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The News from Nelmi: A Retrospective ©
By Joanne Bergman, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
Any individual may print one copy of this
manuscript in its entirety
for personal use only.
The News from Nelmi: A Retrospective
Work Ethic and Writing Style 4
Love the Lady 6
Fond Neighbors and Readers 8
Ambiguous Language 12
About Herself 14
On Being A Child of Finnish Pioneers 17
Tots’ Talk 22
Animals and Country Living 25
Seasonal Observations 32
Local Events 35
Historical Notes from The Cook News-Herald
Introducing Nelmi Koivu
Charlotte Jacobson was among those serving lunch
at Nelmi Koivu’s funeral in February 2002.
I mention this because Char asked me
recently if I could explain why people still find the idea of
Nelmi Koivu and her work so attractive, so interesting. I said
I don’t know.
But we talked more about it, and we concluded
it’s because Nelmi spoke to readers as if she were their close
friend or relative. She offered memorable observations about the
natural world and her neighbors and friends, and she brought us
all together in our commonalities. Nelmi wrote her column with
the best of intentions and in service to the community, always
with deep affection for those she observed, using everyday
language in a familiar accent. Her column distilled the essence
of daily life all around Cook and the Iron Range, and legend has
it that many people subscribed to The Cook News-Herald
solely to read the “News from Nelmi.”
Nelmi was a professional. She was reliable, and
her efforts went far beyond the call of duty. That duty was, at
the beginning, to collect a few items of township news. Her
column came to have a given and predictable place in the
paper—all of page three, and more.
In April 1980 the paper featured a photo of Edna
Albertson presenting Nelmi an Easter lily to commemorate Nelmi’s
forty years as a reporter for the News-Herald.
Nelmi was a prolific writer, and her
human-interest items took on a life of their own and were
sometimes serialized over the course of several weeks.
Readers knew they could count on her to provide
an amusing, endearing weekly column of real happenings;
she was untiring in her work and ever optimistic despite
hardships in her life. Perhaps we miss her because she reminds
us of our mothers.
Work Ethic and Writing Style
Born in 1920, Nelmi was the salutatorian of the
1937 Alango High School Class. In 1940 she began publishing a
newsletter that kept local World War II servicemen in touch with
She worked at the Cook News-Herald for
sixty years but, like Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, Nelmi
“would prefer not to” have her work edited. She insisted that
her work appear in the paper as written. Indeed, Nelmi’s unique
style defied editing, resisted the blue pencil, and had to be
published as it was or lose its flavor.
Nelmi took ownership of all errors and omissions,
acknowledging them all with a characteristic “Oops” in the next
In the early 1950’s when E.P. Drummond was the
editor and publisher of the Cook News-Herald, local
correspondents weren’t given a byline. Township news beneath
such headings as “Alango,” “Sturgeon,” “Angora,” “Linden Grove,”
Bear River,” and “Field” was written by anonymous reporters who
telephoned and visited neighbors to gather news and dropped it
off at the “News Office.”
Despite the absence of any attribution, an alert
reader might recognize the writer by her distinctive style, and
such was the case with Nelmi Koivu. The style and emphases of
Nelmi’s news are unmistakably her own. For example, from the
summer of 1951, these items exemplify Nelmi’s focus and style:
The Lutheran church silverware fund has swelled
to $42, with donations from folks in honor or memory of the
Practically every entry to the Hibbing Fair won a
Happy Birthday was sung to Art Filbert at the
Lutheran Fellowship meeting at his home Wednesday evening. Other
July birthdays have been Ardythe Nukula, Larry Philips, Johnda
Hakala, and Marvin Pearson. The last three were all four years
Nelmi’s birthday notations grew into weekly
acknowledgements of birthdays and anniversaries. In turn, these
evolved into a comprehensive annual index of births, deaths, and
Formal portraits of smiling bridal couples and
prize bulls, obituaries, and local township news columns shared
space on the front page. On October 4, 1951, the News-Herald
editorials, cartoons, and commentary reflected the nation’s
concern over the threats of polio and communism.
Nelmi was easily astonished by little events in
the surrounding community. She reported the first robin and the
first strawberry. She wondered about wooly bears and tamarack
needles in the fall, the occurrence of wolf packs in the winter,
and Canadian hawkweed in the summer. She took little interest in
the grand themes of history or politics, but in natural
phenomena, folklore, and kinship. She had a vibrant interest in
children and the elderly and an egalitarian approach to life. To
Nelmi, every event was significant, the passing of the seasons
remarkable, and each person extraordinary.
In January 1952, Nelmi wrote that County road
maintenance men were out steaming open icebound culverts along
the Burkhardt Road. The icy conditions of this road, which adds
to the hazard of winter driving, is caused by natural springs
along the roadside, which are open all the year round.
Nelmi visited the Cook Nursing Home regularly,
and she wanted to honor the residents there by making note of
their names and their wellbeing in the paper.
Nelmi’s penchant for newsgathering was coupled
with talent as a photojournalist. The News-Herald
published many of her photographs of events at the nursing home,
fishermen with their trophies, new parents with their babies,
sled dog races, business milestones in Cook, and many school
events. She was often up against faulty film, faulty processing,
or intricacies of the camera, but she reported these mishaps
along with the rest of the news.
(As I have transcribed them in the following
chapters, her news items retain the original syntax,
punctuation, and capitalization. Where multiple items appeared
on the same date, the publication month and year follow the last
of those items.)
