The grin on the face of Aila Hazen lit up the outdoor dance area as she and the maypole dancers took part in opening ceremonies both days of the Naselle Finnish American Folk Festival. The youngster, who will enter third grade this fall, is a descendant of Naselle pioneer Jacob Pakenen. The group, which earned applause from appreciative crowds, was directed by Haleigh See. “I think that was pretty phenomenal,” said emcee Lyle Haataja after Friday’s debut dance.
Eeppi Ursin, named performer of the year by the Finlandia Foundation National, sang at the festival, including a memorable rendition of the Finnish national anthem for Saturday’s opening ceremonies. A translation of one verse reads, “No hidden vale, no wavewashed strand, is loved, as is our native north, our own forefathers’ earth.”
Naselle High School history teacher and coach Haleigh See choreographed a team of enthusiastic maypole dancers who performed at the opening ceremonies. As a girl, she had been one of them. Lyle Haataja, emcee at Friday’s opening ceremony, summed up his reaction. “It’s the coolest thing I have ever seen,” he said.
Five couples contested the wife-carry event at Finn Fest. Here, George Pierce and Caitlin Connors of Seattle demonstrate their carrying technique. Prior winners Peter Hakim and Sheriann Wirkkala from Salem also took part, but both couples were eclipsed by this year’s champs, Mark and Heather Justice.
Darlene Bjornsgard, left, shows a visitor and Pat O’Connor Nelson a 110-year-old doll, which was unclothed so people could observe how its joints moved. Some dolls were created in Germany and exported to Finland. The classrooms at the Naselle School were packed with cultural items and the walls decorated with historic photographs from the Appelo Archives Center.
Kantele player Valerie Blessley of Vancouver was among entertainers at the festival. Much of the music at the event was dedicated to the memory of Wilho Saari, whose many honors included being named Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year. His proficiency in the kantele took him all over the world and he created a portfolio of more than 4,000 songs.
Kurt Koivu gave an animated talk about puukkos, traditional curved Finnish belt knives and amused his audience with his definition of the difference between whittling and wood carving.
Annika Kay, director, staffs the Appelo Archives Center booth during the Finn Fest, putting on sale a framed artistic rendering of the Deep River Church and making available copies of the Finnish American Reporter newspaper.
Anita Raistakka greets Greg Nelson in the Naselle High School gym, renamed Tori or market, and offers him a souvenir copy of the Finnish American Reporter newspaper. The cover story was about Wilho Saari, his father-in-law, who died in January.
Mike Swanson, left, who served as emcee for Saturday’s opening ceremony, is pictured with Veikko Valli, honorary consul of Finland. In his speech of welcome, Valli noted that “even with the happiest culture in the world,” Finland needs positive support. “We still need people who love and cherish our unique part of the world,” he said.

The grin on the face of Aila Hazen lit up the outdoor dance area as she and the maypole dancers took part in opening ceremonies both days of the Naselle Finnish American Folk Festival. The youngster, who will enter third grade this fall, is a descendant of Naselle pioneer Jacob Pakenen. The group, which earned applause from appreciative crowds, was directed by Haleigh See. “I think that was pretty phenomenal,” said emcee Lyle Haataja after Friday’s debut dance.
Eeppi Ursin, named performer of the year by the Finlandia Foundation National, sang at the festival, including a memorable rendition of the Finnish national anthem for Saturday’s opening ceremonies. A translation of one verse reads, “No hidden vale, no wavewashed strand, is loved, as is our native north, our own forefathers’ earth.”
Naselle High School history teacher and coach Haleigh See choreographed a team of enthusiastic maypole dancers who performed at the opening ceremonies. As a girl, she had been one of them. Lyle Haataja, emcee at Friday’s opening ceremony, summed up his reaction. “It’s the coolest thing I have ever seen,” he said.
Five couples contested the wife-carry event at Finn Fest. Here, George Pierce and Caitlin Connors of Seattle demonstrate their carrying technique. Prior winners Peter Hakim and Sheriann Wirkkala from Salem also took part, but both couples were eclipsed by this year’s champs, Mark and Heather Justice.
Darlene Bjornsgard, left, shows a visitor and Pat O’Connor Nelson a 110-year-old doll, which was unclothed so people could observe how its joints moved. Some dolls were created in Germany and exported to Finland. The classrooms at the Naselle School were packed with cultural items and the walls decorated with historic photographs from the Appelo Archives Center.
Kantele player Valerie Blessley of Vancouver was among entertainers at the festival. Much of the music at the event was dedicated to the memory of Wilho Saari, whose many honors included being named Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year. His proficiency in the kantele took him all over the world and he created a portfolio of more than 4,000 songs.
Kurt Koivu gave an animated talk about puukkos, traditional curved Finnish belt knives and amused his audience with his definition of the difference between whittling and wood carving.
Annika Kay, director, staffs the Appelo Archives Center booth during the Finn Fest, putting on sale a framed artistic rendering of the Deep River Church and making available copies of the Finnish American Reporter newspaper.
Anita Raistakka greets Greg Nelson in the Naselle High School gym, renamed Tori or market, and offers him a souvenir copy of the Finnish American Reporter newspaper. The cover story was about Wilho Saari, his father-in-law, who died in January.
Mike Swanson, left, who served as emcee for Saturday’s opening ceremony, is pictured with Veikko Valli, honorary consul of Finland. In his speech of welcome, Valli noted that “even with the happiest culture in the world,” Finland needs positive support. “We still need people who love and cherish our unique part of the world,” he said.
