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A Brief History of the College

Edward J. Isaac

Modern Finnish immigration into the United States dates back to the 1860's. True, there were earlier isolated Finns or Finnish groups. We read of Finns settling in San Francisco and New Orleans in the 1850's. They were mostly seamen who had decided to settle in the pioneer country of the West.

The actual stream of immigration seems to have begun in 1864 when a group of Finns came to Red Wing, Minnesota, from whence they spread out to other communities such as Franklin, Cokato and Holmes City. These people came primarily from northern Norway, attracted to this country by the promise of free homestead lands, which was drawing hundreds of Scandinavians into the rich farmlands of Minnesota, Iowa and other areas.

Another stream of immigration flowed into the Copper Country of Michigan around the same time. This section was fast rising to the position of the copper center of the world. It is one of the very few regions in the world where native copper, that is, pure copper, is found, and at one time was the only region where it was found in any quantity. Prehistoric copper mines are still to be seen in the district. The white man's mining undertakings date back to the 1840's. The Quincy Mining Company began operations in 1856 on Quincy Hill, about a mile from the city of Hancock.

A shortage of manpower due to the Civil War and the increase in the demand for copper led the copper mining companies to recruit miners from northern Norway, where copper mines were in operation. The agent of the copper mining companies succeeded in 1864 in inducing one hundred miners to emigrate to this country. The majority of these were Norwegians, some Swedes and Finns. In May of 1865, thirty Finns left Trondheim, Norway, and arrived in Hancock on June 23.

From this beginning the numbers increased constantly as friends and relatives urged others to join their ranks. Eventually the number of Finns increased so rapidly that they far outnumbered both Norwegians and Swedes. The majority of them came from northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. It is to be noted that there was a large number of Finns and Finnish-speaking communities on the northeastern borders of the two countries last mentioned.

The religious life of these immigrants prompted the organization of the first church on July 16, 1867, at Ouincy. This was a joint church, embracing in its membership Norwegians, Swedes and Finns, and was known as "The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Quincy and the surrounding districts in Hancock, Michigan". This arrangement proved satisfactory for the time, although the pastors were Norwegian.

As the Finns increased in number and they felt more and more the need for a man who could minister to them in their own language, an appeal was sent to Finland. The call was accepted by the Rev. A. E. Backman, who arrived in Hancock on Sept. 10, 1876, and served the Finns of the Copper Country until 1883, when he returned to Finland. His work as the only Finnish pastor among the Finns in this country led him to journey as far as Minnesota and Ohio to minister to their spiritual needs.

An important factor in the religious life of the early settlers in the Copper Country was the Laestadian - later known as the Apostolic Lutheran - movement. This movement had its roots in a revival originating among the Finns in northern Sweden and Norway, near the northwestern borders of Finland, in the year 1845. It spread chiefly into Finland. The revival was still at its height when the emigration began, and naturally many of those coming here from those sections had embraced Laestadianism. The rapid advance of the movement was due in great measure to the lay preachers who, as missionaries, preached in the simple language of the people. As with many revival movements in frontier regions, the movement was characterized by considerable religious zeal, and developed certain unique forms of religious expression. Strong feeling arose between the Laestadians and non-Laestadians both in Finland and in America. This resulted in the former's breaking away from the afore-mentioned Quincy Scandinavian church and organizing their own church in 1873, which thus came to be the first exclusively Finnish church in America.

The Laestadians emphasized certain doctrines that were not acceptable to the others. Their religious ardor created a great gulf between themselves and those accustomed to the established church of Finland. They insisted upon preachers possessing the Holy Spirit. And, as they had been accustomed to hearing lay preachers for the most part in the old country, they were not only satisfied with lay preachers, but looked with suspicion upon an educated ministry. The others again could accept nothing but an educated ministry. This, as well as other practices and doctrinal emphases, naturally led to a line of separation which was destined to have important repercussions later on. When Backman, therefore, came to America, he found the Finns divided into two irreconcilably hostile religious groups.

The first quarters of the College in West Hancock.

Backman's departure to Finland in 1883 on account of poor health created a vacancy which was not filled until January, 1885, when the Rev. J. K. Nikander arrived to be pastor of the Hancock and Calumet Finnish Evangelical Lutheran churches.

In the year 1883, the Finnish settlement in Astoria, Oregon, called as its pastor the Rev. J. J. Hoikka, who had received his training at Augustana College and Seminary and had been ordained for Finnish work by the Augustana Synod. Leaving Astoria in 1885, he came to Republic, Michigan, and became a co-worker of Pastor Nikander. In 1888, the Rev. K. L. Tolonen, a former missionary to Africa, arrived in Ishpeming, Michigan, to serve the church in Ishpeming and surrounding territory. As the immigration to the Copper Country had greatly increased and a large number of Finns had settled in Calumet, the people of Calumet decided in 1889 to organize their own church to be independent of Hancock. The Rev. J. W. Eloheimo, who had succeeded Hoikka in Astoria, was called to serve the new pastorate.