Love the Lady
Human nature was Nelmi’s greatest fascination,
and her column bore whimsical witness to peculiarities of human
behavior. She introduced many an item in a bold “Love the
lady . . . “
Love the lady who wrote that she went to the
clink, meaning clinic. (May 1980)
Loved a lady’s story on how she and her brother
played 60 years ago with sticks for cows. The only cattle dealer
they knew was Walter Miller’s dad, so one pretended to be Mr.
Miller and one pretended to be their dad bartering over the
stick cows! (September 1980)
Love the lady who’s been married over 50 years
and accidentally signed her maiden name.
Love (and pity) the senior citizen who forgets to
take his hearing aid when he goes visiting, once all the way to
Hibbing! (August 1984)
Love the lady who shot two partridge and cleaned
them, etc. before her husband came home, and love the guy who
left his partridge (precious as they’re so scarce) on his car
and found only the feathers left. (October 1984)
Love the lady who’s been crocheting angels for
treetops for her family. Loved the idea of decorations on the
White House tree all being from natural materials gathered from
the woods and fields. (December 1984)
Love the lady who came [from Finland] when she
was about 3. She didn’t cry for goodies on the ship, but cried
for “piimaa” and “silikaa” (buttermilk and the little fish with
heads). Some remember biting into an orange, not knowing to peel
it. The trip took a month for some. (July 1986)
Love the lady who was writing a card to her
daughter and, on getting a call from a sister, finished the card
to another sister. Not as bad as the poem about going to mail a
letter and absent mindedly opening it!
Love the little old Alango lady whose lights went
out and she took a step or two during each lightning flash to
get to her bedroom for a flashlight. (n.d.)
“It is like being on a cruise ship,” a lovely
lady said at the Leisure hills home in Hibbing, as there’s a
beauty parlor, church services, entertainment and even a pool.
All of it refers to the Cook nursing home also except for the
pool, and it’s a good way to accept staying there. (August 1988)
On Halloween 1988, a Chisholm lady masqueraded
herself as the Iron Miner, using six cans of gold spray paint!
Her husband dressed himself as a deer carrying a hunter.
Love the great-grandma who remembers writing and
performing in plays in a garage. They charged buttons for
admission as her mom was a seamstress and buttons were precious!
She has saved cardboard doll furniture her mom made and it’ll be
used by another generation. (n.d.)
Love the lady who recalled as a youngster walking
with many others a long way to an Alango swamp with pails and
gunny sacks to pick lingonberries. They had lunch along (I
remember those days), but the news is that they fixed up a
shelter and spent the night there so they could pick more.
Fond Neighbors and Readers: Nelmi’s Universal
People are naturally curious—not to say
nosy—about their neighbors, and newsy tidbits help to color our
world. Nelmi was not a gossip, and she didn’t traffic in smears.
As Norma Ojala has put it, “She didn’t step on anyone’s toes.”
Hers was not tabloid journalism but honest and plain spoken
Gladys Koski Holmes, one of Nelmi’s coworkers
during the early days at the News-Herald, observed that Nelmi
had a “childlike curiosity” about everything; readers were
fascinated with Nelmi’s column because she looked at the
ordinary with fresh eyes.
Nelmi’s Alango neighbor, Lorraine M. Erickson,
recognized that whenever a family moved away from the area, they
subscribed to the Cook paper to continue savoring the weekly
local news updates. When Nelmi’s column faded away, their
subscriptions often lapsed.
Nelmi often visited Norma Ojala’s mother in
Idington “just to chat.” But Norma’s mother knew Nelmi really
wanted to make some calls on their Virginia line.
When Arnie Alt was on the midnight shift and
trying to sleep, he’d get upset at the phone ringing. So Nelmi
would ask him very quietly, “Is Sylvia there?”
Gerri Ruuska observed that Nelmi got up early,
worked hard and worked long days.
In an e-mail to me, Linda Snell wrote, “Oh my
gosh, who could be from Cook, MN and not know Nelmi Koivu? I
worked at the Cook News-Herald as a teenager. You could
see the “is this news?” sparkle in her eyes when you spoke with
her, knowing that anything you said was up for grabs.
Nelmi’s young neighbors, Todd and Dean Seopa,
sensed a vigilance that might lead to news.
Jennifer Renee Lindgren recalls visiting Nelmi
with her grandmother Shirley Lindgren (Hegg). What she remembers
about Nelmi’s column is that if it wasn’t in there, then it
didn’t happen. Nelmi didn’t miss a thing.
Rebecca Anderson, who grew up in Cook, e-mailed
this story: On a sunny afternoon, my sister Julie and I were
young, obnoxious, teenagers and bored silly. Squished together
on a chair, we started perusing the News-Herald and when
we got to Nelmi’s column, we broke into song and sang her entire
column. Our dad, Don “Undy” Anderson was sitting on the couch
trying to watch the Vikings. The more aggravated he got, the
louder we sang. It was such fun and so entertaining watching his
reaction, we finished the rest of the paper in song. To this
day, I thank Nelmi for one of my favorite memories of home and
Nelmi was a cultural icon, and Dr. Francis
“Mickey” Kahn, drawing a parallel between Nelmi and another
serious professional journalist, referred to her as Nelmi
At an age when many people would have retired,
Nelmi went to work at the Cook School supervising the
playground, and Eric Johanson remembers Nelmi’s disciplinary
slap on the wrist applied on the occasion of schoolyard fights.
Any such combatants paid the price of thirty burpees, on the
Jean Johansen remembers Nelmi’s weekly
news-seeking sweep on the phone. Nelmi wasted no time and spared
no words. A conversation might go something like this:
Laurie Walker says her family took the Cook paper
just to read Nelmi’s news, and often “just giggled,” simply
because Nelmi’s column was so entertaining. During any event or
gathering, whether just a visit for coffee or someone’s birthday
party, guests always had the expectation they’d make the news.
