Finland greets St. Urho--and bids farewell to a piece of historyby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
If you're looking for the best place to celebrate St. Urho's Day, here's a suggestion: In tiny Finland, Minnesota, halfway up Lake Superior's North Shore, the usual festivities will go on: parade, parties and food. But this year there's a special twist. Residents will bid a fond farewell to a piece of local history.
Finland, Minn. — Just in case you're not familiar with the legend of St. Urho, Honor Schauland can give the Reader's Digest version.
"St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland to save the grape crop so that there would be wine for everyone," she says. "It's kind of a rip-off of St. Patrick's Day, but it's fun. It's really fun."
Schauland grew up celebrating St. Urho's Day, which is March 16, here at the Finland Recreation Hall. She says everything important happens here.
"People have weddings, people have graduation parties," she says. "Every year there's the Booya Fest in the fall."
Booya is a soup of disputed origin. It's claimed here as Finnish, and it's an important part of a harvest festival with crafts and music.
In the years when it runs, this is also a popular checkpoint for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, "because it's actually got a facility and activities. The community does do food for that," Schauland says, "so it's kind of fun. People come out and see the dogs."
That facility, the Finland Recreation Hall, is a long, narrow structure with weathered siding in faded orange. It sits next to a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp on the banks of the Baptism River.
No one would claim the Rec Hall is an architectural gem.
Inside, the walls are a mish-mash of plywood paneling. Decorations made of crepe paper in purple and green (St. Urho's colors) hang from the ceiling.
Honor Schauland has been researching the history of the building, but she hasn't been able to find out exactly when it was built. For a time it was used as a school farther north, at Forest Center.
Then it sat at a nearby CCC camp, until 1969. That's when people in Finland paid a dollar for it and raised a lot more money to move it here.
"There was a lot of volunteer effort put into getting it here and setting it up to be a community building," says Schauland.
But after all these years of use, the building is slowly crumbling. The eaves are rotting away, the kitchen barely passes health codes and the $900-a-month heating bill is a nightmare.
So people in Finland are busy raising money again to tear the old building down and build a new, energy-efficient community center.
During the St. Urho's Day celebrations, there'll be a program to acknowledge the role the old building has played in the lives of people here for so many years. People who attended school when it was at Forest Center will share their memories.
Eighty-nine-year-old Harvey Reichart will recall his days in the CCC. One of his jobs was to build a fire to make coffee and thaw out the sandwiches for his crew-mates.
"They'd go out and they'd cut trees, and they'd come out carrying a 40-foot pine log by hand, carrying it out of the woods," he recalls, still marveling at their strength. "You know, the purpose of the whole CCC program was to put men to work. And that was hard work, but they did it, no complaints. And we had fun doing it. It was the best life; we just loved it."
People in northern Minnesota are used to working hard. And they'll have to do that to get a new building. An architect has come up with a preliminary design that incorporates lots of insulation, passive solar gain and possibly geothermal heat. The trouble is, it could cost nearly $2 million.
Honor Schauland says people talked about it at this week's town meeting.
"I think the general consensus is, we can do it," she says. "There's a lot of people who have construction knowledge and are willing to donate time and help out."
Finland's 32nd Annual St. Urho's Day celebration takes place Saturday. It includes a parade at noon, complete with a giant grasshopper and vintage snowmobiles. The Goodbye Ceremony for the hall is at 3:00, and music starts at 8:00 at two different bars.
- All Things Considered, 03/16/2007, 5:23 p.m.