2022 Festival Lecturer Biographies

Be sure to check the FAFF 2022 Program to see a lecture and event schedule. 


Mitchell Wirkkala was born and raised in Naselle. He is a 3rd generation Finn. For the last 21 years he has always been working with metal and heavy equipment. Over the past year he started dabbling in the metal art niche with my cnc plasma table and using it for industrial purposes as well. The art pieces are just a sideline gig. Each piece is designed on the computer and converted into a CAM file for the machine. He takes orders for custom art as well. The machine itself uses a plasma cutting torch and compressed air for the cutting and the laptop operates the table back and forth to cut out each piece and trigger the torch.

The machine itself uses a plasma cutting torch and compressed air for the cutting, the laptop operates the table back and forth to cut out each piece and trigger the torch. Mitchell has a booth to sell his art at the festival this year, and will be providing a demonstration of cutting on Saturday.








Greg Jacob was born and raised in Astoria, Oregon. He is a retired Emeritus Professor of English and is an established author and lecturer. He will be speaking at this year’s festival on Friday, July 29th, about the Kalevala.



Bryan Penttila, local Naselle historian, author, and logger, will present Naselle Stories on Saturday. Bryan comes from a long line of Finnish loggers and is the leading expert on logging history in the Willapa Hills and local history.

Bryan is a fifth-generation descendant of Finnish immigrants and graduated from Naselle High School in 1996. He worked in the woods for two years, then got his associate degree from Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen. He attended Eastern Washington University for a bachelor’s degree in history. He received his master’s degree in Pacific Northwest environmental history from Washington State University. 

Bryan has written When Logging Was Logging: 100 Year of Big Timber in Southwest Washington, Columbia River: The Astoria Odyssey, and co-authored The Brix Logging Story: In The Woods of Washington and Oregon. He was also publisher, and editor of a magazine titled Northwest Coast that is no longer in production. 



Marilyn Wirkkala Madden and her grandchildren will share their experience and speak on Friday about their recent trip to Finland, “Mummi & me: Our trip to Finland.” Marilyn and her family visited relatives in Kaustinen, Virkkala, and Varila. Marilyn is the granddaughter of Andrew and Hilda Wirkkala, early Naselle pioneers. 



Cary Bloom grew up in Chinook, and now resides in Rosburg, will be presenting stories of Naselle Finns and the Naselle Air Force Base on Saturday.



Irene Martin, local, award-winning, author from Wahkiakum County, and Pastor of a Methodist Church will be speaking about Pioneer Medical on Saturday.

Irene’s books include The Flight of the Bumble Bee; the Columbia River Packers Association and a Century in the Pursuit of Fish, Legacy and Testament; the story of Columbia River Gillnetters, and the Beach of Heaven; the history of Wahkiakum County, Washington as well as Sea Fire, Tales of Jesus and Fishing. Her book of poems, “The Family that Never Threw Anything Away,” was published in 2013.



Allan Wirkkala will give a presentations Friday about the Life of Oscar Wirkkala and his contributions to the logging industry and Saturday about Finnish Loggers in Naselle and surrounding communities.



Valerie Blessley studied with Classical harpist, Marion Fouse, of Portland, OR.  She have been performing across the Pacific Northwest in the duo Celtic Muse since 1995.  Valerie was twice nominated for Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year.  Valerie teaches the harp and kanteles. She will provide two kantele workshops at this years festival, once on Friday and Saturday.



We are fortunate to have Karl Marlantes joining us for presentations on both Friday and Saturday to discuss his novel, Deep River. A historical fiction novel, following three Finnish siblings who flee Russian oppression and settle in the area surrounding Naselle— facing cultural struggles and wilderness dangers.










A film Kreeta Haapasalo, presented by Serena Travis, on Friday.

Naselle High School graduate, Serena (Johnson) Travis, traveled to Finland in search of more stories about her ancestor, Kreeta Haapasalo. This short film is a springboard to the forthcoming docu-series. She has produced other award-winning documentaries and narrative short and feature-length films. She currently resides in Orange County, California.

When hardship visits a peasant farmer’s wife, she utilizes music to help her family survive and ultimately sustains the spirit of her nation. Kreeta Haapasalo was a singer and kantele player in the 1800s when Finland was not yet an independent nation. Despite tragedy, she wrote a song that is still performed today.





Jim Kurtti was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Attended Suomi College, University of Helsinki and University of Minnesota, where he graduated in a BA in Finnish Studies and Social Work.

After 18 years as the Houghton County Juvenile Court Administrator, Kurtti was appointed the Director of the Finnish American Heritage Center and Editor of The Finnish American Reporter at Finlandia University, positions he held until retirement in 2021. 

He is the chairman of the FinnFest USA 2013 board of trustees, which hosted the national annual in 2013 in Michigan’s Copper Country.

Kurtti also taught Finnish at the Hancock High School (Hancock, Michigan), is the chairman of the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock – Finlandia Foundation Copper Country Chapter, creator of the mid-winter celebration Heikinpäivä (Hancock). He also served on the Board of the Salolampi Foundation (Finnish Language Village – Bemidji, Minnesota) for numerous years.

He has been a presenter on various Finnish topics, in particular genealogy research, at FinnFests, FinnForum, and the Convention of the Genealogical Society of America. In 1999 Kurtti received the Suomi Seura Hopea Ansiomerkki for his contributions to promoting Finnish culture and language and was recently honored by Finlandia Foundation for his contributions to Finnish American culture.

Kurtti serves as honorary consul of Finland for the 15 counties of Upper Michigan since 2008. 