Beginnings of the Synod

By 1889 there were four pastors in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan within one hundred miles. These men met from time to time for fellowship and for discussion of the problems arising with the rapid increase of Finnish immigrants. Prior to this, in 1888, there had been some conversations and newspaper articles on the need for uniting the Finnish Lutheran churches in America into a central body. Pastor Hoikka was the leading advocate for such organization. Eventually Bishop Gustaf Johansson of Finland was drawn into the discussion, as there was a question whether such a central church body should have a synodical or an episcopal form of church government. Many were accustomed to bishops in Finland, but others, such as pastor Hoikka, had become acquainted with the synodical form as it was in the Augustana Synod and strongly advocated a synod. Bishop Johansson seems to have favored a synod against the episcopacy, in view of conditions in this country.

Old Main, dedicated January 21, 1900.

Out of the meetings of the four pastors, who had often talked of the need of a closer church union, was born the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, or Suomi Synod. The men had met at Ishpeming on November 7, 1889, and made preliminary plans for a synod: the name for the proposed synod was adopted, and arrangements were made for a future meeting. On December 17, 1889, they met again in Calumet, adopted a constitution and wrote the articles of incorporation, which were filed with the Secretary of State of Michigan. They elected a consistory of four members: J. W. Eloheimo, president; J. K. Nikander, secretary; K. L. Tolonen, vice-president, and J. J. Hoikka, notary. The first funds for the newly organized synod came from Astoria, Oregon, where, in 1888, there had been organized a Finnish-American Mission Society, for the purpose of fostering a church union and sponsoring missionary work among the Finns. Upon learning of the plans for Suomi Synod, the Society turned over its treasury ($110.82) to the Synod, and thereafter ceased to function. Vice-consul Gustaf Wilson of Portland, Oregon, served as treasurer of the earlier organization.

The consistory mentioned above called a meeting of all those congregations interested in forming a synod for March 25, 1890, in Calumet. Nine congregations were represented at this first meeting of the Suomi Synod. Three congregations, Calumet, Hancock and Ishpeming, had formed the nucleus of the new synod through official action. Pastor Nikander was elected president of the synod. The need for founding an institution of learning for the preparation of ministers for the Synod was expressed at this first meeting and provision made for it in the first constitution.

Beginnings of the College

Mr. G. F. Bergstadi of Minneapolis showed a keen interest in the proposal for a college, and already in 1890 suggested some sites in St. Paul. A committee of three, consisting of J. W. Eloheimo, K. L. Tolonen and J. H. Jasberg, was chosen by the consistory to study the possibilities there. Failure to receive local support for such a proposed institution seems to have been the reason for rejecting the St. Paul site, although the synodical convention of 1891 adopted a resolution that the property offered as a site be bought before the next convention, if deemed advisable by the consistory.

Internal difficulties in the young synod handicapped the progress of the college idea, although committees were at work considering possible locations. West Superior, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Michigan, were interested in having the college. A land company in West Superior, offered an entire block of land, 250' x 400', in that city, on condition that a $30,000 building be built on the site. Plans for the proposed building were drawn and submitted, but since the new synod had less than 2,000 members and 22 congregations and no funds, it was impossible to accept the proposition, particularly since a hoped-for $10,000 initial gift was not forthcoming.

* * *

Attempts to locate the College in any other community failed for lack of sufficient local interest and failure to rally enough individual support. It was finally decided that, if the institution was to become a reality, it must begin in Hancock, as the largest Finnish population was in the Copper Country and it would be possible to begin there even on a smaller scale. Another consideration was that Hancock was becoming the headquarters of the Synod.

The question of location has been a periodic subject of discussion from these early years up to the present time. Every now and then someone has raised the question of the desirability of Hancock as a location for the College. It has often been stated that the Michigan Copper Country was a declining region and, therefore, offered no future for Suomi College. An influential group in Ohio proposed in the late '20's and early '30's removal of the College to Ohio and was quite active in promoting the plan; however, as the necessary, financial guarantees required by the board and the synod before the College could be moved were not forthcoming, it brought no results. Later, in 1930-32, locations were suggested in Illinois and in the Minneapolis area. Serious consideration was given to an attractive school property in St. Paul, left vacant by the merger of three Norwegian Lutheran synods. But even this did not seem to meet the needs of the school or to be within its mean.