Tom and Pat Chapman arrived with their family in
Field Township in 1975. Like a lot of readers new to the
community, they learned about the area by reading Nelmi’s
column. Pat remembers Nelmi as a “great lady,” although some
folks guarded their words while Nelmi was within earshot,
knowing any off-hand comments could end up in the newspaper.
Darlene and Bob Hodge and five children moved to
Alango from San Antonio, Texas in 1975. Nelmi’s column was
already well-established, and Darlene found reading the Cook
paper, especially Nelmi’s column, a good way to learn about the
area. She loved the column and knew from its content that
everyone read it.
During an event at the Alango School, Darlene saw
Nelmi across the gym and “just knew” it must be Nelmi Koivu.
“She looked the way she wrote.” That is, authentic and without
pretension. Darlene found Nelmi to be completely guileless with
an absolute faith in people. If the Hodges had indicated they’d
“moved here from Mars,” Nelmi would probably have taken the
information at face value and reported it to let her readers
make of it what they would.
At that time, the Hodges lived in a hunting shack
for want of available housing. Nelmi wrote of their arrival in
her column, and the day after the information appeared, someone
left a box of groceries on their steps. A neighbor granted
permission to the Hodges to live in the hunting shack, and only
later did they learn that neighbor didn’t own it. The actual
owners knew the shack was occupied but said nothing.
Carol Gallagher and Otteau Christianson first
came to the area in 1997 and enjoyed reading Nelmi’s column to
At the Homestead just a few weeks after Mae
birthday, Mae expressed her admiration for Nelmi and declared,
“She wasn’t always right, but she was always good!”
Years ago, while their sons were teenagers, the
late Shirley and Donald Erickson took a weekend trip out of
town. Nelmi telephoned Shirley the next week to ask if she had
any news, but Shirley replied that she had nothing new for
Nelmi’s column. Still hoping to get a story, Nelmi remarked that
she’d noticed several cars in the Ericksons’ yard on Saturday
Shirley’s parental instincts took over from
there, and the boys paid the consequences for the party they’d
had while their folks were out of town.
Carol Keister has fond memories of Nelmi as a
“really wonderful person who worked hard at her column. She knew
the community and had seen it all. She was open to people, very
accepting of diverse types, and very caring with a broad world
view. She was interested in the person, not the pros and cons
surrounding the person. She wanted her column to be historically
correct, but it didn’t always happen; thus, the correction the
next week. Nelmi kept everybody up on events. She worked hard,
lost her husband early, supervised the playground, had a good
attitude, and was always happy. She loved to visit with people
and honored requests not to report an event if someone asked
that she not.”
Nelmi’s granddaughter Angela Sipila has had
opportunity to read Nelmi’s teenage diaries and there found that
Nelmi was capable of writing in a very learned style; however,
Angela says, Nelmi was clever enough to use a folksy, colloquial
style in the paper because it was more fun to read. She knew her
Nelmi never used the wrong word, never committed
a malapropism. She had full command of the local vernacular.
Sara Niska’s co-workers at St. Cloud Floral were
as eager as she was to open the paper and turn to the “News from
During wartime, hometown men and women in the
military around the world subscribed to the Cook paper, and
their unit buddies--wherever they were from--were just as eager
to read the “News from Nelmi,” when the paper arrived. In that
context, Nelmi’s influence was global as well as local.
Readers still smile at the mere mention of
Nelmi’s name. Try it; you’ll see.
Readers followed Nelmi’s column not only to learn
who entertained neighbors for coffee or sauna. Nelmi’s hurried
syntactical constructions provided additional entertainment for
those who read her column closely. For example, she wrote
Margaret (Watt) and Bill Picek of Mesa, Arizona
and Field Township attended the funeral of Jack Lee, 82, at Lake
Worth, Florida and were houseguests of her mom, Alice Watt. Mr.
Lee died while riding bicycle after being driven over by a car.
Just now on a gingerbread mix I saw that one can
make gingerbread pancakes, and why not . . . There’s at least
three art galleries in Virginia!
Have you heard of removable casts? Part of it is
plastic and has something inflatable in it. Some casts have
hinges (like Marie Jackson’s knee). (October 1983)
Edna Albertson recalls an item about a garage
sale, which Nelmi suggested readers attend, donate old things,
and “bring your husband.”
Isn’t another new custom nice—of both parents
giving away the bride instead of just the father. (February
A lady wrote “funeral” instead of “wedding” in a
letter. Somehow it is easy to mix those two words. . . . It’s
easy to mix vanilla and liniment, too. (August 1984)
The pictures of the carved huge pumpkin from
Mary’s Needle Nest at the Bear River Halloween party didn’t turn
Kathy Cahill’s daughter posed with it. (November
The mobile mammography unit was at the clinic
November 8 (1984) and will be coming from Grand Rapids every two
weeks, wonderful. My pictures didn’t turn out, discouraging.
Last Friday was Western Day at the nursing home.
The staff was dressed in Western attire, music was Western, and
J.D. Svedberg brought his horse and did rope tricks. Some of the
residents fed him sugar. (July 1986)
Laina Bixby would’ve had a ride to Las Vegas to
spend the winter with her daughter, but she stayed home. (April
I recall an ad about men’s prescription glasses.
A pair is on the front seat of my car. All glasses should have
names printed on them. (December 1989)
Nelmi rarely reported anything about herself, but
in April 1980, she revealed some personal information.
