Written by Anita Raistakka, 2016:
The history of the Finnish American Folk Festival was intertwined with researchers from Finland from the beginning. Pertti Virtaranta and graduate student Hanelle Jonsson Korhola traveled to Canada, Ohio and the Upper Peninsula to discuss the words used in these places for such common things as a log truck, coffee, and baking. Their work took them to Grayland, WA, Clatskanie, OR and finally Naselle.
Finnish scholar Pertti Virtaranta and his assistant Hanelle Jonsson Korhola visited Naselle in 1980. They met many local Finnish-Americans and interviewed Martha and Lauri Wirkkala and Eino Pakenen. Sue Pakenen Holway had been writing down the stories of her neighbors on the South Fork/ Knappton Road. Hanele Jonsson Korhola urged her to continue, but to get others involved. Thus, Sue interviewed even more neighbors and friends, plus took pictures. Next she wanted to present the results to the community. In the meantime, Maria Wirkkala and Carlton Appelo had been in Washington D.C. at the national Folklife Festival and had the idea of an outdoor festival displaying arts and crafts with musicians and performers and food available. Sue brainstormed with Anna Ehrlund, Peggy Busse, Eleanora Hillis, Sally Swanson, Norilyn Pakenen, Martha and Lauri Wirkkala, and Carlton Appelo. Elaine Wirkkala kept notes of these sessions. They now had a team and decided to apply for a grant from the Washington Commission of the Humanities. Next they sought out six people from Clatsop Community College, Longview Community College, and Clark College as advisors.
The core group recruited another sixty volunteers to help with the one-day event to be held at the Naselle schools on July 24, 1982. They expected perhaps 300 attendees. They were astounded when over 3000 came to Naselle, the “little village with the big heart.” There was a constant array of activities from 10:00 am until midnight.
The organizers were so encouraged, they immediately incorporated and were granted their 501(c) (3) status in 1984.
The festival continues to happen at the end of July on even numbered years. Attendees can enjoy music, dance, exhibits, lectures, films, food demonstrations, kantele and genealogy workshops as well as sample authentic foods from the numerous vendors. They can participate in the Paavo Nurmi Run/Walk, wife carry contest, and the Nokia phone toss. Those who love to shop can find many a treasure in the Tori (marketplace). A large photo exhibit focuses on the history of the area and on our treasured ancestors. Special activities for children are always included. Sunday the exhibits, the food booths, and the Tori are not open, but there is always a large crowd at the nondenominational worship service on the Rueben Penttila field and for the coffee and pulla served afterwards.
When you see Sue or correspond with her, thank Naselle’s “Galvanized Finn” for initiating our festival, for giving our little community international recognition, and for all her years of work to make sure it happens and continues to grow.