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With the migration of the Finns to this country, coupled with the suffering and deprivation necessary to such a move, this area in the Upper Peninsula and other uninhabited areas, reached out welcoming hands to these hardy people.
The first settlers arrived here from Canada, mostly English and French. At first these pioneers built their homes on the riverbanks and in the hills along the lakes. From here they moved slowly inland and the first Finnish settlers found only a few log cabins sparsely sprinkled in the wilderness.
At the peak of the movement to the copper and iron country, about the middle of the nineteenth century, as new industries began to find footholds in the mining country, the Finns began to emigrate to farming country, to live a peaceful and independent life, as they had done in their European homeland. Calumet, Hancock, Republic, Ishpeming, Palmer, and many other mining towns were to become "feeder" points from which, under the prodding, suggesting hand of the lumber companies, the Finns began their move to unpopulated areas. Many of these people returned to the comparative ease of the mining towns they had left hopefully. However, some of the sturdy ones were not afraid of hard work and had they not built homes into wildernesses before. With typical tenacity these Early Finns began to clear the land. It was backbreaking work, but the results began to show in cleared acres and barren tree stumps. The log cabins which were to be homes mushroomed in the clearings. There were no roads, travel by foot was the only way to get from place to place. A constant smudge burns all summer long to combat the mosquitoes. During the bitter winters the fruits of the small garden plots of past summers and the wood cut from the forests provide food and warmth. Skis are the mode of travel through the snow, and sometimes they are used in the spring and summer to cross the swamps
The Finnish community grows slowly. Young people marry and set out to build their own homes and plan for the future. Without other aid than that offered by distant neighbors, sicknesses are weathered, children born, and hardships endured. Through all the difficulties these doughty people labored and conquered. The words of Saarijärvi's Paavo were strengthening in these difficult years: "The Lord tries us, but never forsakes us". They never forgot "that man shall not live by bread alone". Some of the settlers had New Testaments and records indicate two Bibles. These were read and studied diligently when the days work was done.
Cedarville, on the northernmost shore of Lake Huron, was home to some Finnish-born Swedes even before Rudyard was a reality. Church activities had begun. During 1898-99 a preacher by the name of Erick Johnson served the territory, including Rudyard and Sault Ste. Marie. He served in the area until 1906 and during this time performed the first baptism at the home of H. Halonen and the first funeral service recorded, this being the father of Gust Nayback (Kustaa Nyypakka). The Methodist minister David Ruotsalainen also served the area around Sault Ste. Marie.
As the years passed, church work began to take on a more serious aspect among the Finns. Rev. J. K. Nikander and Rev. J. J. Hoikka stopped in the vicinity, at the request of the people, and held services. On July 15, 1902, during one of Rev. Nikander's visits, a meeting of the Finns was called with the intention of establishing a congregation. Pastor Nikander was the chairman of the meeting. Present were 18 people, listed in the minutes as follows: John Halonen, Henry Halonen, Andrew Kemppainen, Matti Kukkola, Kalle Halonen, Matti Wähä-Aho, John Niemi, Tuomas Jacobson, John Pollari, John Kaunisto, Elias Hakola, Matti Steikari, Frans Rajamäki, Matti Mäyry, Mikko Kompsi, John Kovalainen, Freeti Mäki and Liinus Hilli. (Apparently there were no women present; possibly, however, the custom of not entering their names in the minutes was being observed.)
The meeting approved the name of the congregation to be: St. James Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rudyard, Chippewa County, Michigan. During this meeting the matters of by-laws and affiliation with the Suomi Synod were discussed. Dues were set at twenty-five cents each month from each family. This marked the beginning of active, organized church work in Rudyard among the Finns. Rev. Nikander received ten dollars for his services at this time of organization.
Congregational activity expanded, though the income was very small. Every penny was carefully accounted for; this might best be exemplified by the fact that the treasurer had to post a one hundred dollar bond to insure proper care of the money!
In the spring of 1903 W. E. Davidson was approached with the idea of giving forty acres of land for the purpose of building a church. Rev. J. J. Hoikka, on a visit here, undertook completion of this mission and on June 24,1903, he informed the congregation that Mr. Davidson had agreed to donate the acres requested with these conditions: that a church be constructed on the land and that it be constructed as soon as possible.
