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My Great-Grandfather

J. Eric Lassila

My great-grandfather, John Gust Lassila was born in West Helsinki, Finland, on July 25, 1884. He was the first born son of John Lassila and Liisa Katajamaki. About a year later, John had a sister, Saimi Mary, also born in Finland, only twelve miles from downtown Helsinki.

In 1889 at age five, John and his family emigrated to the United States. They came over by ship and docked in New York. From New York they took a train to Arnheim Michigan, where his family homesteaded a small farm. They felt quite at home because there were other families of Finnish descent living in the area. They raised chickens, and horses that were used to plow and clear land.

On September 12, 1895 John was given a brother, Emil. A few years later John was again the brother to a younger sister, Vieno. The family moved to Klingville area. John was lucky enough to attend grammar school in Jacobsville across the canal. When the canal was open and free of ice he would row across in a small boat. During the winter he would ski across with other children from the same area.

While in his late teens and early twenties, John worked at the Jacobsville stone quarry. He was the crane operator who loaded huge blocks of sandstone onto ships. These sandstone blocks were shipped as far away as New York City for buildings. Many of the buildings in downtown Houghton and other Copper Country cities are built with these red sandstone blocks. John also later spent four years laying rails for the Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railroad. Which had come under the control of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1890.

He must have been living in Jacobsville, because family members tell me that it was about this time John moved across the canal and built a small log cabin in Klingville. This log cabin was disassembled in the early 1970's and moved further up Klingville Road and reassembled. Today it remains a home for someone at the end of Klingville Road, although you can no longer tell that it was once a log cabin.

On June 23, 1913, a month before his twenty-ninth birthday, John married Milga Maliniemi. She was the eldest daughter of Markus Maliniemi and Emelia Benjamin. Markus was born in Finland, but Emilia was a native of Norway.

As was customary in those days, the oldest daughters in large families were often sent to other homes to work as housekeepers. Milga, being the oldest in a family of thirteen children faced this fate while still in her early teens. She was sent to live with a family in Houghton. The years spent away from her family were not happy ones. In payment for her years hard work, she was given a calf. Milga was angry to get an animal instead of monitory payment. She could have used money to purchase needed clothes or other things young girls would like. She had no use for a calf. However, her parents were angry with her for being disappointed with a calf. She was to be grateful for anything her employers gave her. After marrying, they purchased a farm and she spent her time there caring for the house, doing farm work, and raising five children: Robert, Betty, Arne, Fred (my grandfather), and Rose.

When first married John worked a job he was familiar with. He worked as a farm hand on Rice's farm. He milked cows, helped plow and plant fields, and made hay on hot summer days. John and his brother, Emil, owned the only thrashing machine in the area, they would travel from farm to farm during thrashing season using this machine to separate oat grains from their straw shafts.

John helped build the lower Portage Entry long dock along with corps of Engineer members. For about six months he helped build county roads with the Work Project Administration in 1937.

John was also a man to initiate advancement. He started the movement to bring electricity to the Klingville area. He also was one of the founders of the Copper Country Dairy Cooperative in Dollar Bay that was organized later 1940's. Farmers would bring their milk cans to Chassell and send them to Dollar Bay by train to this new modern dairy plant, and at the same time retrieve their milk cans from the shipment of the day before.

He was also a founding member of the Chassell Strawberry Growers Association Inc. founded in 1936. When the local market could no longer handle the surplus of berries, a delegation of locals was sent to Bayfield Wisconsin to see if this area could join their shipping organization. Today, this group is responsible for the July celebration, now known as the Chassell Strawberry Festival. Chassell strawberries were loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to Bayfield, Wisconsin and from there all over the country. Each strawberry farmer had his own stamp. When berries were brought to the railroad station the farmer's stamp was marked on each flat of berries he brought in.

Early farmhouses burned wood both for cooking and heat. While carrying wood into his sister's farmhouse John slipped on some ice and hit his head. John Gust Lassila died January 14, 1970 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

I am sorry that I never had the chance to talk with my great-grandfather. I can only rely on stories that my father, grandfather, and Aunt Rose have told me. In time I will be able to tell these stories to my children.

J. Eric Lassila

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