Although attendance was low on Friday, Saturday brought dry gray skies, comfortable temperatures, and a couple thousand attendees to the sixteenth biennial Finnish American Folk Festival in Naselle. Folks came from Bellingham to San Diego; Astoria to Washington, DC; Alaska to Florida and numerous points in between. Nineteen states, Canada, Norway, and Finland were represented.
These descendants- and friends-of-Finns gathered to enjoy the music of local performers and to learn about this culture by listening to the presentations, viewing the exhibits, eating the special foods, participating in the numerous sports events, dancing the night away, and, of course, visiting, visiting, visiting with old friends and making many new ones.
Especially honored at the Opening Ceremony was Sue Holway of Oysterville. Not being of Finnish heritage herself, she initiated the first festival in 1982, and was instrumental in the FAFF becoming a 501 (c) (3) non-profit. In the beginning she chaired both the performer and lecture committees, wrote the press releases, and applied for the grants. Ms. Holway served on the national FinnFest USA board for six years. She, Norm Westerberg, and Leo Utter from Seattle encouraged the local group to host the 2006 FFUSA in conjunction with the Finnish Brotherhood of Astoria. For the remainder of the festivals, she co-chaired the program committee, but she is now relinquishing that role. Due to her commitment and that of the community, Naselle is now known both nationally and internationally as a center of Finnish culture.
The final festival program at Peaceful Hill Cemetery, organized by Anna Wirkkala Ehrlund, focused on the Finnish ancestors who settled in the various communities within our school district. Ms. Ehrlund related how the newer section of the cemetery was the location of the first grade through high school. Now many of those teachers/students are now lying at peace in the same place where they taught, studied, and played.
As the final items were being brought out of the schools late Sunday, excitement was already building for the next festival in 2014. Comments overheard were: “The Grays River Grange is excited about doing the dinner again.” “I already have five speakers lined up!” “Nancy, Joan, and I are going to immediately start making banners to hang from every eave in the courtyard.” I’m taking Friday off work, so I can attend all three days.