TWINS: Spring seems to be the time for twins, and
sister Marie found a baptism certificate for twins our mom had
in the spring of 1905. They were a month old at baptism, and we
thought they died at birth! They were a girl and boy.
SOMEWHERE I READ: “Mistrust a subordinate who
never finds fault with his superior,” so I should be mistrusted
as I can’t remember finding fault with Wayne [Evans]. (I can
hear him saying, “I don’t have any”) or Gary (except his wife
works harder, and at least three pictures never got printed.)
THANK YOU DON AND MARTHA: As a child I collected
movie stars’ pictures, sketched them in later years and now I
have one’s autograph! Martha Curtis of California, showed the
column in which I mentioned Don Knotts being at the “Our Own
Hardware” convention the Makelas attended. Don is a client of
the firm Martha works for, so she showed him that he made the
local paper, and he autographed it! (April 1980)
40 YEARS: The first weekly column I wrote for
this paper that I have been saving was March 28, 1940. We had
social center or night school then, a Finnish relief club, etc.
John Kontio’s 70th
birthday was celebrated. If I keep writing as long as my mother
did, I’ll be writing 23 more years! [Hilda Pihlaja, Nelmi’s
mother, wrote for the Suomen Uutiset.]
It was nostalgic to get the Finn paper at
Makela’s Hardware. Sister Marie Hakala wrote for it for awhile.
The readers loved it. If I was better at Finn, I’d maybe write
for them too! Overzealous already! (March 1980)
Nelmi’s August 16, 1984 column opened with
Mildred Kamppi’s poem, “Slave of the Quill.”
I don’t write for money or praise,
I write to inform in many ways.
New arrivals, a departed friend,
Weddings, engagements, there’s no end. . . .
I write about trips of neighbors and friends,
Of parties and dinners they attend.
Mistakes and errors I hope you’ll excuse,
Of omitting, misspelling or other abuse.
My talent is weak, I must confess,
But week after week I try my best.
This was written by cousin Millie years back when
she was a “slave” for the Ogilvie paper and given me now after
I’ve been a slave almost 45 years. Our moms both wrote for
Finnish papers, as did my sis Marie Hakala awhile. Millie’s late
sister Edna Heikkinen was Alango’s first reporter for the Range
Facts. Their grand nephew Lee Phillips announces area news over
“Slaving” is harder nowadays even with a phone as
people move so much, change names, etc. We try to write not only
about familiar people, but the ones who’ve moved here from
almost every state in the union and Australia.
I recently wrote of a dinner at Four Seasons and
it was at Four Corners and I was even there! There are many
places starting with “Country,” like Store, Roads, Crafts and
Supper Club and many places starting with the word North or
Northern, so it’s easy to make a mistake. Half the people call
me Helmi instead of Nelmi. (November 1988)
There are support groups for many things and
there could be one for those who have been burglarized. Mom’s
place was burglarized twice 25-30 years ago. Climbing her hill,
it felt like I was going to a funeral. One time her spinning
wheel, hand-loomed rugs, blankets, etc. were stolen and the only
item we got back was her copper tea kettle. The other time her
place was rummaged with drawers left open. The second burglars
were looking for money and drugs, possibly, as some did at my
home July 3. I had just bought a “Welcome” notepad and they
could’ve been the first ones to sign their names. Thank you for
not taking the copper kettle and other sentimental items. Too
bad “Whiskers” had just died as he might’ve chased you away.
Who has the oldest birth announcement? I saw Jack
Bort’s and that was in 1928! Thanks to the late Ilmi Pohto
Rahikainen I learned that there was a party for my mom in 1920
before I was born. She most likely didn’t have any baby clothes
left from my older sisters. They didn’t have phones in those
days, but managed to spread the word somehow. (December 1989)
On the fine arts tour last Saturday, I found the
most comfortable willow chair I’ve ever sat in. My daughter
Lorraine Erickson of Alango did all the driving on the tour,
many miles. We enjoyed the tour very much and ended it at
Melgeorge’s Resort and Restaurant. Ron Maki exhibited artworks
with his daughter Sarah at the White Pine Gallery. (September
On Being a Child of Finnish Pioneers
Throughout Nelmi’s career, she maintained her
connection to the old country and the experiences of northern
Minnesota pioneers. She had a special affection for elderly
folks, and she often sweetened her column with nostalgic
references to Finland or bygone days. For example . . .
Long ago folks often left a broom leaning on
their door to show that they weren’t home, but nowadays no one
wants to advertise they aren’t home! (September 1980)
“Eat your porridge even though it’s a little
burned. It’ll give you curly hair,” children were told long ago
and “Eat your toast even though it’s a little burned. It will
give you a good singing voice.” (January 1980)
LONG AGO: Many customs come back into style, but
surely not the custom of being serious in pictures. Film is
going up in price (silver in it) so maybe we won’t be smiling! I
once wrote about someone mailing a new film to be developed and
now I did it. I got blank negatives!
Long ago we called sofas and couches davenports
and divans. We seldom hear of buffets or secretaries anymore.
Believe it or not coffee was considered a cure
for almost any type of ailment in the very early years. The
Arabians considered it an excellent stomach medicine. The
contributor of the item wrote, “We must be healthy drinking so
The death of Alice Roosevelt showed she was over
20 years older than a Cook lady she reminded me of, her style,
grace, uips, barbs and acid tongue. (February 1980)
WIND-ELECTRIC PLANT: The late Ben Sherman, Angora
mail carrier, was pictured and written up about 50 years ago in
the Duluth paper with a wind-electric farm generating plant he
made out of a discarded piece of automobile equipment. Laurel
Sherman, his sister-in-law, has saved the story and loaned it,
The Shermans had a filling station and store at
Sherman’s Corner where Bill and Marilyn Nieters now live. It
took several gallons of gasoline a day in the engine of his home
lighting plant, so he built a windmill generator. The story
said, “He is now in the manufacturing business,” as neighbors
wanted one too.
