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St. Michael's Finnish Lutheran Church, Kingsford, Michigan. History (1924-1963)

Doug Karttunen

Construction of Ford Motor Company’s Kingsford Plant in the early 1920’s brought an influx of new residents into the Iron Mountain and Kingsford area. They came to work for the company and to provide other related services and support within the community. Included among these people were a number of fairly recent Finnish immigrants, as well as second generation Finnish Americans. In most cases their first language was still their native Finnish. As a result, they found a need to establish familiar associations, such as their own church, that could serve them in the traditions and language to which they were accustomed. This was a the typical occurrence wherever Finnish immigrant families settled together in the early part of the twentieth century.

On Sunday, October 5, 1925 a number of people from the area’s Finnish-American community met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gust Mantela on Cleveland Avenue in Kingsford. There they organized St. Michael’s Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iron Mountain (Iron Mountainin Mikkelin Evankalis-Luterilainen Seurakunta) - or simply, St. Michael’s. Seventy-eight men, women, and children joined in membership that day. Pastor Hugo Hillila from Bethel Lutheran Church of Ishpeming was called upon to preside that day, serving the congregation’s first Holy Communion. The newly formed congregation was soon accepted into the Finnish Lutheran Church in America (or Suomi Synod). St. Michael’s turned to the Finnish Evangelical Church of Republic for the part time services of their pastor, Rev. Emil Paananen.

Worship services were usually held once per month, with Pastor Paananen traveling from Republic to Iron Mountain (he also served Finnish congregations in Champion, L’Anse, and Pequaming). The desire to build a church was pursued at once. A building committee was formed and a construction fund was begun; but, in the end, the congregation’s dream of owning their own house of worship was never realized. In the first few years services were held at members’ homes. The location was rotated among members. Sometimes there were two services on Sundays, each at a different home. The Woodward Avenue School was used as a place of worship for a time during the late twenties, as was the Swedish Lutheran Church in the early thirties. A relationship between St. Michael’s and the Our Savior’s developed early when the English Lutheran Church was used for worship for a few years beginning in 1932. By 1940, Our Savior’s Kingsford Chapel was being rented as St. Michael’s regular place of worship. It continued to be used in this way until the merger of the two congregations in 1963.

A Sunday school was established right away to pass on the faith, in Finnish, to the children of St. Michael’s. Throughout the years, the congregation supported several other activities including a women’s guild, a Bible study group, and many outreach programs of the Suomi Synod.

Five pastors served St. Michael’s over its 39 year history. The first was Rev. Emil Paananen who tended to the spiritual needs of the congregation during its formative years, from 1924 to 1927. In 1927 he was called to service in Detroit. Pastor Paananen was described as an energetic and devoted pastor whose ministry tended to be charismatic, included faith healing, and involved the congregation in prayer vigils. His preaching was said to be biblical, and delivered with intensity and emotion.

Pastor K. V. (Kalle) Mykkänen followed Rev. Paananen at St. Michael’s, as well as Republic. He served for almost twenty five years from 1927 through 1951. As with his predecessor, Pastor Mykkänen traveled once each month from Republic to preach at St. Michael’s - normally on the fourth Sunday. Pastor Mykkänen was portrayed as a forceful man in the pulpit. He demonstrated a social sensitivity that manifested itself in very real ways during his ministry. He was particularly considerate toward the needs of the aged, widows, and the handicapped. In 1934 he established a rest home for the aged in Republic, where people without funds were cared for in a kind, hospitable, and wholesome way. His long tenure encompassed a period of considerable evolutionary changes in the make-up of St. Michael’s congregation. The Finnish speaking membership was growing more elderly and fewer in numbers. During this same time the younger, third generation Finnish-Americans were assimilating into the larger English speaking community. Their need to maintain the old language and traditions was less critical than it had been for their parents and grandparents. By 1936 Sunday school was being taught in English, as well as Finnish, in an effort to better retain the youth. Despite such efforts, more and more young members were either moving away or becoming increasingly involved with the English language organizations in the area - churches included. In 1951 Pastor Mykkänen retired, moving to Florida where he continued with mission work among Finns in the Lake Worth area, and established a second rest home there.