NASELLE — The maypole dancers stole the show.
“I think that was pretty phenomenal!” said emcee Lyle Haataja as the exuberant girls left their colorful tangled ribbons and took their bow.
The 20th Naselle Finnish American Folk Festival is in the books, with president Jennifer Boggs and her committee delighted to welcome back the event — missing for four years because of the covid shutdown.
“We had approximately 1,500 attendees from 22 different states, including Massachusetts and Florida,” said a thrilled Boggs as events concluded Sunday.
‘No hidden vale, no wavewashed strand,
Is loved, as is our native north,
Our own forefathers’ earth.’
— Translation of the Finnish national anthem
The festival was dreamed up 40 years ago to celebrate Finnish heritage with music, dance, food and cultural activities.
And connections with Naselle and its environs were legion, not just Finns but people claiming Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and even Icelandic heritage. There were Wirkkalas at every turn.
“The magic is the fiber of the community,” said 77-year-old Glen Johnson, who took part in the oldest age division of Saturday morning’s Paavo Nurmi walk. He and his wife, Susan, were among 59 who ran or walked the 5K course.
The longtime resident of Nyberg Road, now living in Seattle, is the great grandson of Naselle pioneers Antti and Matilta Wirkkala who cleared timber in 1886. Connections are precious, he said. “You see people and can say one word and you pick up right where you left off years ago,” smiled Johnson, who traversed the exhibits wearing his medal.
Concert headliner Eeppi Ursin, the Finlandia Foundation National’s performer of the year, delighted with the Finnish national anthem as part of Saturday’s well-attended welcoming ceremony on the Naselle High School track.
Veikko Valli, honorary Finnish consul from Portland, joined emcee Mike Swanson in greeting the crowd. Valli noted that “even with the happiest culture in the world,” tiny Finland welcomes the positive support that pervades Naselle. “We still need people who love and cherish our unique part of the world,” he said.
Naselle history teacher Haleigh See was beaming with pride as she watched her colorfully clad team dance around the maypole, skirts swirling, ducking under the ribbons that tangled tightly around the centerpiece.
As a little girl, she had been one of them. Her youngsters practiced all through July to learn the moves. “They are wonderful — they are the best part of the kids,” she said.
Haataja, who welcomed attendees at Friday’s opening ceremony, agreed. “It’s the coolest thing I have ever seen,” he enthused.
The Finn Fest began in 1982 as a one-day event attended by 3,000 people and morphed into a three-day festival held every couple of years, though curtailed by covid. In 2006, Naselle had the honor of hosting the national Finnish American Festival. “Thanks to our cousins in Astoria, we pulled it off!” Haataja recalled.
Outside, the more energetic took part in contests, tossing boots or Nokia phones. The wife-carrying race attracted five couples who stopped giggling just long enough to race back and forth between traffic cones to earn bragging rights.
Inside, classrooms and corridors at Naselle School offered more serious culture, displays of high school class portraits and pioneer photos from the Appelo Archives Center.
Kurt Koivu drew an audience to display his puukkos, traditional curved Finnish belt knives that have a rich history as a rural talisman.
Very, very carefully, he demonstrated two ways to test their sharpness, then asked his audience for a definition of whittling. Hearing no precise explanations, his answer was almost whimsical. “Whittling is a meditative process,” he said, with a canny smile. “It’s different from wood carving …”
Check out videos on Kevin Pellermo’s YouTube channel
www.youtube.com/channel/UCfr9xJ01LQc7ZqmWUYrOgVg
Films highlighted Finnish history, culture and migration patterns. Speakers included Karl Marlantes, author of “Deep River.” So many attended his first talk that his second was moved to a larger location.
Down the hall, Crystal Gardner highlighted quilts that she and other fabric artists had created. Some had old-fashioned muted color choices and styles; others were created with blocks that preserved prior Finn Fest T-shirt designs.
In another room, Darlene Bjornsgard was showing Pat O’Connor Nelson and a visitor a 110-year-old doll, one of many antique cultural items and souvenirs on display. Some dolls were fashioned in Germany and exported to Finland. Close by, a “harpiano” musical instrument dating back to 1915 owned by John and Emilia Ullakko was encased under glass.
Music was a key component. For kantele player Valerie Blessley, there was an emotional reminder — the January death of her inspirational teacher Wilho Saari, one of the world’s greatest players of the traditional stringed instrument.
“They are asking me to perform the kantele knowing that Wilho is gone,” she said with reverence. “That’s some big shoes to fill!
“He did more for kantele in the United States than anyone.”
The food had authentic flavors, and the gym, temporarily renamed Tori, which means market, featured Finnish and Scandinavian crafts. Long Beach author Jan Bono promoted her latest literary work amid booths selling ceramics and dolls.
Anita Raistakka, in full traditional garb, had an “ask me” label attached to her dress to signal visitors she was available to answer any questions. As she left the Appelo Archives booth, where she had been helping enthusiastic director Annika Kay, she greeted Greg Nelson, longtime teacher at Naselle. As they caught up with each other’s news, she handed him a souvenir copy of the Finnish American Reporter newspaper.
The cover story was a tribute to Wilho Saari, Nelson’s father-in-law.
NASELLE — The theme was “thank-you for your service.”
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