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From Finland to America (The Story of the Juha Isomäki Family)

Brooks (Jaakko) Olson

Juho Vierunketo-Porraslahti-Isomäki was born in Töysa, Finland, December 12, 1858. As a young man Juho met and married a village girl, Anna Kaisa Savolainen, who was born July 11, 1862. Juho was the third child born to Juho Kustaa Lamminmäki- Vierunketo and because the oldest son of the family inherited the land, the younger children often left home and worked for others. Another tradition of the time was for a person to have the name of the farm as their last name. That is why Juho had had at least three last names. After their marriage, Juho and Anna Kaisa built a house and the placed was called Isomäki (Big Hill).

In 1898 Juho left for America. Through the Homestead Act Juho received 160 acres of land, near the western shore of Lake Superior, in the area known as Misery Bay, eight miles east of Toivola, Michigan. At that time Misery Bay was a wilderness area and Juho had to walk through the forest to his new homestead. According to the Homestead Act rules Juho was required to clear a certain percentage of the land within five years. To help in his efforts and to earn cash, Juho worked for Matti Perälä, who owned a sawmill in the area. Juho proved to Mr. Perälä that he was a good and trustworthy worker and Mr. Perälä lent the necessary money so that Juho could send for his wife, Anna Kaisa and their children; Nestor, Albin and Senia, who Juho had not seen for four years.

While the Anna and the children were waiting for Juho to send for them, the family had to move into the city of Tampere, an industrial city, where the family worked hard. The oldest son, Nestor, at age eleven worked as a street sweeper, as well as sweeping the floors of factories.

Juho's wife and children arrived in the Copper Country in 1902 and temporarily stayed with relatives named Heikkinen in Wolverine, a mining location north of Calumet. After a few weeks Juho brought his family to Misery Bay. Because there still were no roads, they traveled from the Calumet area to Misery Bay by boat. Landing near the mouth of the Misery River, Juho and Anna Kaisa and the three children carried all their belongings through the forest to their new home. They arrived at a small, humble dwelling Juho had built. To prepare for the arrival of his family, Juho had neighbor ladies clean and prepare the home. Obviously the house needed a woman's touch because the women later remarked that they even found fish bones on the floor.

It became obvious that the house was too small for Juho and his family. His young children were now nearly adults. With the help of Nestor, the oldest son, and the rest of the family, Juho built an addition to the home, using from skills with the broadaxe, which they had learned in Finland. Although Nestor was only eighteen years old it was obvious that he was a skilled kirvesmies (a broadaxe carpenter). As more Finnish immigrants moved into the area Nestor Maki (shortened from Isomaki) gained a repution of being one of the best kirvesmies in the area.

In 1912 Nestor met and married Anna Autio, a twenty-one year old Finnish immigrant from the parish of Lappajärvi. In keeping with Finnish tradition, Anna moved into the house of Nestor's parents. Close to the time that Anna moved into the Maki home Anna Kaisa, Nestor's mother, became ill with cancer and passed away in 1913. During her illness the newly-wed Anna cared for her mother-in-law, being there was no doctor or other help. After Anna Kaisa died, Juho, along with his son, Arne, moved to a log cabin on the shore of Lake Superior.

Altogether Nestor and Anna had eight children, including my grandmother, Vieno Eveliina (Evelyn). In addition to being a master kirvesmies, Nestor was lucky since he had many talents. He forged iron into farm implements, including tongs and also made other things necessary for farming and living in the wilderness. During the winters when there was less to do on the farm, Nestor worked in the logging camps to earn cash for the family. While working there he came home once a month, walking twenty miles round trip. He had to carry a gun for protection from the bear and coyotes.

Among the farm buildings which Nestor built, was the kesäkyökki (summer kitchen). The family used the kesäkyökki during the summer, so the main house would not get hot from the wood stove. According to Grandma Evelyn Olson, the main house never got too hot, because Nestor's fine log buildings stayed cool due to the thick log walls. In the winter these buildings stayed warm for the same reason.

Farming was hard due to the lack of technology. Heavy work, such as plowing fields and pulling stumps, was done by horses. Nestor had a horse, named "Tuppu". Later on farmers began using tractors. Being a "jack of all trades", Nestor made his own "jukkeri" out of an old truck. He also made his own grapple hooks, which he hooked to the jukkeri, pulling the hay stacks to the top of the barn and into the loft.

Nestor only had a few years of education, but he taught himself English by reading magazines. He encouraged the young to get educations so that they wouldn't have to work as hard as he did. Nestor and a neighbor walked to the county seat in Ontonagon to request money for the first Misery Bay School, which Nestor helped build with his own hands.

The Maki family wasn't wealthy, but they got through life using their skills and knowledge which they obtained through hard work and determination. In 1978 my grandparents, Stuart and Evelyn Olson traveled to Finland for the first time. It was exciting for Evelyn to visit Toysa, meet relatives and visit the places where family members had lived. The house at Isomaki, where Juho and Anna Kaisa had lived was gone, but the ruins of a grainery remained, although the roof had fallen in. There on the wall one of Evelyn's cousins found a large, hand-forged key, which they presented to Evelyn, saying the key had been waiting for her to come. Once back in America, Grandpa Stuart mounted the special key on a piece of worn board from the sauna which Nestor had built, combining two pieces of history of the Maki family - one from Finland and one from America.

© Brooks Olson

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