He set the windmill on top of a small farm
building. The cost, including pay for his time, was about $90.
The windmill provided current enough for light, pumping water,
washing and ironing clothes, and even for the soldering iron
which he used for changing over the generators. (March 1980)
FINLAND VIA ARIZONA: Walt and Marge Miller of Sun
City, Ariz., sent Elaine Fox of Cook (A Finn Fox) clippings from
“The Arizona Republic” of their food editor’s trip to Finland.
It said, “The forest is everywhere in Finland, even in parts of
the biggest cities.” Her story was titled “Earthy aura surrounds
Finnish foods.” Her recipes were for rye pastries, mushrooms in
sour cream, and rye bread. The latter asked for four packages of
yeast for one loaf of bread! According to her, “sauna” is the
most important word in Finland, then “sisu” (fortitude), and
then “perkele.” It means something like devil, and it shows that
Finns are extreme—very good or very bad. (June 1980)
Jennie Walden of the Homestead and one of her
sisters stayed in Finland after their parents and sister Saima
sailed to America in 1918. It was wartime so farmers had to give
up most of their grain. Jennie says: “They took all the extra
grain. My grandpa was too honest; he didn’t hide any grain so we
got short of bread flour. My grandpa and I went into the woods
to collect bark. He cut the tree down and showed me how to peel
the bark off. He gave me a wooden tool like a pancake turner. He
marked the bark in the size of pieces he wanted. We put the
pieces into a two-wheel trailer. Grandpa pulled and I pushed.
Then we put the bark into a big oven (hearth). When the pieces
were dry and cool we mashed them as small as possible. Then we
brought them to the flour mill so we got “pettu” flour to mix
with other flour to make bread. We also added mashed turnips
(big, good, and sweet) so the bread would not be too bitter.
(April 19, 1984)
More than one oldster has said of taking off long
woolen stockings or some such and hanging them in a tree before
going to school and then putting them back on before going home!
I can recall wearing long wool stockings and long underwear,
trying to fold them so they wouldn’t show through stockings.
Girls didn’t wear slacks to school until in the ‘40s maybe.
“Viiko villis” means getting one’s days mixed up.
“Viiko” means week and “villi” wild.
A lovely pioneer told of how she and her husband
bartered their record player for a milk cow from Orr maybe 60
years ago. (July 1984)
For wedding gifts about 50 years ago and more
some gave a quarter, a used coffeepot, sheets made from flour
Love the true story of long ago when there were
outhouses at schools and no electric lights. A teacher was
horrified when she opened the outhouse door as it looked like
someone was in there. Next day she found out it was a rolled up
mattress put in there for storage. (September 1984)
David Cooper of Burnsville spent the weekend with
his dad, who was 92 Saturday. The day before, he made his
delicious chocolate chip cookies and enjoyed a visit from
another old-timer, Martin Johnson. Martin provided the lumber
for the house which was once the FitzSimmons’. They recalled
“cranking” cars, whole milk at 25¢ a gallon delivered, coffee
10¢ a pound, cows for $8, items for a penny in free catalogs,
etc. Neighbor ladies brought cake Saturday evening. (October
When rabbits were plentiful, some ground the meat
from their legs for hamburger! Someone recalled ordering a meat
grinder from a catalog by placing one dollar in an envelope.
Students checked snares before and after school. They had to
snare plenty of rabbits if they wanted to keep a dog. (October
Jelly, 10-pound pail for 50¢” was advertised in a
1911 Bear River Journal. . . . Subscriptions were $1.50 a year.
Long ago kids had to fill their berry pails
before they could go home. Love the guy who admits he put lots
of leaves in his pail!
Seeing a Cook grocery story employee stomping on
cardboard boxes in a trailer made me think of stomping hay in a
hay wagon and then in the hot, dusty barns in the days before
hay bales. (August 1986)
“Kurpitsa” is pumpkin (and other squash) in Finn.
It isn’t in my old dictionary, but it is in the newer one. We
have said “pumpkinni”!
Salolampi, the Finnish Language Camp will have a
permanent home on Turtle River Lake near Bemidji thanks to
benefactors Jerry and Fannie Jyring, who were pictured in their
newsletter in front of the authentic sauna made in Finland at
the site. Ground is to be broken next August for the future
home. (January 1988)
The June 23 Chicago Tribune had a story on
unusual foods in Minnesota, how immigrants came starting in the
1800s and how their recipes have survived. They mentioned
“pasties, pizza, potica, pulla” and mentioned Eleonor Ostman who
has local roots. It also mentioned Cook’s Homestead Mills as a
“new generation of food entrepreneurs in northern Minnesota.”
During Depression and WPA days, there was a
project in Cook of sewing ethnic clothes for dolls, and thanks
to the late George Peterson, Cook school curriculum supervisor
who placed them into storage, they are now on display at the
Research Center at Ironworld. (August 1988)
Two new members of the Lahtinen family in Linden
Grove (former Ed Rankila home) are Finnish spitz puppies from
Hamerfest Kennel in Brainerd. The pubs’ grandmother “Vaimo” is a
show champion and was the first Finn spitz to receive an
American C.D. (Champion Dog) title. The pups are named Kulo
Valkea and (tentatively) either Punainen Omena or Tuli Tikku.