New members appeared in the church books: Mänttä, Korhonen, Haapala, Mattson, Sorvala, Kovala, Augustson, Mäkäräinen, Perander, Perälä and Näsi. 1904 and 1905 mark a definite enlarging of the congregation. Plans for the church are under way; timbers are cut from the wooded land and sawed into lumber; monies are collected into the building fund. The first year's income is recorded as $85.44 and the amount of $58.98 was paid out.
The first indication of women in the congregation appears in the records dated January 7, 1906 with the mention of the organization of the Ladies' Aid at the home of Oskar and Naimi Mänttä. There were six women present - three Susannas, two Marys and one Naimi. Many blessings have followed from this small beginning. The Aid has expanded, just as other activities in the church. As we prepare for our 50th anniversary it becomes more obvious than ever that the labors of the Aid cannot be measured in dollars, but rather in thousands.
When the treasury showed a balance of $213.60, it was decided to begin building. The work was contracted to Matt Steikar for the sum of $1.50 a day. By spring of 1906 the church was completed, but the pews and pulpit were not obtained until two years later.
On July 6, 1906, the congregation called Rev. John Wargelin to serve as pastor for the monthly salary of $10, the stipulations being that he perform the pastoral duties including Sunday worship services. The first deacons were elected this same year: Maikki Kompsi, Kalle Halonen, Antti Kemppainen, Iisakki Mattson and Heikki Mäkäräinen. Toward the end of 1907 Rev. Wargelin left Rudyard and his successor was Rev. Jacob Mänttä. During his pastorate the congregation purchased eighty acres of land for $1,500. The land was plowed and planted and volunteer workers from the congregation reaped the fields after it had been cleared and a barn for the grain had bin built. But this willingness to work for the church soon waned and the congregation was forced to rent the land, sometimes for a share of the crop and sometimes it was cash rental. After some time, the board found it more advantageous to sell these acres.
Though the congregation found it hard to work its own land, it did not find it impossible to help other congregations who were sorely pressed for funds. Money was a scarce item but good will abounded. On January 27, 1909, Rev. J. Mänttä was called to Haff, or Alexander, Mich., to arrange the details for a new congregation. With Rev. Mänttä acting as chairman, the following individuals were elected to serve as the first administrative board of this congregation: Chairman, David Mäkinen; Secretary, Kalle Kuusela; Treasurer, John Rantanen. This small congregation elected to be a subsidiary of St James Church. The church record lists the members to be: Isaac Virtanen, Marja Virtanen, Kalle Kuusela, Julius Rantanen, Emma Rantanen, Isaac Lehto, Hilma Lehto, John Rantanen, David Mäkinen, Alexandra A. Mäkinen, Efraim Rukkila, Matti Pennanen, Juho Kustaa Huhtala, Isaac Mäki, Frank Virtanen, Frank Silmu, Nestor Lampi, Hulda Hietikko, Aisakki Mäki, Hilma Mäki, Nestor Sjöroos, and Nikanor Aalto. From these twenty-two members were selected a church board, council, and a Sunday School. The teachers for the Sunday School are listed as Kalle Kuusela, Hilma Lehto and Hilma Mäki. Salary for the minister was set at nine dollars monthly and church dues were to be twenty-five cents a month from every adult member.
Present records on hand do not indicate how long this congregation remained active, but it can be assumed it dissolved with the separation of Rev. J. Mimi from St. James congregation.
In July, 1911, a call was sent out for a new minister, with the hope that Rudyard, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Newberry and Grand Marais might form one large pastorate. Rudyard agreed to pay a salary of twenty-five dollars monthly and the minister would hold services twice monthly, preferably on Sundays, and perform other necessary churchly services.
Because of a lack of funds it became necessary to borrow money. However, the by-laws had to be amended to allow this; a committee consisting of Matti Mäyry, Matti Hill, Gust Johnson, John Kaunisto, Herman Savunen, Mikko Kompsi, Robert Kangas, Elias Ruona, Kalle Halonen and William Piippo have signed these amended by-laws.
Rev. Otto Stadius arrived to be the new pastor, but he left in about one year's time-the exact date is not mentioned in the records.
This period seems to be a turning point where children are concerned. The first summer school, taught by Lempi Ruona and Lempi Rantanen, was held for a four week period. The teachers were paid a monthly salary of thirty dollars each.
