2016 Finnish American Folk Festival

NASELLE – Finns, Finns by marriage, and friends of Finns began arriving in Naselle as early as Monday to help with the Finnish American Folk Festival. Fifteen youth along with five adults traveled two hours from Vancouver, WA, to stay the week and help us elderly festival organizers set up. We greatly appreciated the enthusiasm and friendship of these North Creek Church members.

The 1450 attendees who signed the registration books represented 24 states and four foreign countries. Those coming the furthest were from Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Florida, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, and even Australia.

Thirty-eight golfers enjoyed themselves at the Peninsula Golf Course in Long Beach, WA, on Thursday.

By 10:00 am Friday all was a “GO.” Exhibits were complete, flower arrangements
were everywhere, the courtyard was ready with its myriad of tables, chairs, benches, and beautiful plants.

The only problem was deciding what to do first. Should I attend the presentations, eat the Finnish delicacies, buy from the Tori vendors, take photos by the Finnabego or the Viking ship, or enjoy the huge photo exhibit started by Audrey Wirkkala and continued by Eva and Ron Malerich and Sue Holway? Perhaps I should visit the museum, the art/flower room, the arts/crafts/quilt room, or the Finnish military exhibit before it becomes too crowded? So many decisions to be made.

Then there were the numerous music performances starting with Daniel and Leanne Sass singing the National Anthem. Nearly everyone joined them in the courtyard for the young Maypole Dancers directed by Haleigh See (former Maypole dancer herself) and the Laulaa Out Loud Kids Choir directed by Becky Underhill. These youngsters were a hit each time they made an appearance. They obviously loved what they were doing. Weeks before the festival when two or three were gathered, they immediately showed off their new songs and dance steps. Their joy and excitement encouraged the rest of us. Now we are more confident that this festival will continue for years to come.

Saturday started with a scrumptious pannukakku breakfast prepared by Epsilom Sigma Alpha of Naselle. They ran out of food after serving 150 people.
Then it was time for the Paavo Nurmi 5K Run/Walk. Sixty attendees of all ages participated.

Mike Swanson, FAFF chairman, officially opened the festival Saturday morning on the Rueben Penttila Field. The National Anthems were played while the Barr-Johnson Hill Post 0111 marched in with the American flag, Naselle women in colorful costumes came in with the Finnish flag, and Gary Anderson presented the Sami flag. Sue Holway gave a touching tribute to Anna Wirkkala Ehrlund, one of FAFF’s original Board Members. The theme “My Finnish Memories” and artwork for the festival featured Anna in her Finnish costume sitting on a bench at Peaceful Hill Cemetery surrounded by yellow roses.

Although Anna could not attend the festival, the bench and roses were there in her honor.
Next the long awaited wife carry happened followed by the Nokia phone toss and the boot throw. Again, many youngsters participated in the last two of these events. All winners were Naselle-Grays River Valley High School graduates.

Once more tough decisions had to be made. Do I partake of the delicious Alaskan salmon dinner prepared by the Grays River Grange, or do I watch the rieska, sima, pannukakkku, and crab shaking food demonstrations? Do I check out the growing genealogy exhibit done by May & Bob Adair or visit Kaisa and Wilho Saari’s kantele room? Do I gather friends and siblings for a sword fight by the Viking ship? Some attendees went to every lecture they could, while others focused on the performances by musicians and dancers presented in two locations at the school complex. Others had to decide between family and class reunions. One spouse left the grounds to pick blackberries for his favorite pie, and some families gorged freshly caught crayfish. Some of the fifth generation Finnish Americans celebrated their heritage by watching hay making on their ancestor’s farm. Some played in the Salmon Creek, the South Fork, or the Naselle River with numerous cousins.

By Saturday evening the crowd had thinned somewhat, and the decisions were easier. It was either continue visiting or attend the performances, the raffle, and the community dance. The program included another tribute to Anna with festival organizers Darlene Bjornsgard, Nick Nikkila, Lyle Haatia, and Sue Holway reading parts from skits. Anna had performed leading roles in these skits at previous festivals.

Sunday’s worship service was well attended. Pastor Greg Cootware from the Assembly of God Church greeted worshippers at the entrance to the stadium. Dean Anderson of the Grays River Methodist Church gave the invocation. Wilho Saari directed the attendees singing two hymns. The accompanist was his daughter, Karen Nelson. Next Youth Pastor Kyle Higginbotham of the Assembly of God Church gave an inspirational message. The “Love and Unity” in this “Little Village with the Big Heart” was obvious to locals and visitors alike. Finally, Mike Swanson declared the 2016 Finnish American Folk Festival officially closed.

The last activity was coffee and pulla served by the Naselle Lutheran Church Priscilla Circle. It was a time for more visiting, reminiscing, and evaluating the festival as a whole.
As people came out the door of the Commons, they were encouraged to help themselves to bouquets of flowers to take home or to the cemeteries. One local twelve year old girl must’ve had a dozen bouquets for the Seal River Cemetery. Just before she left, she gave Anita Raistakka a big hug and said, “I’m going to be your helper in 2018! I’ll be fourteen then.” With tears in her eyes, Anita knew that no matter how hard we all worked for two years, the hours and hours were all worth it and that we’d be doing it again.

By 4:00 pm the school was empty, the heaviest items returned to storage, and all who helped could rest, relax, and reflect. The clean up was done in record time thanks to the many volunteers who helped, including the NHS volleyball team.

By Wednesday, organizers were already making plans for July, 2018. See you then! Näkermiin!


-By Anita Raistakka