The four Finn words are wife, wildfire, red apple and match
stick. (August 1988)
In 1925-26 when I attended first grade in Alango,
before the new school was built, cars were so infrequent that I
can recall everyone running to the road (22) and saying, “Car!
A friend 17 years older recalled her first
recollection of a car in 1913 in Alango and it was a funeral
van. She and all the other students at 48 (where Dennis Pihlaja
lives) ran after the car to the cemetery, not knowing what it
was all about. They called it “auto.” The teacher made all of
them except the little ones stay indoors the rest of the year,
which was one month.
Some who came here around 80 years ago had it so
rough [in the old country] they never hankered to go back. One
recalled babysitting while she herself was still a baby and she
cried when the baby cried. Another who worked for a rich
doctor’s family said, “I stole once in my life and it was
because I was so hungry. I ate something from his child’s
plate.” (October 1988)
I heard two men a little younger than I talking
about hard times. When they went out with a car in the cold in
the days before anti-freeze, they had to drain the radiator and
bring it inside so it wouldn’t freeze! I can remember folks
bringing batteries in to stay warm. (April 1989)
Martti Mattson of Esko, whose wife is the former
Lois Raati, was pictured in a Sunday paper with his broad axe,
as he has been driving to teach how to select logs and prepare
them with hand tools for the Mt. Iron-Buhl school district’s
Environmental Learning Lab. John Lindquist is the director of
the lab. The log building process is being videotaped. One log
can weigh 600 pounds when green and much less when it dries and
takes four hours to hew on all sides. (September 1989)
Some have preserved root cellars the pioneers
made and Alarik Bakk made one this fall. He dug it on a steep
riverbank with a backhoe (pioneers had to use their back labor)
and cribbed it with railroad ties and logs he sawed from his
woods. He put two chimney stacks for ventilation, three doors
and put 12 feet of dirt on top.
The pioneer Wirtanen farm in Markham was written
and pictured recently. I’ve been there, but had forgotten that
there is a root cellar there and a smoke sauna. It is nostalgic
to visit. (October 1989)
Wash boilers, ice cream: Young folk don’t know
what they look like, but there are many of us who remember
boiling clothes in them and marvel that we didn’t get scalded.
They were scrubbed and used to make stew in for church dinners
and other events.
Someone recalled that ice cream was made for the
gatherings in a tall milk can with sweetened cream and some
eggs. It was twisted in a container of ice for hours. It was
called “jäätelo in Finn.
Embarrass is getting famous not only because of
its cold temperatures, but because of its historic buildings.
About 25 years ago I wrote a story, “Any Riihis?” and didn’t
hear of a one, and now I read that there’s one preserved in
Embarrass. It’s a building used to dry grain. (December 1989)
A Finn wrote about his trip to Finland that he
was mistaken for the press as he smoked a cigar. (Aug. 31, 2000)
By April 2000, Nelmi’s attention to syntactic
detail had diminished. She announced that Finland’s president
now is its first woman! Only eight other countries have women
presidents. Her name is Tarja Halonen.
Nelmi’s interest in human behavior is further
reflected in her regular reports of the cute sayings of
A tot enjoyed seeing his dad get a haircut one
day. He asked his mom to give him a haircut, “just like dad’s.”
He was disappointed that it wasn’t exactly the same, as there
wasn’t a bald spot in the middle!
Two little girls were told of a young relative
who had died. “She’s an angel in heaven now.” One asked, “Why
couldn’t she be an angel here?” (March 1980)
At least one local tot was so excited about the
Easter bunny coming that when he kneeled by the bed tensely and
his bones creaked, he thought he heard the bunny! (April 1980)
A little child told a lady with straight hair
about 70 on a bus. “You are old. Your hair is old too.” (May
By the Hibbing Airport road there’s a sign $500
fine for throwing litter.” So litter throwing is getting
stricter in our area. An Alango grandma was stopped by a highway
patrol along 53 and she wondered why! He saw a candy wrapper
thrown out, and the tot in the back seat tearfully confessed he
threw it out! (July 1980)
A four-year-old inspected his grandma’s
philodendron’s split leaves and asked, “Did the slugs do that?”
A tot said when her mom had a baby girl, “It’s
about time I had a sister.” (December 1980)
Love the tot who studied his grandpa’s wrinkles
on his forehead and said one could pay tic, tac, toe on them!
Asking a first grader who he had for a teacher, I
said, “She’s nice,” when he told me. He asked, “Did you have
her?” I explained that I had worked at the school. (September
A little boy, hearing that his grandma had seen a
big wolf, asked her, “Do you have a brick house?” (October 1984)
RUMPLESTILTSKIN: Eva Ketola Raati of Sturgeon,
who learned to spin at the age of 10, demonstrated spinning to
grades 1-4 at the Alango School. . . . One boy excitedly asked,
“Can you spin straw into gold?”
Six attending the class were Karen Thom, Donna
Raati, and Jan Conklin, Field, Lynn Mueller of the Togo area and
Lori Potter of Lake Vermilion. (n.d.)
Animals and Country Living
Nelmi’s love for her neighbors extended naturally
to their pets, farm animals, and the wild creatures sharing the
woods. Nelmi reported animal stories both unusual and touching.
For example, in the spring of 1980 she wrote
Dogs on top of the Sawmill Lounge in Virginia
were pictured in the paper as a sign of spring. A week or so
before, I saw Ted Nylund sitting on the top of a pile of logs by
his lumber yard, a sign of spring!
