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My great-grandfather John Waisanen, born on December 8, 1878, was among the other immigrants coming to the United States around 1881 from Finland, which was currently under the Czar of Russia. Being around the age of two or three, John traveled with his parents John Lars Waisanen and Anna Pieta Waisanen and his other siblings: Paul, Tilda, Anna and Kaisa. Leaving Pudasjärvi in the province of Oulu, their destination was the Copper Country in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where there was available work, especially in the booming copper mines. Apparently, many others had heard positive things about this area. By 1920, of the 71,930 inhabitants in Houghton County, 7,961 were from Finland. Of the 6,322 residents of Keweenaw County, 814 were immigrants from Finland. John's father, John Lars Waisanen, officially became a citizen of the United States on May 21, 1888. He had brought his family to America to find a better life for all of them, hearing of the endless opportunities that lay ahead. When asked about retuming to Finland, he replied, "If things are not going well, I could not afford to return. If they are going well, why would I want to return?" They first settled in Delaware where they farmed until they bought another farm in Boston. By 1920, 25 % of the Finns in the United States were earning their living by agriculture. Of the 15,000 Finnish farms found here, 75 % were found in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. My great-grandfather John did not follow in his father's footsteps however. Rather, he went on to the Valpariso School of Business in Indiana before returning to operate stores in Rockland and South Range before eventually starting his own business in downtown Hancock, calling it Waisanen's Store For Men.
John Waisanen's sisar Tilda married Jhn Smedmon from Negaunee, Michigan, while his sister Kaisa marired a Carlson and Anna married a Hyvonen. John met Anna Still and they were mamed in 1906 or 1907 in South Range, Michigan. Anna was bom in Kestilä, also in the province of Oulu, on August 4, 1882. Her father, Matt Still was born on September 24, 1853 and died on January 28, 1929. Her mother, Kaisa Sofia Haapala, was bom on August 8, 1851 and died on October 19, 1892. John and his siblings had been raised in the Franklin Street Apostolic Lutheran Church while Anna had been a member of the St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had its affiliation with the Church of Finland. Together, they had five children: Eva, born in Rockland, Michigan on June 5, 1908; John or "Oliver", born in Rockland, Michigan on June 6, 1909, Boyu Osmo, born in South Range, Michigan on May 11, 1913; Banu or "Baun", born in South Range, Michigan on April 16, 1916; and Peter Otso, born in Hancock, Michigan on February 18, 1918. Boyu, minun isoisäni, was originally named Osmo Boyu., but he had the two names legally switched. Eva and Oliver were baptized in the St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church while Boyu, Baun, and Peter were baptized and confirmed in the Franklin Street Apostolic Lutheran Church.
Afier the death of the father John Lars Waisanen, his widow Anna Pieta went to live with their daughter Kaisa and her husband. As the story goes, they ended up throwing her out on the street, forbidding her to live with them anymore. Someone saw her crying on the street corner and told John and Anna about it. After hearing what happened, they picked her up and brought her to live with them and their children on Summit katu in Hancock until she eventually died. I can remember my grandpa Boyu, later to be given the famous nickname "Bugs", recalling when his grandmother moved in with him and his brothers and sister.
John and Anna Waisanen purchased a cottage on the Houghton Canal over eighty years ago, packing up the children to live there along the quiet waterfront during the summers. Their cottage was next door to the Eskola perhee, owned by the parents of Herbert, Estella, Sylvia, Edwin, and Irene. The two families quickly formed a friendship that has lasted throughout several generation and still continues on today. I find myself babysitting Estella's great-great-nieces every summer when they come here to visit. We cut through each other's front lawns in bare feet like past generations from our families have done throughout the years.
John and Anna set out on a voyage in 1938 to visit Finland with close friends Mr. and Mrs. Matt Kangas, Mr. and Mrs. Hiltunen and their daughter Mildred, and Mr. and Mrs. Matt Ylitalo and their daughter Gertrude, who was in college at the time. The families, all from this area, drove separately, meeting in New Jersey to leave on their three to four month excursion. They traveled on the Polish passenget liner Vatory, a cruise ship that had first class and tourist class tickets. According to Gertrude (Ylitalo) Uitti, the ship was "just wonderful". Being new and luxurious, it had bedrooms outfitted with furniture, a swimming pool, exercise room, and wonderful service, including having, your own bath drawn for you. Mrs. Uitti remembers eating a lot on the deck, seeing whales and icebergs, and waving to other passengers on ships which they passed along the way. The deck provided cables to assist the passengers when it became wet with ocean water. The dining room tables as well as the grand piano were bolted to the floor, and the tablecloths, were dampened so that the dishes would not slide off as the ship swayed from the waves. During the ten day boat ride to Copenhagen, Denmark, they experienced rough, cold weather as well as beautiful, calm, sunny days. Next they moved on to Helsinki, Finland, where they spent a week together before splitting up to tour Europe. Each farnily had their own itinerary to follow to visit old friends and relatives. Countries John and.Anna visited on their trip included France, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, and England, where they saw the "White Cliffs of Dover". They visited the site of what remained of John's old family farm in Pudasjärvi - a haybarn - where they visited with relatives, and old friends. The families met up again before returning, to the United States. Mrs. Uitti recalls how interested they all were in. the buildings of the cities because of the amazing architecture. Such a trip was affordable to the families because it was right after the Great Depression, so "money went far". They left England on a five day voyage to New York on the Ille de France, Again, the familics traveled "tourist", but there were also first, second, and third classes, on this luxurious liner. The ship was eventually stripped and used as a troop carrier during World War II before being used as the ship that sank in the movie "Titanic", which was produced around that time. When the families returned home, the men wrote articles about their trip from the journals they had kept. The articles were then printed in the Finnish newspapers in the area.
John Waisanen ran his store until 1946, at which time his son Boyu took over the business. The store was very popular with many of the local people, especially because the business was so friendly. My grandfather finally retired and sold the family store in 1975. He recently gave my brother Andy the last pair of socks he had from his store. My father did not get to know his grandfather for very long because he passed away in the early 1950's, but my dad does, remember that he was a big man who was very quiet. I am always amazed at the resemblances I have seen between the photographs of my great-arandfather John and my grandpa Boyu. Furthermore, my father looks very much like my grandpa did. In a way, every time I look at my dad, I can see a bit of John Waisanen in him. So here I am today, a jälkeläinen of Finnish ancestry which came to the Copper Country from Oulu, Finland, over one-hundred years ago. I may not completely grasp John's personal immigration experience, but I do know that his family worked hard to survive, and their sisu and determination not to give up made them successful people, making our lives easier today because of it.
© Cathy Waisanen
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