some might use that as evidence of cougar in the area, along with the cougar sighting by a friend in the parsonage backyard.
We did see a bear in our backyard one evening, about dusk. That was really cool. Story has it that a bear welcomed every pastor to the neighborhood by visiting the backyard of the parsonage at some point.
It was my second day of being Grace’s pastor when I got a call from Tammy Harju letting me know that Ruth Hendrickson had died, and I had to find her house on Superior Road late at night, after dark, and Ron Antilla hadn’t arrived yet to take Ruth to the mortuary. That was a bit of a surprise I wasn’t expecting. But it made for getting to know the Harjus real easy after that.
Leonard Ollila – Oh, the things I can say about Leonard. I remember most dearly every Sunday how he would say to me after church “Kiitos paljon”, and I hope I spelled that right. That was always very special. And of course, Leonard showed me where I could hunt on his property.
Tammy called me up one night my first year there, Dave got a deer with his bow and no one was around to help him, and he needed someone to gut the deer since Dave was allergic to the hide. I learned how to gut that deer with Dave standing over me holding two flashlights, since it was already dark. And I cut my hand, so I had to get a tetanus shot too. That was fun.
Oh I can go on – I have more fun memories of being up north than anywhere else. That is what made the call to Grace so special. It was a fun place to be – and the people of Grace were (and I assume still are) just wonderful people, filled with Sisu and joy.
Organizations and Activities in the Life of Grace Lutheran
It was mentioned in Dr. Wargelin’s history that music always played an important role in the life of the congregation in the early years. Many of the early pastor’s wives were musically talented and were involved in playing the organ and leading singing groups. A quite interesting story appeared in the Daily Mining Gazette concerning Mr. Lawrence Lamberg, the organist at the Baltic-South Range church in 1958. He was found dead on a Sunday morning in 1958 on the Baltic-Superior Road (now Elsie road) with several thousand dollars pinned in two small packets on the inside of his underwear. He was buried by Pastor Martin Halinen. At that point Mrs. Elma Halinen took over the primary duties of playing the organ for Sunday services. After the passing of Elma Halinen, also on a Sunday, in 1978, Carolyn Rundman assumed the duties of organist and has continued to the present. Ingrid Laru and Katherine Niemi also helped out on Sunday morning from time to time in the 1970s and 1980s. Grace has continued the tradition of having an active senior choir to the present. Senior choir directors included Mr. Onni Malila for a number of years followed by Carolyn Rundman, who assumed the choir directorship after Mr. Malila retired. She continues to lead the choir to this time. The choir sings two times per month and in addition contributes to special services on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving Eve and Ash Wednesday, and performs two more extensive concerts, one in the Christmas Season and one on church music Sunday in the month of May. In addition to the senior choir, there have been youth choirs from time to time.
Adult organizations have played an important and consistent role in the life of the congregation over the years. The women of the church in the early years (which spilled over into the later years as well) would make pasties for sale to support the ongoing operations. The men organized a Brotherhood that would meet for Bible study and fellowship at least once a month. That organization no longer exists.
There is currently a women’s organization at Grace that meets monthly for Bible study and to raise money for worthwhile activities, like for example scholarships for our students to go to the Fortune Lake Bible Camp. In addition the women of the church have assumed the responsibility of organizing and serving funeral coffees in the fellowship hall for members of Grace.
Many women of the church (and also other women of the community who enjoy quilting) have also, for many years, been very faithful in making colorful and beautiful quilts (over 100 in 2008) which are donated to Lutheran World Relief. Several also knit sweaters for newborns and they also make layettes and school kits for children. This has been an outreach ministry at Grace for many years. Their beautiful work graces the choir area at Grace most Sunday mornings.
Youth activity in the congregation has waxed and waned depending on the leadership and the times. The Luther League was present in the later years of the Suomi Synod. Growth in membership during the Skogman years and after the new church was built saw a large increase in the Sunday School enrollment. At one time during the early 70s there were in excess of 100 children in Sunday School and the church purchased a bus to transport students within the immediate Range area, including Atlantic Mine. The Sunday School enrollment has also dwindled with the membership rolls and there are currently between 20 and 30 students enrolled in grades pre-kindergarten to grade 6. Students in the 7 – 9 grades are enrolled in confirmation. During the Tahtinen years (1976 – 1988), Nora Tahtinen together with Bob Wideman, Janet Kokko and Greg and Dianna Bell were very successful in organizing a senior high youth group that was very active with the youth of the congregation, as well as attracting many youth from the community who were not members of Grace. That group met every Sunday evening, including a monthly activity at Suomi College where the youth could participate in physical activity such as swimming, playing basketball, etc. The Berthelsen years (1988 – 1999) continued this tradition under the leadership of Pastor Berthelsen, Glen and Patty Johnson and Tammy Harju. This group also initiated a junior youth group that was made up of children in the age range from 6th grade to 8th grade. More recently the senior youth have met several times a year for fun activities and service projects.
In the years 1969 – present, the congregation had also constructed a new parsonage on the four acres of land on which the church building sits (1980s), selling the old parsonage that was on Fourth Street in South Range. Grace also constructed a pole building (1970s) to store the original Sunday School bus and eventually the two church vans that were used in the years 1980 – 2006 for transporting not only Sunday School students but also for transporting many of our senior citizens to Sunday worship. Both of these activities ceased after the sale of the old vans in the early 2000s. In addition the vans were often used for group excursions; for example the youth in the 80s and 90s took many trips to Chicago, Minneapolis, and Ohio for the purpose of attending youth gatherings and to do service projects, and the congregation used the vans to transport members to retreats and meetings at the Fortune Lake Bible Camp or elsewhere.
