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My Great Grandfather and Grandmother

Clayton Levanen


My great grandpa and grandma (Johan and Maria) lived in Finland in the 1800's. Johan was the son of Tahvo Levanen. His mother died when he was a young boy and he had no full brothers or sisters, from a first marriage of his father he had five or six sisters, and one half brother. One of his half sisters named Miina, who took care of him after his mother died.

Johan married Maria Piispanen who was born Nov 1, 1884 in Leppävirta, near Kuopio, in the east central part of Finland. Johan also came from that area. Maria's father was Juho Piispanen (born in 1858- died in 1901) and her mother was Ida Hiltunen (born in 1860- died in 1932). Juho and Ida Piispanen were married in 1881 near Kuopio. Ida's twin sister, Anna Louiisa, married Juho's brother Lassi Piispanen, and these two couples raised their families together on the Hiltunen farm near Kuopio.

Maria was the second in a family of eight girls who were all raised on this home place called Mäenpää (Hilltop). Relatives still reside on this farm to this day (2000).

Johan and Maria were married in Helsinki on June 5th 1904. After living there a short time they moved to the little town of Karhula in southern Finland. After much pleading Johan persuaded Maria to move to America. So in 1908 with two small children, Elsie and Martin, they made the slow journey across the ocean. The ship was crowded, and when the homemade sour dough bread was gone, the children were fretful. When the ship finally docked, Johan decided to reward his wife for moving to America, and bought her all the bananas she could eat. Maria had never seen or tasted bananas before, but she liked them. However this supplied her desire for them for her entire life.

Johan & Maria then settled in Franklin Mine, Houghton County, Michigan where he again worked in the mines, where other foreigners also found work.

After moving a few times they finally settled in Boston Mine Location, between Hancock and Calumet, in 1920. Eventually their children numbered eleven. Johan was happy and a bit eccentric. He taught his six boys and five girls the rudiments and value of hard work and honest living. However being restless by nature and laboring a deep abiding love for his native Finland, he entreated with all earnestness his wife and children to move back to Finland, which was unanimously opposed. Finally, about 1926 Johan bought a ticket and left by himself, returning several months later. Now Johan worked with his boys on his farm more contently. It was Maria, though, who ran the business from the financial end. Her enterprising mind kept the entire family busy, and in the process, brought in cash. Such projects included boarding miners, tending sauna for paying customers, and selling dairy products.

During the Depression in 1929 Maria organized the family labor and began a full-scale milk delivery business. More milk cows were added to the herd and deliveries were made to Hancock and Houghton. This lasted about thirteen years. In about 1947 the government decided to build an airport and offered to purchase farmland from Johan. Johan sold the farm to the government. Johan was a man of simple tastes, with a firm faith in the providence of his god. He died on September 5th 1956. Mary too, with quiet determination, guided her family through times both good and lean. Her subtle sense of humor never masked her strong and abiding faith. She passed away on January 23rd 1963. Both Johan and Maria are buried in Calumet Michigan.

© Clayton Levanen

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