As the earlier consideration of location delayed the opening of the College, so subsequent proposals prevented any new building program until in 1935 when the synod adopted a resolution that no further discussion of change of location be considered in the coventions until sufficiently concrete proposals and guarantees are made to attract the College to some other community.

* * *

It was inevitable that the proposed College would meet opposition, both active and passive. There were those who were opposed to an educated ministry from the conviction that all that was necessary of a minister was that he be born of the Spirit. Differences in religious outlook, as e.g. between the Laestadians and those of the Synod group, and undue fear of a hierarchy (pappisvalta) were also factors. Moreover, there were those who already at that time believed that their children would have no need for the Finnish language in their new homeland, and, consequently, to establish a school for the purpose of perpetuating the Finnish language and culture was quite unnecessary. Many again felt that the Finns could never have a school to compare, or compete, with American schools. Complete indifference, so natural to man, was also a big factor.

Dr. John Wargelin
President 1919-1927, 1930-1937

Solicitation for the projected school was begun soon after the first convention of the synod. Local Suomi College committees were organized to raise funds. Pastor Nikander made a tour of the churches in the interests of the project. In 1895, Mr. Adolf Riippa was ordained to the ministry and called to be missionary pastor and field agent for the College, but funds were slow in coming. The 1897 financial report, e.g. after the school had been in operation for a year, showed receipts amounting to $3,312.46 and expenditures $2,477.31.

On September 8, 1896, Suomi College and Theological Seminary was formally opened to students with divine services held in the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hancock. Pastor J. K. Nikander preached the sermon, using as his text Proverbs 8. The faculty consisted of one full-time teacher, Pastor J. K. Nikander, who was the first president, and three part-time teachers: Jacob Holmlund, music, drawing, and bookkeeping; Victor M. Burman, biology and gymnastics; and C. J. Barr, English. Eleven students registered at the opening; the number eventually increased to twenty-two, of whom fifteen were men and seven women. There was quite a disparity of ages from students in their late twenties to youngsters in their early teens.

The aims of the school were stated in the constitution as follows: "to cultivate a true Christian spirit in its students and to direct them into following Christian principles in their daily living; to give a sound training in religion, and in general cultural subjects; to prepare young men for the preaching office by giving instruction and guidance in the arts and knowledge necessary for the calling; to give necessary instruction to those planning upon entering the teaching profession; and, insofar as practicable, to prepare its students for other callings."

The original course of study as planned, and adhered to for a number of years, was to cover seven years followed by a two-year theological course. It was an adaptation of the Finnish lyceum and the course given at Augustana College. Pastor Nikander had, in preparation for his duties as acting president, visited Augustana at Rock Island to observe its work at first hand, and adopted much of its program.

The beginnings were very humble. While the College was the only church college of the Finnish people at the time, we must remember that the small beginning not only labored under the handicap of open and passive resistance from different circles, but had the competition of Valparaiso College at Valparaiso, Indiana, which was especially, catering to students of limited means and to the ambitious young immigrants of the middle west. Ferris Institute at Big Rapids, Michigan, was also in the field. They subsequently attracted a considerable number of Finnish students through their advertising in the Finnish papers. In addition there was the Finnish "Kansakoulu" at Calumet having as many as sixty students at the turn of the century. Later the College was to meet competition in the "Kansanopisto", founded in 1903 in Minneapolis, later moved to Smithville, Minnesota, and continuing in its later years as an I. W. W. school until 1941. A number of Finnish correspondence schools, among them the "Sampo" in Chicago and "Finnish Literary Institute" in Ishpeming were also offering courses to students.

The first quarters of the College were in a rented building in West Hancock, on Quincy Street. These quarters were used for over three years until the school moved into its own new building in January, 1900. In the meantime, classes were held on the first floor of the rented quarters and resident students lived on the second floor with the president and J. H. Jasberg, who was business manager and dean. The subjects taught were: Christianity, Finnish, English, Latin, Finnish History, Geography, Zoology, and Arithmetic. All instruction and text books were in Finnish with the exception of the English course.

Discipline was strict. According to the rules, the rising hour was 5:40 A.M. and the retiring hour 10:00 P.M. Evening prayers were held at 9:00. Instructions were quite explicit. Students must "wash, dress, comb hair, clean room, clothes, shoes, make bed, dust and air out room" before breakfast. At 12:00 noon the student must "wash, and comb hair"; likewise at 5:50 P.M. Students must scour their rooms every Saturday morning, and the class rooms in rotation. No one was permitted to leave the College premises without permission of the president or the person authorized by him.

The fall term ended with the beginning of the Christmas vacation. The spring term began in January with a student enrollment of twenty-one, of whom seventeen continued to the end of the term. Tuition was $10.00 for the winter term, and $15 for the spring term, room and board $2.00 per week.