One very rewarding project in these later years (during Pastor Tahtinen’s time) was when Grace sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family (the Ans), a father, mother (Ai) and two children, Phu and Hong. The children were of the age to go to the South Range Grade School and Jeffers High School. The congregation rented a house in South Range, provided them with household items and helped them learn English; several congregation members spent one-on-one time with the family in this effort. Michigan Social Services provided them with the basic financial needs while they were staying in South Range. The Ans were welcomed with open arms by the community and assimilated very well into the American way of life. After about 2 – 3 years in the community they moved to Oakland, CA to join other members of their family.
Like so many churches in the present day, Grace’s church building has been and still is being used by the community in a number of ways. For example, Head Start and the Adams Township School District have rented a portion of the building for educational purposes in the earlier years of Grace. Currently, and for many years, the local Alcoholics Anonymous organization uses the building every Friday evening, and the organization Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly serves Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners in our fellowship hall.
In recent years, an organization of mostly retired people, called The Primetimers, has been formed which provides a social outlet for seniors of Grace and other local congregations. This group, organized by Elma Rice (daughter of Martin and Elma Halinen) makes a monthly sojourn for lunch to a local eatery for food and fellowship.
Grace has a hospitality committee that is currently very active in promoting the use of the building for other activities as well. They sponsor a Halloween party in the fall and a game night in the winter, inviting the community in to enjoy one another’s company; these have been very successful events. In addition, this past year (2008) they sponsored a clothes give-away, in which the community was invited to come into our fellowship hall and select clothes (clean and in good shape) that people in the congregation and community had donated. They have also been active in leading the way in helping folks in the community when special needs arise, organizing fund raising events to help people with loss from illness or fire, etc. In addition, they have sponsored a very successful annual spring fund raising event since the year 2003, serving a prime rib dinner to about 500 people in the fellowship hall and on a take-out basis. Funds raised in this way have been used to help with special needs in the congregation and as a way to give back to the community.
Lay School for Ministry
The Northern Great Lakes Synod of the ELCA, of which Grace is a member, currently sponsors a Lay School for Ministry in which lay people are invited to take classes taught by ordained clergy in all aspects of the Christian ministry. One of the main objectives of this program is to educate lay people to become Licensed Lay Ministers to serve in the area, most often as pulpit supply in the local congregations, but also to accept part or full time employment in the smaller ELCA churches in the area. Grace has benefited greatly from this program, and several members of our congregation have taken advantage of this opportunity. Some members have become Licensed Lay Ministers and others have taken the classes to learn about the teachings of the Lutheran Church. Persons from Grace who have attained the title of LLM, Licensed Lay Minister, include Tammy Harju,, Cheryl Stimac, and Pam Long. Working toward the title of Licensed Lay Minister is Kim Deblois. Cheryl Stimac and Tammy Harju have been serving as pulpit supply in the area Lutheran churches, and Pam Long has taken a part time position as the Licensed Lay Minister at Holy Cross Lutheran in Baraga. She was installed by Bishop Skrenes on August 30, 2009. A photograph taken on the day of her installation is shown below.
LLM Pamela Long
Congregation Members in the Lutheran Ministry
There have been three sons of the congregation that have entered the ministry from Grace, John Junttila (1953), Paul John Raapana (1968), and Michael Mannisto (2009).
John M. Junttila – Born on February 17, 1918 in South Range, the son of John A. Junttila. John graduated from Jeffers High School in 1935 and served with honor in the US Navy in World War II. He is a graduate of Suomi college in 1950 and the Suomi Theological Seminary in 1953. He was ordained in Hancock on June 8, 1953 by the Suomi Synod. John was united in marriage to Julia Walikainen in South Range on March 17, 1939. They had two daughters, Phyllis (1942), and Kathleen (1944), and one son John (1947). John served parishes in Reedley, CA (1953 – 1954), Our Saviors (Pelkie) and Finnish Lutheran (Elo) (1954 – 1958), St. John’s Lutheran (L’Anse, Pequaming and Herman) (1958 – 1961), Holy Trinity Lutheran (Chassell) (1963 – 1973), and Balsam Lutheran (Amery, WI) (1973 – 1976). Pastor John passed away on August 29. 1976.
Paul John Raapanna – Born in Baltic, August 6, 1941 to Clara (Kinnunen) and Einar Raapanna. Baptized at the Baltic South Range Lutheran church. Father died in 1942, mother remarried Leo Okkonen. Grew up in South Range and Atlantic Mine, moved to Green and confirmed at Siloa Lutheran church in Ontonagon. Graduated from Ontonagon High school in 1959. Attended Suomi College receiving an Associates in Arts degree. Received a BS degree from Northern Michigan University and an Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Ordained at Grace Lutheran on June 29, 1969 with President (of the LCA) Theodore Matson presiding.
Palmer Lutheran Parish, MI
Faith – Sault St. Marie, MI
Salem – Shell Lake, WI
St. James, Rudyard, MI
Married Sandee Koski in 1974, have one child Saara. Retired and living in Sault St. Marie, serving as pulpit supply in many parishes.
Pastor Paul Raapanna
Michael John Mannisto – The son of William and Sandra Mannisto, born July 17, 1966 in Hancock, MI. Attended the Adams Township Schools, graduating in 1984. Attended Carthage College, graduating in 1988. Attended Law School at Valparaiso U, receiving a J. D. in 1991. Practiced law in the Copper Country from 1991 to 2005, spending most of that time as an Upper Peninsula Legal Services Officer. Michael married Michele Carne on September 30, 1998. Michael entered Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN in the fall of 2005, receiving the Master of Divinity in 2009. He was ordained at Grace Lutheran Church on October 17, 2009 with Bishop Thomas Skrenes presiding, and installed as Pastor at St. James Lutheran in Rudyard Michigan on October 25, 2009.