The National Newspaper for Finnish-Americans Since 1932 - Amerikan Uutiset

Saturday 10-October-2015

John A. Koskinen would fit well into Finnish band as an accordion player.

by John A. Koskinen

I have always been proud of my Finnish roots. Both my mother’s and father’s parents came from Finland to the USA at the beginning of the 1900s. My father’s parents, Johan Alfred Koskinen and Ida Maria (formerly Poikonen), emigrated from Karstula, in Central Finland, to Cleveland, Ohio in 1905. I recall meeting my grandmother, Ida Maria, but we didn't see her often enough to hear stories about Finland. Her husband died years before I was born.

My father Yrjo Koskinen was born in Cleveland and met my mother Irja there. (My mother was born in Chisholm, Minnesota where her parents settled upon arrival from Finland and she moved to work in Cleveland after high school.) I was born in 1939 in Cleveland which had an active Finnish community. When we visited my mother's home in Minnesota, a highlight was a visit to the family sauna. Unfortunately, both of my parents died at a relatively early age. They spoke fluent Finnish, but they did not teach their children Finnish because they wanted us to integrate into society without an accent. We always knew something interesting was going on whenever they began to speak Finnish. My pride in being Finnish stayed with me and, when I was at Duke University, I prepared a research paper on the Winter War in Finland.

Before this summer, I had never been to Finland, although it was always on my list of places I wanted very much to visit. How I got there this year was a result of a chain of circumstances going back 20 years.

The Finnish-American Rest Home in Lake Worth (FL) has been a home for thousands of Finns and for their relatives during last 45 years. Now the Finnish culture is vanishing due the currant adminitsration..

The Finnish American Rest Home in Lake Worth, Florida is fighting to survive in the fiercely competitive market. Does is still have a future?

An old man is sitting in a lounge chair in the Lepokoti lobby. He seems to be sleeping, his chin dropped against his chest, eyes closed. His right hand is supporting his head preventing it from drooping.

-Vaino, are you asleep?

-No! I’m listening.

There is a couple of other listeners, because the lobby is the place where things happen. People come and go, some acquaintances come in and every now and then someone will sit down to exchange a few words. The receptionist is answering the phone and they are listening to the conversations. There’s music playing from the CD-player, probably old Finnish dance music. This is home.

 The Finnish American Rest Home -or Lepokoti in Finnish -was established four decades ago for a great demand. In Florida there was a large Finnish population of carpenters, constructors, restaurant entrepreneurs, drivers and housekeepers serving wealthy American families in Palm Beach and New York. Many of them were single persons or at least they didn’t have children. They had had nice benefits including room and board, saving their small salaries for their retirement. Many had been introduced to investing their earnings having a nice nest egg for retirement. They just needed to find a place to live. There was a demand for building a retirement home, Lepokoti. Why the census is so low nowadays and there is no waiting list anymore like there used to be until the end of 90’s?

Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, was designed by Eero Saarinen with his father, Eliel Saarinen in the International Style.

As the Buffalo Philharmonic began planning its 2015-16 season, we knew the celebration of the 75th anniversary of our home, Kleinhans Music Hall, would be an important focal point. Designed by the Finnish architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Kleinhans is renowned for its acoustics and is widely regarded as one of Buffalo's architectural gems.  Since the season also coincides with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most revered composer, we set about creating a program to celebrate the art, design and music of Finland.

 Sometimes we plan concerts years in advance. In this case we started in 2012 by meeting with Magdelena Herrgard at the Consulate General of Finland in New York. We knew it was essential to gain a broader perspective on Sibelius, and she gave us encouragement and many good suggestions.

 Ultimately, we decided to go see Finland ourselves to absorb the culture and walk in Sibelius’ steps. In September 2013, a small group including Music Director JoAnn Falletta and Board member Cindy Abbott Letro landed in Helsinki for three days of meetings. The overnight flight was exhausting, but upon arrival we made a bee-line to the Ateneum Art Museum to see the collection of fantastic Askeli Gallen-Kallela paintings.

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