He resides in Painesdale, Michigan with his wife Debora, and has two adult sons, Christian and Anders.

We are fortunate to welcome him to this year’s festival for 3 presentations throughout Friday and Saturday.

His three presentations are the following:

Kallunki Letters: Arvoisa poikani, Arvoisa veljeni (My esteemed son, my esteemed brother) – Love letters from Finland. Family history revealed through letters from Finland to Arvid Kallunki of Clatskanie, Oregon. From 1904, when Arvid received his letter and ticket to America to his death in 1964, every letter he received from Finland was preserved providing first-hand perspectives of wars and want, longing and love, faith and family ties.

Sirkka – Past and Present (A documentary of one of Finnish America’s most amazing women. Born days before the American women won the right vote to radical immigrant parents Sirkka was destined to make her mark on the stages of Finnish halls, political advocacy, military service and even HUAC trails. Active until the very end of her 100 years, Sirkka lived a purposeful life following in her ancestors’ footsteps.

Co-operatively Yours, a documentary telling the story of the Finnish American co-operative movement through the lens of one of the remaining stores – the Settlers’ Co-op – as it turns 100 years.  Winner of the Eclipse Award of 2017 and has appeared on Finnish televisions four times. 



Kurt Koivu was born in Chicago and raised in the midwest. He lived in Eugene, OR for eight years and currently resides in Warrenton, OR. He started researching Finland and Finnish culture about twenty years ago. 

His special interest is in Finnish knives or the puukko. Finland is regarded as one of the most knife oriented countries in the world. Making your own puukko was regarded as a right of passage in the Finnish culture for many years. It still is a right of passage in some rural areas. 

To date Kurt has made about 75 knives. He is especially fond of simple design. Kurt will be joining us at the Festival to share information about Finns and Puukkos on Friday, July 29th.



Victoria Pitkanen Stoppiello was born in Astoria and raised in the Lower Columbia region, and lived in Berkeley, Boulder and Portland before moving to the Northwest coast in 1985.  Since 1996 she has been an essayist, news and feature writer for the Chinook Observer, the North Coast Citizen, Hipfish and the no longer publishing Upper Left Edge. Her collection of essays, “This Side of Sand Island: Reflections on Fish, Finns and Finding out about Family in the Lower Columbia,” was published in 2016. She currently lives near the North Fork of the Nehalem River. She found many familiar references, Finnish habits and expressions that reflected her own family while reading “Deep River” by Karl Marlantes. She also ran across specifics she could cross reference, e.g. “how deep is a proper sauna bench?”

She will be hosting an informal, moderated discussion ‘Finding your Family in the book, “Deep River” by Karl Marlantes, to share and enjoy each others experiences of reading “Deep River.” Come and join the discussion on Saturday, and, if you have one, measure the depth of your sauna bench so all can compare notes!



Central Ostrobothnia Migration Project, Film & Discussion

Central Ostrobothnia Migration project in Finland – an invitation for cooperation

In Finland Central Ostrobothnia is one of the regions with a very high density of population that migrated to North America. Historically and culturally the region initially consisted of 34 cities and townships. We have estimated that more than 40 000 people migrated to North America from this region. It soon became evident that it is the last time to collect this important cultural heritage of the region and to document the migration history of all those cities and townships. About a year ago a project of Central Ostrobothnia migrants was launched. The idea of the project is to collect all possible information and material of those people who migrated in the period of 1870 – 1960 to North America and Australia as well as of those people who left for Sweden in 1950-1970.

Next steps

We have organized, on a fully volunteer basis, collection teams for every city and their respective villages. A dedicated Facebook site, Keski-Pohjanmaan siirtolaisuushanke Mellersta Österbottens migrationsprojek, was created for the project to reach people around the world that might have material and information on the migrants. We have also created a home page https://keskipohjanmaansiirtolaisuus.wordpress.com/ to communicate with all the interested parties. Introductory courses and basic training for the participants have also been arranged during fall 2021. So far, they are in Finnish, but we are planning to have them translated into English to facilitate our overseas friends and relatives to communicate with us. In Finland we will go through every village, house by house, with the support of the Finnish parish records as well as other public and private data registers. All the documents and material will be digitized for our mutual use.

Many people in USA have roots in Ostrobothnia and other parts of Finland. But we need a coordinating organization in USA to help the relevant Finn Halls and local heritage centers to carry out the collection work. Typical material that we are looking for in Finland include family books and stories, old photos, letters, postcards, newspaper clips, passports, tickets, Finnish overseas publications, calendars etc.

A representative will visit Naselle Finnfest to present the film and have a discussion about this project. Join them on Friday July 29th, 2022.



Finland is a Disc Golf Mecca

There is a culture of throwing things in Finland, if something can be thrown, give it to a Finn and they will make it a sport!  Did you know that Javelin has been one of Finland’s crown glories at the Olympics with 22 medals? Finland also boasts 49 million acres of forest – that is 10 acres for each resident!  10 acres is a perfect amount of space to fit a 9-hole course.  No wonder Finland’s professional disc golf athletes are winning tournaments all over the world!

Chad McHugh, a Park Ranger Assistant with Oregon State Parks, and designer of the Columbia Shore Disc Golf Course at Fort Stevens State Park, will be demonstrating how to throw a disc and play a round of disc golf.  You will learn more about the history of disc golf in Finland and be able to compete in some friendly competitions and win prizes.  Discover the new rising star in professional sports.

Presented byCharlie and Kelly Shumar

Sponsors:  Fort George Brewery, Appelo Archives & Lucky Mud Disc Golf

Join this workshop on Saturday on the Football Field