St. Michael’s third pastor was Rev. Martin Halinen from the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal Falls. He also served the congregation once each month, from 1951 to 1953. Notably during this time, a letter was received by the congregation in 1951 from Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. It contained an invitation to consider merging with their congregation. However, the decision made by St. Michael’s at the time was not to accept the offer. Instead, by 1953 St. Michael’s sought to purchase the Kingsford Heights Chapel from Our Savior’s. But, again, no agreement was reached and rental of the facility continued.

In 1954 Rev. Alexander Tamminen of Stambaugh’s Trinity Lutheran Church accepted the congregation’s call for a new visiting pastor. Pastor Tamminen served as St. Michael’s fourth pastor until moving in 1957 to serve at Floodwood, Minnesota. Pastor Halinen briefly reassumed temporary leadership of the congregation until a permanent part time pastor could be found.

The 1958 Christmas service was conducted by St. Michael’s new pastor, Rev. Wilbert Ruohomaki, who had just been appointed to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal Falls. Pastor Ruohomaki was the last pastor to serve St. Michael’s. He faithfully ministered to the congregations needs until 1963, when it was finally decided to be in the best interest of the members to merge with another congregation. It was a time of mergers. Even the parent Suomi Synod had just the year before merged with three other Lutheran synods to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). As a result, a request was sent to Our Savior’s to join their congregation. The long standing relationship between the two congregations culminated in their union in March of 1963.

At a special service held Sunday March 16, 1963, eighteen members of St.Michael’s were welcomed into membership in Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Five others from the congregation, which totaled 23, were unable to attend due to illness. One original founding member of St. Michael’s, George Lammi, was among those there that day. A dinner put on in the Fellowship Hall by the women of the church followed the service. Rev. Granquist of Our Savior’s was master of ceremonies for a brief program after dinner, in which he outlined the history of St. Michael’s and the close unity between the two congregations though the years. Dr. Theodore E. Matson, president of the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Synod of the Lutheran Church in America, also addressed the former members of St. Michael’s, with Rev. Ruohomaki serving as interpreter.

For the next three years Pastor Ruohomaki continued once each month to conduct services in Finnish at Our Savior’s for the elderly members from St. Michael’s. The Finnish Bible study group also continued to meet, as they had before, for a few years beyond the merger. By 1966, after more than forty years, the need to conduct matters of faith in the Finnish language had run its course in Iron Mountain and Kingsford, much as it had in many other Finnish-American communities through out the country.

Founding Members, October 5, 1924
Pastor: Rev. Hugo Hillila 

Eckloff, Oscar and Maria:
John, Arvo, Frank, Eino, Helmi
Lahti, Erich and Sofia:
Hansen, William and Selma:
Gust, Henry, Ida, Nestor, Helmi, Emil
Lakanen, Axel and Ida:
Paul, Clilfford, William
Heikkilä, Julius Lammi, Yrjö (George)
Heiskala, Joseph and Laina:
Yrjö, Benjamin, Violet
Mantela, Gust and Maria:
Arne, Wiljo, Walfred, Clifford
Hill, August and Amanda:
Helmi, Sylvia, Hilja, Sam
Ollila, William
Huhta, Sam and Sigurd:
Palomaki, Saima
Johnson, George and Maria:
Ruth, Aileen
Pekkala, John and Lydia:
Johnson, William and Aino Sulkka, Matti
Juntunen, Kalle and Maria Syrjä, Frank and Hilda:
Leo, Kalle
Kangas, William and Fanni:
Toivo, Elsie, Francis, Ernest, Signe, Valma, Leslie
Tyynismaa, Vieno
Kortesoja, Gust and Ida:
Arthur, William, Ida

Members at Time of Merger, March 16, 1963
Pastor: Rev. Wilbert Ruohomaki

Alaspa, Hilda Lammi, George
Arvo, Edward and Helmi Lammi, Hilda
Eckloff, Maria Lindell, Charles and Lydia
Harkonen, Ida Partanen, Selma
Hill, Robert and Bertha Pera, Hilma
Hirvio, Ida Pulkinen, John
Johnson, Ann Raisanen, Hanna
Kangas, Fannie Taival, Jacob and Ida
Lahti, Andrew Torvinen, Johanna

© Doug Karttunen

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