Thirty-two students were enrolled the following year, of which thirteen were second-year students. The faculty was increased to four; two full-time and two part-time instructors. Most of the instruction was in Finnish. Swedish was taught as an elective by the non-Finnish instructor, Mr. J. W. Linderholm. The other instructors were J. Holmlund and Rev. J. Back.

By 1899 the faculty was increased to four full-time instructors, viz. the president, K. V. Arminen, John Kiiskila and Jacob Holmlund, and three part-time instructors.

* * *

The site for the new college building was chosen close to the center of the city of Hancock on Quincy Street. It covered three fifty-foot lots each 175 feet deep. The laying of the cornerstone took place on May 30, 1899 and was an outstanding event in the city of Hancock. Special railroad rates had been procured on the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway for those coming to the occasion, and large numbers of people took advantage of them. The building, when completed, was one of the outstanding buildings of the city. It was dedicated with great festivities on January 21, 1900. It cost approximately $35,000. The main floor housed classrooms, the president's offices and a chapel-classroom. Dormitory rooms and the president's quarters were on the upper floors. Dining room, kitchen facilities and business offices occupied the basement. This building still stands and is known as the "Main". A year later, in 1901, it was found necessary to build a frame building for use as a gymnasium, music room and meeting hall. This latter building was later given over to the use of the commercial school when this department began in the fall of 1906. It served various purposes until 1940 when it was demolished upon the completion of the "new" building in 1940. The new building is to be known as the J. K. Nikander hall. The commercial department was moved in 1940 into "Main" and the other departments into the new building. "Nikander Hall" came to cost $95,000. The land on which it was built is the defunct Hancock Mining Company property covering some sixty acres, which the College acquired at a very small initial outlay. The new location with all improvements of grading and landscaping cost the College about $125,000. With the investment in the original property the valuation of the physical plant of the College is well night $200,000.

* * *

Staff of inklings, student newspaper.

Returning to the course of study, we already indicated that the plan called for a seven-year course, which was carried out with the first students. In 1903 a preparatory department covering roughly the last two grades of grammar school was begun in the hope of getting students from the teenagers who would continue in the higher grades. This eventually proved a greater boon to these young immigrants who desired an education in the new land of opportunity but who lacked even elementary education from Finland. Others availed themselves of the opportunity to learn the elements of the English language in this department. It continued until the spring of 1923.

The first commencement was held on May 26, 1904. There were ten graduates. They were Alfred Haapanen (now president of Suomi Synod), Heikki Haapanen (pastor in Finland), Salomon Ilmonen (deceased), Lydia Kangas (Mrs. John Ollila of Duluth, Minnesota), Victor Koivumaki (deceased), Matti Luttinen (pastor at Chassell, Michigan), Liisa S. Paavola (Mrs. Lappalainen of Amasa, Michigan), Wilhelmiina Perttula (Mrs. John Maki of Baraga, Michigan), John Wargelin (second president of the College, now pastor at Minneapolis), and Pekka Keranen (deceased).

The theological seminary began to function in the fall of 1904 with seven students, all of whom had attended the College from the first years (not later than 1898). These men were ordained into the ministry of the synod on June 5, 1906. They were: Alfred Haapanen, Salomon Ilmonen, Pekka Keranen, Victor Koivumaki, Matti Luttinen, Jacob Mantta, and John Wargelin.

The first seminary facuity consisted of President Nikander, Rev. John Back and Rev. Alfred Groning, Rev. Isaac Katajamaa joining the faculty in 1905-1906. While the main purpose of the College was to prepare men for the ministry, ministerial candidates were not in great abundance. The next man to be ordained into the ministry was Matti Pesonen in 1908. Five men were ordained in 1912 after an interim of four years. After 1912 men have graduated quite regularly from the seminary so that seventy-seven men have graduated from the seminary up to 1945, all entering the ministry of the Suomi Synod.

The academic and preperatory departments

The course, which originally started out as a seven-year course, later followed the American high school pattern. This department was known as the academic department. High schools were not as numerous then as they are today, particularly in the rural districts of the middle west. There were also parents who wanted their children to attend a Christian academy. Added to this were those ambitious young immigrants who wanted a higher education. These constituted the student body. The Finnish tradition and spirit was very strong. Finnish was spoken in the classrooms in the early years far more than English. And since the older students spoke Finnish more freely than English, and the younger ones spoke it well, Finnish predominated outside the classroom. Finnish traditions were carefully guarded and the religious life fostered. Every student took religious instruction each year of the course. Finnish grammar, literature and history were required. Devotions were held morning and evening during the school week. These were led by the faculty or the seminary students. At times there were three devotions: morning, afternoon (at the close of sessions) and evening at about nine, the latter being compulsory for dormitory students. Students were required to attend mid-week and Sunday services at the local Suomi Synod church.

