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Oscar and Wilhelmina Poyhonen

Annette Pietila

During the late 1800's and the early 1900's there were many immigrants who came to the United States to rid themselves of the poverty of 19th Century Scandinavia. The food was poor and hard to get, and there was a shortage of jobs for the men in the mines to support their families. Among the thousands that immigrated were my grandparents, Oscar and Wilhelmina Pöyhönen.

Oscar (Petter Oskar) Pöyhönen was born on November 26, 1882 in Norbotten län, Sweden. His Swedish perish, but Finnish name was due to the closeness of Sweden and Finland. The Pöyhönens lived near the border in the Tornio Valley region, and were influenced by their Finnish neighbors. Oscar's parents, Erik and Wilhelmina Pöyhönen had two children, Oscar and Isaac. Oscar's father made two trips to the U.S. during his life. The first was just a short trip, probably to get a job and earn enough to take his family overseas. However, the second trip in 1890, kept him working as a carpenter, building houses, and a cabinetmaker. A house that he built over a hundred years ago still stands on the comer of Franklin and Elevation Streets in Hancock. Erik and Wilhelmina lived in America until their deaths. Erik died in 1892, only two years after his return.

Oscar followed his father to the United States in July of 1902. He married Hulda Maria Mettavainio in 1904 or 1905. Living in Hancock, Oscar supported his wife and the three born to them by working for the Quincy Mining Company. Their children were Gotha, Rudolf and an infant baby, who didn't live long enough to be named. The children's mother died of complications shortly after the baby's birth in 1910 or 1911, and the baby followed her a few days later. Oscar had the infant and mother buried in the same coffin. He was devastated and helpless after his loss, so he took his two children, Gotha and Rudolf back to Sweden in March of 1911. He lived with his mother, who helped care for the children.

Upon his return to Sweden, Oscar was asked by his sister-in-law, Eufemia (Tapani) Poyhonen to bring greetings to her sister Wilhelmina Tapani. Eufemia (called Mia) was living in the United States with her husband, Oscar's brother, Isaac. Oscar went to bring the regards to Wilhelmina, who was working as a piika at her uncle's house. She kept the house, did farm work, and took care of his general store. This encounter was the fist time Oscar and Wilhehnina met, and then continued to keep in touch by letter. Wilhelmina Tapani was born on August 22, 1887 in Övertorneo, Sweden. She was the fourth of six children to Johann and Kristiin Tapani.

During Oscar's stay in Sweden, Wilhelmina was planning to come to the United States with her brother, Jacob Tapani, and cousins, Anna and Alfred Hietala in 1912. The four of them were to leave Sweden in April of 1912 on the British luxury liner "Titanic", which sank on April 15 after colliding with an iceberg. They would have been on that ship but Oscar, wanting to join them on their voyage, had to take care of matters in Sweden and couldn't leave until June. Oscar and Wilhelmina were planning to be married and wanted to spend their life in the U.S., so Wilhelmina and her cousins waited for him. Oscar decided to come to the U.S., marry Wilhelmina, get settled, and then return to Sweden to get Gotha and Rudolph, who he left in his mother's care.

These five voyagers entered Boston, Massachusetts on July 5, 1912 and continued on to Hancock, where they intended to live. The Reverend Paul A. Heideman married Oscar and Wilhelmina on August 3, 1912 at the home of their brother and sister, Isaac and Eufemia Pöyhönen. Oscar and his wife lived near Isaac and his wife in adjoining apartments in a house on Pine Street in Hancock. They also lived together in a house on White Street for a couple of years. Being brothers and sisters, these four were very close and lived well together. They spent a great part of their lives near each other. Oscar and Wilhelmina moved into a house of their own in May of 1917 on Elevation Street, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

Oscar and Wilhelmina together had eleven children, between the years of 1914 and 1933. Their names are Elvie, Edna, Viola, Arthur, Ina, Erma (my grandmother), Martha and Mildred (twins), Lillian, Ruth, and Ray. Oscar had fourteen children all together, counting the three from his first marriage.

Oscar supported his family by working a variety of jobs. First he worked for the Quincy Mining Company. Then, throughout the rest of his life he worked for Michigan Smelters, Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, W.P.A. (during the depression) and the City of Hancock. Between the years of 1917 and 1919, Oscar and Isaac Poyhonen, Isaac Walstrom, and Henry Daavettila owned a grocery store called "The People's Market". It was located in the cellar of Oscar's neighbor's house on Elevation Street. He stopped working in December of 1950 to care for his wife, who had a stroke in June of that same year. Oscar was ready to retire anyway, being he was 68 at the time.

Oscar's original plan to retum to Sweden, to get his two children after his marriage with Wilhelmina, didn't work out. There was a Copper Country Miner's Strike in 1913-1914, so Oscar had no money to afford the fare for his children's voyage. This strike was followed by World War I (Aug. 1914-Nov. 1918). During this time, Oscar bought tickets and arrangements were made for the children to come over, but traveling on the Atlantic Ocean was very dangerous, so the fare was canceled. After the war was over and conditions improved for Gotha and Rudolf to come to the U.S., they didn't want to come. Gotha ended up coming to Hancock in October of 1924. Rudolf stayed to care for his grandmother, Wilhelmina Pöyhönen.

Oscar's life, like any other immigrant from Scandinavia, was a hardship. He had to leave his family in Sweden to find a home and start working, hoping to save enough money to bring them over. He led a similar life-style to many that came over from that area. It wasn't an easy life, but it was better than the conditions that they left behind them.

© Annette Pietila

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