In 1913; Rev. Matti Luttinen came to be the pastor of St. James. During his stay, church activities took long strides forward. A choir was organized under the directorship of Mrs. Selma Luttinen, the pastor's wife.
Then the decision was made in 1914 to build a parsonage and in 1916 a small chapel was built to accommodate the membership of St. James living north of Rudyard. Bazars were discontinued. Dues were elevated to fifty cents a month per family. In 1919 a bell tower was erected on the church and foundations of cement replaced the old blocks of wood. It was a period of forging ahead.
Rudyard became independent of Sault Ste. Marie and Newberry, and paid its own minister a salary of one hundred dollars monthly. As is to be expected, a decline followed. Faith in the Almighty turned to doubt. Rev. Luttinen left the congregation. For his successor, Rev. Lauri Ahlman was approached but refused the call because he could not accept the conditions set forth by the congregation.
Rev. Otto E. Maki arrived to serve St. James Church in April, 1924. He also agreed to serve the congregation of Copper Cliff, Ontario. Shepherding the congregation was a heavy burden fur the young pastor. With boots on his feet and a scythe over his shoulder he could be found leading the men in the soggy, muddy fields desperately hurrying to get the grain into the barns. The mode of travel was still mainly by foot, for there were very few automobiles in the area.
Visiting ministers and teachers were guests in St. James pulpit. Professor A. Pietilä of Finland preached a service and told eager hearers news from their homeland. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the congregation was celebrated at the home of Oskar Mänttä with Rev. Haapanen as guest speaker. In 1929 Rev. Maki resigns from the pastorate.
For two years St. James was without a minister. but visiting pastors held services and various church organizations sponsored programs, so activity did not come to a standstill. Rev. Ahlman held confirmation classes and seminarian Douglas Ollila was teacher of a sumtber school. During this time Rev. F. Koski of Canada and Rev. Carl Tamminen from Suomi College filled the pulpit on occasion. The Bethel Lutheran Men's Choir from Ishpeming gave a concert in St. James Church.
On August 23, 1931, Rev. S. Halkola was chosen to be the next pastor and he arrived to take up his duties on December 13, 1931. This was a period of renovation and addition. The church choir took a very active part in church functions, giving concerts in neighboring churches, both English and Finnish. The eighty acres of land were sold for the sum of $1,750. The by-laws were adjusted to meet the needs of the congregation and were translated into Finnish. Dean A. Malmivaara of Finland was a visitor in Rudyard and in the church. Rev. A. O. Kuusisto of Minneapolis was the guest speaker at the fall festival. Arriving in 1942 to be pastor was Rev. A. H. Saarisuu. He remained only until December, 1943.
Sem. Karlo Keljo spent the summer of 1943 filling the vacancy left. This time was a notable one for the young seminarian, for it was here he performed his first baptism, his first funeral service, and his first wedding service. To his great credit, it should be mentioned that during this summer, mid-week services in English were initiated and the young people of the church were organized.
Rudyard, Sault Ste. Marie and Dafter had been considering uniting into one pastorate and on July 4, 1944, Rev. Onni A. Koski was elected pastor of this newly-formed pastorate. Visiting ministers and seminarians during this time are listed in the records as Rev. Otto E. Maki, Rev. Eino Tuori, Rev. J. E. Hattula and seminarian David Halttunen.
With Rev. O. Koski's installation came the day of worship services in English and Finnish. The chapel was sold, there being no further need of it what with improved road conditions and the method of foot travel transferred to automobiles.
Rev. Koski accepted a call to the congregation in Marquette and his successor was unanimously agreed upon - Rev. Viktor Kuusisto. His labors were to be short and meaningful, for on Mother's Day, May 12, 1946, while in the pulpit, Pastor Kuusisto suffered a heart attack. With his remaining strength he struggled to the altar and blessed his congregation with his last words to them: "The Lord be with you". Certainly that one line sermon will never be forgotten. Rev. Kuusisto died in War Memorial Hospital, Sault Ste. Marie, where he was taken from St. James.
During all these hours and years of turbulence, the knowledge that light always follows the darkness was a particular comfort. After the untimely death of Pastor Kuusisto, there were visitors to bring the word of God and salvation to this congregation. Among them were Dean E. Vuornos from Lahti, Finland, and Päivö Parviainen from Helsinki and seminarians Henry Kangas and Olaf Rankinen from Suomi College.
