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In the year 1900 the first Finnish settlers came to Kaleva, which at that time was known as Manistee Crossing. More came in 1901 and 1902, but in greater numbers not until 1903 and later.
Life for these pioneers was not easy. Many of them came here empty-handed, though with hearts full of hope and courage. They were sustained by the thought of a home and a piece of ground away from the hustle and noise of the city. They did not have awaiting them fertile fields and beautiful homes. In fact, many of them were compelled to clear space on which to erect themselves and their families some sort of shelter after their arrival here. Life for these sturdy pioneers was a struggle, and though they labored hard their incomes were very meager.
While they were forced to struggle so desperately for a livelihood, they realized that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. As a consequence, these God-fearing fathers and mothers when God led them here, like Abraham of old, built an altar for the Lord - laid the foundation for Christian education through the Christian Church here in Kaleva, of which our present church activity is the result.
The organization meeting of the congregation was held on January 12, 1902. A record of those who attended is not available but we believe the following list to be quite accurate: John Jaaska, Antero Riippa, John Haksluoto, Jacob Lemponen, Antti Kantola, Matti Kivimaa. John Hautala, Henrik Penttila, Isak Holso, John Wickman, Matti Kemppainen, John Kuuttila, Armas Kemppainen, Jacob Nyman, Matti Rantala, Matti Posso, Jacob Oja, J. E. Saari, and J. Antila. The meeting was conducted by J. E. Saari, with Antero Riippa as secretary. The congregation was organized under the name "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kaleva". It was united at the time of its organization with the Suomi Synod and incorporated the same year.
Sunday School held its first session on February 16, 1902. In the beginning it convened in town only but as the congregation expanded, branches were arranged into different areas, at times into eleven districts. When modern transportation made it possible. Sunday School as a whole has assembled in the church. One of those who have been real long-term workers in Sunday School is Fred Jouppi.
The oldest of the organizations within the church is the Sewing Circle which came into being on March 6, 1902. Today it is known as the Senior Sewing Circle. This organization has been a very important factor in the life of the congregation, not only because of the financial support it has given but it has also played a significant part in its religious life. In the early years it was practically a "must" for the existence of the congregation. The first officers were Hendriika Ketonen and Maria Riippa. - Anna Stenberg, who is still among the living, has served perhaps the longest term as an officer, having held the presidency for about 20 years.
During the early days of the congregation all meetings were held in the homes. In December 1902, a hall which was built by the combined action of the Temperance Society Kalevatar, organized the same day as the church, and of the congregation was available. It was not deemed wise to erect a church at that time due to lack of funds. The Temperance Hall was used by the congregation for its meetings and as a place of worship until the church was built.
The church was built in 1913. Dedication services were held on December 28, 1913, with Dr. J. K. Nikander, president of the Suomi Synod at that time, officiating. He was assisted by Rev. J. Wargelin, pastor of the church. It was a joyous time. God had granted His blessing so that the hope of a church edifice had been realized. Salomon Pihl, one of the oldest living members of our congregation, laid the plans for the building. Repairs and renovations have been made from time to time.
The parsonage was acquired in 1919 through the purchase of the home built by Dr. A. Kononen while serving the congregation. It has been gradually modernized by improvements made through the years.
Rev. Airaksinen, pastor of Calumet Bethlehem church at the time, was the first pastor who served the newly organized congregation. Others who have served the congregation temporarily are Pastors J. Maatta, J. J. Hoikka, R. Hartman, and K. H. Mannerkorpi. The pastors who served in a permanent capacity are A. Riippa 1903-1910, J. Wargelin 1910-1916, A. Kononen 1916-1919, A. O. Kuusisto 1920-1925, A. Marin 1926-1943, Anton Korhonen 1944-1946, A. M. Karjala 1947-1949, W. J. Kukkonen 1950, and Eino Vehanen 1950-.
During Dr. J. Wargelin's pastorate, the Jennings congregation, now the Lake City St. John's, was organized, and became a part of the Kaleva parish, under the care of the Kaleva pastor. Even today the Kaleva pastor makes regular trips to St. John's of Lake City. The congregation of East Tawas was also a member of the parish for some time but in recent years the pastor goes there only on call whenever the need arises.
As we look back to the early history of our congregation it is difficult for us who live in these modern times, to realize the conditions that existed at that time, to visualize the hardships which, for instance, Dr. Wargelin was forced to contend with in serving our congregation from Republic. The intervening distance was long and tedious, the congregation here dispersed. It is told that Pastor Wargelin baptized children in the late hours of the night, even into the morning hours because there wasn't sufficient time during the day and his stay here was limited. He traveled by foot or horses, often through deep snows, in storms and bitter cold. It was love toward God and the work of His kingdom!
To Rev. and Mrs. Marin belongs the distinction of having served the congregation over the longest period of time, almost 18 years. It was a period of advancement and growth. New activities were entered upon. The Bethany Sisters, Junior Y.P.C.A., Luther League and Men's Brotherhood were organized under Rev. and Mrs. Marin's supervision. The Mission Circle also began its functions as an official body. The use of the English language along with the Finnish was adopted. Their manifold influence was felt in all phases of the church. The names of Rev. and Mrs. Marin are interwoven into the history of our golden jubilee congregation.
Our recollections would not be complete did we not mention "The Young People's Christian Association Koitto". "Koitto" was organized on March 25, 1916, under the auspices of Pastor Kononen, and was active for 30 years. Its work was varied and estimable. The choir, mixed quartette, and junior Sewing Circle were originated under its supervision. With the decline of the Finnish language among the young people, "Koitto" was replaced by the Luther League. The Junior Sewing Circle has undergone some changes, and is now known as the Ladies' Aid. We can not recall the junior Sewing Circle without bringing to mind one of its most enthusiastic presidents, Mrs. Siiri Kuusisto. Those were the days we stitched and served!
The present officers of the congregation are President Einar Hagelberg, Vice-President Fred Jouppi, Secretary Weikko Pihl, Vice-Secretaries Minnie Marttila and Esther Puustinen (minutes are written in both English and Finnish languages), Secretary of the Treasury Eero Kuuttila, Treasurer John Jouppi, and President of the Board of Trustees Ferdinand Kaskinen. Pastor Vehanen is President of the Church Council. - May it be mentioned here that Eli Lake, who preceded the present president, served the congregation as vice-president and president for about 11 years without interruption.
On this golden anniversary, the congregation remembers with respect and love the pastors who have served it and sown the seed of God's word into its midst; also the pioneers, the fathers and mothers, founders of the church whose firm footsteps are still evident in the life of our church. Little did they realize that out of that small beginning would grow an institution such as our church is today, and what a powerful influence it would be to the community. It has stood as a beacon shedding its rays of light on the stormy seas of life.
We rejoice in the fact that we are sons and daughters of these God-fearing people. Many of them have passed away. But they left us a noble heritage. May we be true to this trust and with God's help carry on the work so nobly begun.
Let us praise the Lord on this our golden jubilee anniversary for the boundless riches of His grace!
Page 11-14 in: The Golden Jubilee Publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Kaleva, Michigan. 1902-1952. 1952.
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