There was considerable social life in the College in those days. The choir and various societies kept the students busy. Hikes would take them to the surrounding communities: Boston, Atlantic, South Range, Painesdale, Dollar Bay, Chassell, etc., which are at an average distance of five miles from Hancock. As the students were all poor, they raised funds for their organizations by rendering programs in the communities visited. These occasions also served to make friends for the College as well as for the students.

The academy became an accredited high school in the State of Michigan in 1920. This opened a larger number of colleges and universities to the graduates. It continued to serve until the spring of 1932, at which time it was discontinued for lack of sufficient students. Some of the factors causing the discontinuance were: 1) the establishment of high schools in even the smallest communities; 2) the public high schools of the country frequently offered a greater appeal; 3) the Finnish cultural appeal was not as strong as it had been in the past; 4) a factor that perhaps has not been given sufficient consideration is a general disinterest in religion in the country which would naturally affect attendance at religious institutions. A recent trend in certain Christian circles demanding the return of Christian academies to counteract the unreligious programs of tax-supported high schools may still see the return of the academy to such institutions as Suomi College.

The Junior College

For years the ambition of the College administration was that a full college would become a reality. Many difficulties, primarily financial, were a hindrance to such a venture. The demand for a college-trained ministry began to increase in the Synod in the late 20's. The College administration and board saw that something must be done soon. Another factor was that the age of the men entering the ministry was lower than previously. A committee chosen in 1922 to study the possibilities reported back that a four-year college course was a long way off, but the recent development in junior colleges was within the reach of this institution with relatively little increase in expenses. By eliminating the preparatory department, the board could devote more funds to the junior college.

The first junior college class began in the fall of 1923. Its first students were Siiri Autio, Imbie Isaacson, William Tervo, and Arno Wargelin. The faculty from the academy taught the college subjects, the members being President John Wargelin, Kosti Arho, Martti Nisonen, Ida Greenwood, Conrad Opheim, and F. E. Cooper. The course given consisted of English Rhetoric, United States History, Psychology, Philosophy, Christianity, and General Chemistry. The second year course covered English Literature, Greek or German, Christianity, Biology, and Education (History and Theory).

The growth of the Junior College was slow. In 1930 there were only ten students in the department. Some of the reasons given for the slow growth are: lack of confidence in the school among the people, failure of the College to appeal to young men and women, fear among them that the College was so Finnish that a student must know the Finnish language to get along in the College, fear of its having too strong a religious emphasis, and the greater appeal of other larger established colleges.

New Campus plan.
Architects: Eliel Saarinen, J. R. F. Swanson

With these obstacles to overcome, the board quite early realized that, if the College is to succeed, it must meet those modern requirements that were in harmony, with its principles. This would mean funds. By 1925 the question of raising an endowment was the subject of serious discussion. President Wargelin had often stressed it. But since previous fund-raising attempts had not proved very successful, the question was how to raise the money for endowment and equipment. During the first world war a new method of college and institutional financing had arisen in the country as a result of war prosperity, which was a boon to many a struggling college. The synodical convention at Fairport, Ohio, in June 1927, went on record favoring a campaign for $200,000 to be conducted the same fall, approving the professional money-raising organization that should direct the campaign. However, the college board later decided against such a campaign for that year, feeling that the time was not auspicious.

The campaign plan continued to be a subject of discussion in board meetings and synodical conventions until 1929, when, at the Ishpeming convention, the board submitted a resolution (approved by the Synod) that the campaign be undertaken as soon as possible. The goal was set at $300,000, of which $150,000 was to be set aside for endowment and $150,000 for a new building and much-needed equipment. The campaign actually got under way in the summer and fall of 1930. The net result was pledges of over $82,000 of which, by 1935, $47,000 was received in cash.

While the goal of $300,000 was not achieved the campaign provided funds for new laboratory equipment and a substantially increased library. The nucleus for an endowment was also established. It probably proved the means of preserving the life of the College in a critical period, because the effects of the great depression followed immediately after the bulk of the results of the campaign had been received. Revenues to the school sank very low. It was necessary to use much of the funds received in the campaign in order to meet current expenses.

With the additional funds thus procured, a program of advancement was laid out for the junior college. Beside new equipment to meet college standards, the faculty requirements were also raised to meet junior college standards. The college had now gained prestige as well as publicity through the campaign. It was reflected in a noticeable increase in the student-body.