The subject of building a new church had been mentioned often, but the trend had been toward doubt and sneering. Still the idea grew and finally a building finance committee was elected to pursue the subject further. The first meeting was held at the home of H. P. Lankinen. There were five people present: H. P. Lankinen, Emil Koski, Victor Kallio, Jr., Mrs. Lila Augustson and Mrs. Esther Oja. Officers were elected: Chairman, H. P. Lankinen; secretary, Esther Oja; and treasurer, Lila Augustson. Additional help was to be given by Mr. Koski and Mr. Kallio. The first gift of money was the sum of five dollars from Elias Ruona. This beginning marked the adventure of building the new church. New members were added to the committee in February, 1947: Impi Mäyry, Hilja Mäyry, Helmi Erfourth, William Hakola and Ernest Kujala. Later, Elias Ruona, Cecelia Yli, Henry Hendrickson, Sanna Kaunisto and Siine Lankinen joined the committee. William Hakola, Elias Ruona and Henry Hendrickson asked to be relieved of their duties. This committee worked eagerly and tirelessly toward the goal of the new church building. When Rev. O. Hallberg arrived to be the new pastor of the congregation, the plan was well under way and activity was apparent everywhere. Rev. Hallberg was added to the committee membership.
Every effort suffered setbacks and disappointments at one time or another with spiteful remarks and disbelief rampant. Without regard for the doubting Thomases and renewing their faith with the committee labored on. Much financial and moral aid came from the tireless Ladies' Aid which embroidered, sewed, knit, crocheted and baked for coffee socials and sales, netting handsome sums for the treasury. Another notable contribution was made by the men who voluntarily cut a carload of pulpwood. Once again the women were on hand to serve dinner and coffee to the men in the woods. It is fitting that this record lists these individuals: Edwin Augustson, Henry Hendrickson, Kenneth Hendrickson, Henry Hakola, Arvi Hakola, Emit O. Hakola, John Hakola, Eino Halonen, Wesley Hill, Arvi Johnson, Uno Johnson, Matti Kujala, Victor Kallio, Emil Koski, Ensio Koski, William Kukkola, George Melvin, Arvid Mäyry, Eli Mäyry, William Mäkäräinen, Elmer Nelson, Jalmer Nelson, Wilhart Nayback, John Oksala, Emil Oksala, Elias Ruona, Arne Steikar, Everet Steikar, John Wuori, Cecil Erfourth, John Gough, Isaac Mattson, William Mattson, Onni Piippo, Toivo Salo, Charles Halonen, Hans P. Lankinen, Lila Augustson, Helmi Erfourth, Ellen Hill, Lempi Johnson, Siine Lankinen, Hilja Mäyry, Impi Mäyry and Esther Oja.
With money in the treasury, the next thing to do was to buy a plot of land for the erection of the building. Several meetings of the committee were held to discuss the merits of suggested sites and finally ten and one-half lots were purchased for $1,650.00 immediately to the east of the high school. The parsonage had been unoccupied for sometime arid was beginning to deteriorate, it was decided to sell the house and land. It was purchased by Arthur G. Quinn for $4,000.
The church envelopes were adopted. The Guild is formed for the benefit of the younger women.
Dean Urho Muroma from Helsinki, Finland, on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada, arrived in Rudyard to rest and recover from an illness, spoke in the church. Rev. Toivo Harjunpää is also a visitor in Rudyard.
In May 1951, the basement of the new church was dug, the sewer laid and water piped into the basement. The building forged ahead and the roof was laid. With the president of the Suomi Synod, Dr. John Wargelin, as guest speaker, the cornerstone of the church was dedicated. The interior was the next project. Memorial windows were obtained, the kitchen furnished, the restrooms installed and enthusiastic effort bloomed on every side.
Rev. O. Hallberg resigned and left the congregation on November 30, 1951.
Page 28-34 in Golden jubilee publication of St. James Ev. Lutheran Church Rudyard, Mich., 1902-1952, ed. by Hans P. Lankinen, Laila Augustson, Hilja Mayry & Victor Kallio Jr. Rudyard, Michigan 1952, 99 p.
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