Someone saw a nest of weasels in an out building
one day, but they were all gone by the time she got someone else
to see! Another lady wondered what two holes in the snow were
for. A partridge flew up! (February 1980)
Last week four women walked to Selma Jokenen’s
despite below-zero weather. There was no wind, but they got
white eyelashes. (January 1980)
Some like to have weasels around the house
(outside) as they’re better at catching mice than cats. One lady
had a time saving her weasel from three big dogs. (February
Long ago there were lots of ski tracks in the
snow. A few years ago there were snowmobile tracks galore. Now
again there are lots of ski tracks—no gas and good exercise.
This is a story of a little pig that went to
market (not in Minnesota). It was bought for $17, fed at a cost
of $70 and sold for $39!
Alango fire warden Art Kutsi was snowed in, but
the Bill Haavistos, Eino Metsa and Harry Enzmanns attended a
dinner at the Crescent courtesy of the forestry department.
Haven’t tried it yet, but someone said rhubarb
makes good “vippi puuroa” (air porridge)! Some covered hundreds
of plants Saturday night. Someone’s peppers got nipped a little
although covered with plastic. Very few covered plants Monday
night as frost wasn’t forecast, and many a garden was black!
Someone’s rhubarb leaves even drooped! Then again some gardens
that weren’t covered weren’t even nipped. Jack Frost plays tic
tac toe. (June 1980)
An eagle was seen trying to grab a cat recently.
The cat rolled on its back clawing the eagle and the dog came to
the rescue. The dog hung on to the eagle’s tail until they came
to a cornfield. (August 1980)
If you see seven goats, two milk goats and five
Angora, meandering toward the Lake Leander area, they belong to
the Dave Mortons of Angora.
[A week later, in Nelmi’s column] Ida Arola saw
the Morton’s missing goats in her field. . . . Marcus and his
grandson-in-law Bill Wright of Embarrass drove there, put ropes
around the head goat’s horns and proceeded to bring them home.
Larkspur and Mia Morton got there straight from school. No one
got to take pictures of herding the goats. (September 1980)
POPPLE POPULAR: Stopping at the Ray Hill home on
the Red Cross drive, I fell in love with their living room
ceiling and fund out is was of popple (or aspen) made by Ray. It
was of different lengths and had three coats of the new plastic
varnish and it almost looked like plastic! Then I heard that
Alfred and Linda Jarvinen are using their own popple as paneling
in the home they are building, so popple is getting popular!
It would be interesting to have a “neatest
woodpile” contest. Some are so neat that one hates to use them!
INCREDIBLE: A local lady dreamt of trying to step
on two squirrels, one big and one small in her basement. She
possibly dreamt it on hearing her mouse trap go off. The first
one she talked to that morning had just shot two squirrels, one
big and one small!
There are a few homes on the Range with dome
roofs and one going up in Angora. The stop-in visitors maybe
There are homes being constructed in the area
into hillsides, and somebody quipped, “Maybe we’ll go back to
the cave days.” Someday someone might build one onto the cliff
near this place!
A lady was splitting wood on a block and her
eight-year-old cat ran from behind and jumped on the block at
the wrong time and got knocked unconscious and got a slight
gash. The lady cried and cried, and got a shovel. The cat woke
up and ran. The cat’s life-long partner, an 11-year-old dog, is
the doctor as he licks the wound. (October 1980)
Reading of a snake in a toilet bowl reminded me
of a raccoon in an outdoor toilet hole.
Has anyone ordered the special herb garden for
cats? It struck my eye as Ophelia ate my aloe vera.
Martin Johnson’s dog “Cookie” is about a year old
now and has quieted down some. (January 1984)
A little tot ran toward some bear cubs saying,
“Doggy!” Her folks grabbed her real quick.
There aren’t enough live traps to get around so
some have received permission to shoot bears near their homes,
especially if they have little children. Six were shot at one
A 560-pound, 7-foot bear was hit by a car
Saturday night on Highway 1 near here and hunted down and shot.
Field Township is teeming with bears. A lady in
town on the Range was chased from her garden into the house by a
big bear. (June 1984)
A lady wrote of how one of her beef cows “mooed”
and she went to see and her calf had just been born and went
right away to her “dairy bar.” The next day the cow “mooed”
again and on going to investigate, the calf had fallen into a
deep spot with raspberry bushes and couldn’t get up. The mothers
don’t usually want anyone to touch their calves, but when the
lady pulled the calf up, the cow practically kissed her! The
other cows were all lined up too watching the rescue! (August
“Button,” Warner and Agnes Pihlaja’s diminutive
poodle from Kantoniemis of California has been coughing. When he
was brought to the veterinary clinic he didn’t cough until he
got back in the car! That’s the dog that was almost put to sleep
once, but the vet decided to try a cortisone shot. Then when
they got another poodle, that one massages Button, honest.
Beaver have cut down two cords of wood for a
fellow, but it isn’t easy to get them home from the swamp. It’s
interesting how they have a lodge to live in with a “shelf” to
stay dry. I’m afraid I’d have said they live in their dams!
An albino robin is being seen in the Lake
Vermilion area. There’s an albino stuffed beaver at the U.S.
Forestry in Cook, and one at the museum at the Falls, and an
albino skunk too. (July 1986)
Dogs howl sometime when someone sings or plays an
instrument, but couple dogs howl every time the train goes by!
A lady and dog were in a wild raspberry patch.