The next objective was a new building which would house a gymnasium-auditorium, and provide space for the College classrooms. The alumni had started in the early '20's a fund of $20,000 for a gymnasium-auditorium, but had been frustrated by the opposition mentioned earlier to any new building program in Hancock.

Under President V. K. Nikander a campaign for funds for a new building was undertaken in 1938. Dr. O. H. Pannkoke, a man of wide experience in directing campaigns for funds for colleges and churches in the Lutheran Church directed the campaign. The goal was set for $75,000, to be raised in a twelve-week campaign. Pledges received amounted to over $97,000. Cash received by March 31, 1940, was over $72,000. Pledges were payable in twelve months.

The campaign was followed by a building project. The original plan called for a building costing $75,000. Professor Eliel Saarinen and his son-in-law, Mr. J. R. F. Swanson, were asked to draw the plans. They not only drew the plans for the building but laid out a long-range building program, should future developments in the College require such. The City of Hancock cooperated splendidly in making possible the plans of the architects by extending a street through the property, thus allowing access to the building from both Summit and Franklin Streets. Most of the credit for attending to all of the necessary detail and coordinating the different groups to accomplish the desired building program is to be given to Mr. U. W. Tervo, who, as business manager of the College at the time, did the "clean-up" work of the financial campaign and had the main responsibility of supervising the construction of the building. Mr. Tervo had given up a successful insurance business to become manager of the College because of his interest in the progress of the school.

Ground was broken for the building in May, 1939. The cornerstone was laid on June 13, 1939. The building was completed in December of the same year, the formal opening taking place on December 15-17. The dedication of the building did not take place until June 15, 1940, in connection with the 50th anniversary celebration of the Suomi Synod. The building actually cost $89,505,33, exclusive of equipment.

An indebtedness of $24,500 was contracted on the new building and equipment. In order to clear this obligation a Victory Drive was launched in December of 1942, which netted over $15,000.

While the College now had a physical plant that could satisfactorily serve at least 150 students, it now encountered other difficulties due to the war. Europe was already an armed camp and the Germans marching on to unheard of victories. Then came the Pearl Harbor incident, and the male student population dwindled rapidly. Eventually only those male students were left who were studying for the ministry, and a few others who were not accepted in the draft. The student enrollment went down to aroun 45.

With such a small enrollment it became necessary to curtail some phases of the program and to "mark time" until the war was over and a peacetime program could be undertaken. The great problem of the board and faculty was to know what the place of the College will be in the years to come. Now that peace has come, and the nation is returning to peace-time living the enrollment at the College has increased very noticeably. With the large overflow of students in the larger colleges and universities, it is expected that the smaller colleges will eventually benefit by larger enrollments. Such benefits are, however, only temporary, and much wisdom, foresight and sound judgment will be required of everyone to lay out a plan for the future, in view of changing conditions which are unquestionably going to be felt in the field of education, and particularly Christian education.

The Commercial Department

An ever increasing demand for trained office workers and a desire on the part of young people to enter the commercial field led the College board to organize a commercial department in 1906. Mr. O. L. Nordstrom was called to be its first principal and Mr. A. E. Spaulding as part-time teacher in typewriting and shorthand. Mr. Nordstrom taught bookkeeping and related subjects. The response was encouraging from the very start. Nineteen enrolled for the fall term and thirty for the spring term. The subjects taught were: Bookkeeping, Commercial Law, Arithmetic, Penmanship, Spelling, Grammar, Business Correspondence, Civil Government, Shorthand, and Typewriting. The student chose one of the two courses to be completed in a school year. It was possible for a student in the other courses by special arrangement to take some commercial studies.

Mr. Nordstrom continued as principal of this department until 1918. He placed the course on a good foundation. He was followed by Miss Minnie Perttula, who served as principal for three years. She was succeeded in 1921 by W. A. Lehto (Jylhänlehto), who had been student and assistant under Mr. Nordstrom, and instructor for one year previous to becoming principal. Mr. Lehto has served in this capacity from 1921 with the exception of an interim from 1923 to 1926 during which he continued his studies.

Under the leadership of Mr. Lehto the commercial department continued to grow. It has in the course of time gained an enviable reputation as a school giving its students a thorough foundation in business training. The policy of the department has been conservative, having an eye chiefly to the basic needs of those entering the business world.

Changes in the curriculum have been made from time to time to meet changing requirements. The course today falls under three branches: Secretarial, Bookkeeping, and Combined, the latter being a combined course of the secretarial and bookkeeping, and particularly designed for those who have previously had some training in commercial subjects in high school.

The type of student has changed greatly from the early years, when only few were high school graduates. Today the high school graduate is the rule, wherefore the standard of the commercial department is very high.

