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Juho Ruohonen: My Great-Grandfather

Cindy Jukkala

My ancestors in Finland struggled through many hard times in the 1800's. Their country was the object of many wars. Because of continous wars and poverty, many Finns, including my ancestors were driven out of Finland. They heard America was the land of opportunity and they came to America to find freedom, employment, cheap land, and excitement.

This leads to my story about my great grandfather Juho Ruohonen, who later changed his name to John Johnson. Juho was born February 23, 1887. He was born to Juho and Sanna Ruohonen in the community of Ulvilankylä, in the parish of Isokyrö. He had nine brothers and sisters, of which he was the third.

Juho worked on an English ship. He hated it. In about 1905, he came over to America from Finland on this ship and docked at Savannah, Georgia. He and a friend of his jumped ship because the conditions aboard were so terrible. They hid under a bridge by the Savannah River. There they met an African American and they paid him to buy them new clothes and threw their uniforms in the river.

Juho stayed in Savannah for some time (how long unknown), working on a farm, and changed his name to John Johnson. After he left Georgia, he traveled around the United States, mainly in the east, finally deciding to settle in Upper Michigan.

John Johnson married Jenny Marie Ollila on March 19, 1913. She was born March 26, 1894, in Atlantic Mine, Michigan. Her parents had come to the United States from Finland in the late 1800's. They, too, wanted to get away from the hardships in their lives in Finland. John and Jenny had five children: Aileen Susanna born June 21, 1913, John Alvin, my grandfather (he went by the name of Alvin) born September 20, 1919; Marie Alice born July 29, 1922; Alma Sylvia born May 3, 1926; and Adele Salmetta born November 17, 1928.

John and Jenny made their home in Dodgeville, Michigan. During the day, John worked in the copper mines as a fireman, putting out fires left by explosions. In the evening he worked on his farms, one which consisted of cattle and a vegetable garden by his home, and the other in Atlantic Mine which consisted of oats and hay crops for his horse and cattle. All the work he had been doing run him down and he became very ill and developed a sleeping sickness, called narcolepsy. He continued to work his jobs and would fall asleep while working the fields on his horse. The horse would automatically haul him home. Finally, he got too sick to work on the farms or in the mines.

Jenny went to work as a maid for a beautician and Alvin went to work in the mines. Together, they made enough to support the family. When WWII began, Alvin was called to military duty and had to serve. Still not in a healthy condition, John and Jenny went to Detroit to work in the factories building war supplies. After the war they returned to Dodgeville. John had became sick with heart trouble and was never able to work again. Jenny went back to work as a maid. John died on July 21, 1961, and Jenny died March 29, 1978.

Bibliography
Arens, Carolyn, From Finland to America. 1990.
Jukkala, Sharon, Personal interview, March 4, 1998.
Johnson, Verna, Personal interview, March 5, 1998.

© Cindy Jukkala

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