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Born on July 20, 1888, Johanna Wilhelmiina Wuorenmaa would be the first of two, in her generation to cross the Atlantic Ocean to North America. Johanna was born in the Province of Pori, Finland. She lived in Turku with her family until she was nineteen. She received a little education in Finland. When she came to the United States, she could read and write only in Finnish. The only thing she could write in English was her name, and even that was troublesome for her to write.
When she made the decision to come to the United States, probably to create a better life for her and her children to come, she also made other decisions. When she left she never saw her parents or any of her sisters or brothers again, except for one brother who also came to live in the Upper Peninsula. She missed seeing some of her younger brothers and sisters growing up.
While in Finland she met William Lepisto. They decided they would be married. He came to the United States in early 1906, to reside in Hancock, Michigan, and work as a miner to earn money and establish himself before bringing his fiance here to be married. William came back to Finland to bring Johanna over to the United States in the middle of 1907. They left Finland on September 23, 1907. They were on the boat for twenty days, and arrived in New York on October 13, 1907.
When they got here they resided in Hancock, and were married in 1908.Together they had two children, Helmi and William Lepisto. They opened a tavern on Tezcuco Street, and Big Louie was a bartender there. Louie would often play with the children, holding them in his large hands and swinging them. Johanna was afraid of Louie's strength, and would often say, "Don't squeeze those kids too hard! You might hurt them." Her warnings must have worked, because the children were never hurt by the squeeze of Big Louie's hand.
William was not around long to support Johanna and the children, because he died in March of 1920. With her husband gone, and no way to support her two young kids, Johanna went to work as a cook at boardinq houses. She sold the tavern, for it was too much work as a widowed mother of two. She later went on to work at Siller and Kaleva Cafes. William, her son, went to work at an early age to help support them. He went to work at Warren Bakery on Warren Street in Hancock. Mr. Warren would often tell him to take bread and bakery home, free of charge, when a day of work was over.
Johanna's son helped support her her whole life. He lived at home until he was in his early 20's, when he married and moved to Chicago for two years. Johanna was a member of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, which is now the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Hancock. Throughout her life, Johanna worked outside the home until she met, and later married Oscar Hill. Since they were both in there 40's when they married, they never had any children together. Once when Oscar was opening a locked door with a key, was struck by lightening and as a result half of his body was paralyzed, and he was unable to speak. They then moved to her son William's house, where Johanna spent her days at his side nursing him. He died in 1955. After Oscar died Johanna continued to live with her son William and his wife Selma. They lived on Holland Street, where Johanna lived in the upstairs of the house, and her son and his wife lived in the downstairs. That house is still standing today. Johanna lived on Holland Street till she was 90 years old. She was then admitted to the Houghton County Medical Care Facility because her arteriosclerotic heart disease she had been suffering from for more than 15 years was getting worse. She was in the Medical Care Facility for three and a half years, when she died of heart failure, just a month before her ninety-fifth birthday.
Johanna Hill work hard all her life and was very giving and generous. She was a strong woman to endure the loss of two husbands. Johanna may not have been wealthy, but she was rich at heart. When she died she had four grandchildren, eight great grandchildren. She is remembered by the people who knew and loved her.
© Aimee Kempainen
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