Because of the vocational nature of' the commercial course, this department frequently had the largest enrollment. Up to 1945 the graduates numbered 1003, out of a total graduate list of 1500 for the entire school. Total enrollment in the entire school numbers 4500 during its history, of which 1700 have been in the commercial department. Graduates are to be found from east to west of the country and in foreign coantries as well, many in responsible positions.

As in the other departments, this department also has aimed at giving its students a Christian outlook upon life.

The Music Department

Music has played an important part in the College from its very inception. Training in piano, voice and choral singing were a part of the curriculum. While at first only a subject in the curriculum, music gradually developed into its own division as early as 1907, under Mr. K. V. Kilkka, who had been called from Finland to take over the musical work at the College. He developed the beginnings of a special course in music, which, however, was still part of the general curriculum. In the 1908-09 catalog we find the music department placed under a separate heading, although no special credits were granted. This course continued as a separate yet coordinating division in the curriculum and was very valuable to all those students who had musical gifts as it laid the foundation to more advanced studies in music. For those preparing them to meet the musical requirements of the local church.

College chorus and soloists, 1941
Director: Martti Nisonen

The College became a music center for the church. The music instructors usually have composed music for special occasions, usually choral or solo numbers for the greater festivals of the church year. Students also were encouraged to compose numbers, which were printed in the different publications of the church.

The present head of the department, prof. Martti Nisonen, has undoubtedly contributed most to the development of this department. He has been at the College since 1922.

Mr. Nisonen originated a four-week's summer music course in1925. The subjects taught were voice culture, piano, organ, violin, theory of music and the history of music. The course was well received from the very beginning. It has continued without interruption up to the present and has been the means of helping many students into more advanced musical studies.

The music department was developed into a separate department in 1927 granting a special music certificate, after two years of study. Graduates have taken advanced studies in a number of universities and music colleges and are serving in various capacities, musicians, composers, singers, teachers and professors of music. They have also rendered valuable service in the church as directors of music.

Another important advance during Mr. Nisonen's incumbency has been in the semi-annual concerts at the College which were begun by his predecessors and further developed by him. His gift for organizing entertainments on a larger scale have been put to good use at the College. He arranged such choral fetes as a popular rendition of "Faust", the "Messiah" and other such great musical numbers for the rendition of which he mustered much of the best musical talent of the Copper Country. In more recent years, he has used the musical talents of the College alone with but some few assisting artists from the community. These fall and spring concerts have become important events in the life of the school as well as the community.

The Bible School

There had also been expressions by some of a desire for courses that would be in keeping with the program of a church school, i.e. courses that would serve the purposes and aims of the church for such as may not be in a position to study for the ministry. Seeking to satisfy this wish, President Lepisto organized a Bible Institute in connection with the College in 1928 for the purpose of training lay workers for the church. It failed to find a response in the Church and was discontinued after two years.

A more recent development is a parish worker's course. Its purpose is to train layworkers for work in the church as parish visitors, church secretaries, deaconesses, and missionaries.


The first president, as has already been stated, was pastor J. K. Nikander. He had promised to serve as acting president at the time of the founding of the school until a qualified schoolman was procured from Finland. But when all attempts in that direction failed, the board insisted in 1901 that Nikander consider his call to the presidency his life work to which he finally consented. He held the office until January 13, 1919, when he was suddenly taken by death.

His quiet persistence in the face of obstacles, his calm conviction, self-effacing devotion to his task, and his vision qualified him for the position of leader of the school. His humble trust in divine guidance and conviction that the call of the College was from God was a source of inspiration and strength to many others.

Upon the death of Nikander, pastor John Wargelin was called to fill the vacancy. He had practically grown with the school He had entered the first class as a young lad and continued until graduating from the theological seminary in 1906. He was, therefore, well acquainted with the traditions and spirit of the school and the Synod. He had continued studies at Chicago and Michigan University. He resigned from the presidency in the spring of 1927.

Rev. Antti Lepistö
President, 1927-1930

Pastor Antti Lepisto succeeded to the presidency of the school in August 1927. He was a graduate of the academy and Chicago University (Ph.B.) and studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Maywood, Ill. Pastor Lepisto resigned in the spring of 1930 and Dr. Wargelin was recalled to the presidency. Wargelin served again as president until the spring of 1937 when he asked to be relieved of the office, but continued on the theological faculty until May, 1939.

Dr. Viljo K. Nikander
President since 1937

Dr. Viljo K. Nikander, the son of the first president, became president in August, 1937. He is a graduate of the academy and theological seminary, Carthage College (A.B.), University of Chicago (A.M.) and Harvard (Ph.D.). He had previously taught at Carthage and at Waterloo Colleges.


Since the College was originally founded for the training of the clergy of the Suomi Synod, it is natural to expect that its greatest impact has been on the church. This influence has been felt most directly in the seventy-seven ministerial graduates of the College and Seminary. Not only is it to be found in the clergy, but in the laity as well. A not insignificant number of laymen in the churches are graduates of some department of the College and have taken positions of leadership. Their importance in the years to come will perhaps be even more significant. The influence of the College publications, which began as "Opiston Ystävä" in 1900, and have continued throughout the years as quarterly publications having a circulation at one time as large as 12,000 copies per issue, cannot be estimated either from the cultural or from the religious angle. A study of the contents of the quarterlies indicates that their influence must have been primarily in the religious field. Mention has already been made of the significance of the music department. The commercial department, too, through its large number of graduates has played an important part in the rise, first of the progressively minded immigrant and later in the advancement of the younger generations, cultivating through the spirit of the College a wholesome respect for the Church and for Finnish heritages. Nor must one forget the significance of the Junior College in forming ties that will not easily be broken.

The school and the Synod have always felt the importance of maintaining as close relations with Finland as possible both for the cultural and religious benefits to be derived by such relations. The conviction has prevailed that those ties must not be broken. And, that this conviction has persisted up to the present, may eventually mean that the Finnish Lutheran Church in America will have a more significant contribution to make to the American Lutheran Church than is now apparent. Down through the years, the majority of the teachers in the theological faculty have been trained in Finland. A special effort was made in 1930 to procure a competent man trained in theology from Finland. Pastor Ilmari Tammisto was called in that year to fill the chair of theology, which position he filled until 1935. Again in 1939 pastor Uuras Saarnivaara was called to fill the same position. It was hoped that his Laestadian leanings would help to bring about a closer understanding between the Evangelical Lutherans and the Apostolic Lutherans in this country. Time will tell what the effects will be. Another attempt at closer relations with the Apostolic Lutherans was the Synod's decision in 1939 to invite two members of the main Apostolic Lutherans to sit in as members of the board of directors of the College. While this is not in effect at this writing, it may also be the means of paving the way to a better understanding. Unfortunately, due to its closer relations with the Missouri Synod, the Finnish National Lutheran Church has become more aloof from the Synod and the College.

Other groups have stressed certain Finnish cultural aspects to a greater degree than the College, and yet the shool has had an important part in this phase of Finnish American history. In the first twenty-five years particularly the College was strongly Finnish. Students were ardent champions of Finnish culture. They were among the leaders and the speakers in the Finnish temperance and nationalistic movements. The summer schools sponsored by the local churches were as much, if not in some cases more, schools for the preservation of the Finnish language and traditions than for religion.

As the theological relations were maintained, so also were the Finnish cultural relations. Teachers of Finnish literature and history have always been men trained in Finland. Mr. Kosti Arho has occupied this position since 1922. Dr. Rafael Engelberg was sent to this country by the Finnish government to deliver a special series of lectures at the College on the Kalevala and on Finnish history for a period of three months in 1931. Using the College as his headquarters, he travelled in various parts of the middle west as a lecturer on the same subjects.

With the changing times, a different kind of interest in Finnish cultural history and traditions is taking place. The perpetuation of the language in the same manner as formerly is becoming 1ess possible, but an increasingly large number of people are becoming conscious of the necessity of preserving the history of the American Finns, and of having a center and clearing house for Finnish culture in the United States. It is important, theref'ore, that a chair of Finnish history and language be maintained at the College. A further undertaking of importance is the Finnish-American museum. This was first projected by the first business manager, J. H. Jasberg, who began the College museum in the early days of the College. Lack of funds and persons trained to develop it, have hindered the museum from progressing. Pastor Tammisto, spurred on by Dr. Engelberg, did some work in gathering materials. Others, too, have made contributions to it at various times. But the first serious attempt was made in l945-46 when Dr. John Kolehmainen, on leave of absence from Heidelberg College for special research, has begun to collate the material already at hand, and is gradually collecting more such material. It is hoped that this small beginning will eventually result in a good Finnish-American museum and historical library at Suomi College. If realized, this will prove a real contribution to the educational and cultural life of America through the Finnish people and their descendants.

What other impacts the College has had on the life of the church, and of the Finnish-American and eventually on the cultural and religious life of this country through its 4500 former students cannot easily be evaluated. In fact, they will never be fully evaluated. They are intangibles. Yet they are of tremendous significance. We of the present generation look back with humble respect upon the work of past generations and pray that our efforts may have as great an influence on the church and on others to come as has the work of those who have gone before.

Published in the Fiftieth Anniversary Publication of Suomi College and Theological Seminary 1896-1946. Hancock 1946, p. 7-28.

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