She saw a crushed honey bee nest in a crushed area (a bear’s
work) and hollered at the bees she saw. Her dog ran home as he
thought she hollered at him! (August 1986)
When Jim Nordlund of Alango (his grandpa’s
pioneer place) came home from the woods one day, he saw a wolf
attacking his dog. The dog had stitches taken at the vets’ near
Cook and has had to have medication twice a day. The DNR put out
two traps and the traps disappeared, so there must be at least
two big wolves.
Wendell Soderberg hasn’t been bothered by a bear
anymore, but now it’s been a raccoon trying to get into his
Sports writer Sam Cook (Duluth) wrote how a
brochure lured him to our state and how it is yet better than
the brochure bragged. He was so green that he thought the sound
of loons was timberwolves!
Before retiring Reinhold Holmer left the door to
a little hallway beside his garage ajar so the cat and kittens
could go in and out. The next morning the door was shut and on
opening it he saw a huge bear! Somehow after gobbling all the
dog and cat food it could find, he or the wind closed the door.
The bear had somehow opened a door into the
garage and it had done damage in there trying to get out.
Reinhold called his son Allen and together they made noise to
get it out and it ran as fast as it could. . . . Reinhold missed
the bear program in Gheen when he was [in Seattle], but he had
his own bear program when he got home! (May 1988)
At Frazer Bay some saw a bear cub hanging onto
mother’s back when swimming!
Remember the robins that built a nest on a rake
leaning against a garage wall?
Jeff Sande of Chisholm was pictured with coin
canisters that will be put at business places to collect money
for his dream, a living memorial garden by the one-year-old iron
ore miner statue. Each tree would have the miner’s name on it.
A Texas reader said there’s confirmed bachelors
even among birds. A yellow martin returned now for its tenth
year. He never nests and never has a mate. (September 1988)
Stump Gardening: Some have read of it and some
recall their parents talk about it. Stumps were cleared off to
make fields for hay, and some worked the rich soil around stumps
and planted vegetables. They say there wasn’t any quack grass
The wild tiger lilies have never been brighter.
The water lilies are beautiful and the goldenrod are blooming.
The “purple loose strife” is being battled as it is spreading so
fast. It takes over wetlands.
An Alango couple took turns looking with
binoculars as two timber wolves were dancingly catching mice
between windrows of freshly cut hay. Their dog had alerted them
with his “wolf” bark.
From childhood, I called a red wildflower
“devil’s paint brush” and can’t remember its right name. Now I
learned that the orange (and yellow and mouse ear) hawkweek are
called devil’s paint brush from the Audubon Society field guide
to north American wildflowers! Blueberries are called “high
bush” in there. They list high bush cranberries and the ones we
find in swamps are called mountain cranberries. (July 1989)
I’ve heard of some seeing wild roses, but I doubt
if I will as the worms have eaten the leaves and some of the
tame roses too. Just so they don’t eat the blueberry and
strawberry leaves. Roadsides enroute to Duluth look like fall.
Cars should talk to us about not laying anything
on them, as so often they are forgotten. A local purse flew off
a car trunk in Bear River and Sam and Ervin Bartlett saw it
happen and picked every little thing up. The Ray Scofields
caught up to the driver and told her the news. (August 1989)
Do you know what sneeze weed is? I read that it
grows in swamps and wet meadows and that the leaves were used a
snuff. They were noted for purging the body of evil spirits.
A young fellow, Mark Jirsa, working for the
Minnesota Geological Survey, asked permission to walk on my
cliff. Good thing I was busy or I might’ve asked to tag along! I
had brought pieces of white rock from there and he said it was
quartz. Pilots have said the rock is very magnetic, he said. It
is about 300 feet wide and many miles long. It’s a few feet from
my door and it goes across the road to Lulu and Mel Lee’s, but
there it’s underground. He said there’s lots of rock
underground, which well drillers know.
A widow once had a flying squirrel in her
basement and heard of another lady’s experience. There was a
thumping noise in her basement and someone found out it was a
white-breasted nuthatch thumping at the basement windows trying
to get in. (September 1989)
“There’s a lumberjack in your woods,” a man was
told, meaning beaver! There was a humongous dam and a smaller
one. The trapper got one beaver although it looked like it was
the work of many. The roads were getting flooded!
A 51-yer-old hunting club in the Lake Vermilion
area was written up beautifully. “Ham” Holm, a charter member,
has been the cook for seven years as he said, “I got too many
deer.” Sometimes there’s as many as 16 hunters and they even
have a sauna now. Tom Bakk was quoted as saying how they planted
wild rice in a beaver pond one fall and the next spring found
mallards eating the rice. (November 1989)
RABBITS: When I was young, over 70 years ago,
there was an abundance of wild rabbits and now some years one
doesn’t see any and now I read that the Roy Pearsons have some.
Keith Aho has a chocolate lab, “Queen of Sheba.”
She had nine puppies: four black, three white and two tan. Folks
have been teasing him for cigars! His daughter Kaarin planned to
fly from Miami for Mother’s Day in Fargo and for her Grandpa’s
birthday, so they had lots of fun.
The write-up on the Keith Ojanen golf course in
Alango was interesting. It’s really green and beautiful, I’ve
FUNTIQUES AND CANARIES: There’s an interesting
place not far from my former home in Field with hundreds of
canaries. Yes, hundreds. Eunice and Cedric Roivanen work
together and take consignments. They have ribbons they have won
for their canaries at shows even as far as Chicago.
STORM: The worst damage done in Cook that I’ve
heard of was at the Arlee and Doreen Olson home last Thursday.
It was at 11:20 a.m. when a huge pine crashed on their roof
damaging their bathroom and bedroom ceilings. One could see the
sky from the ceilings! Arlee had just returned from having
surgery so he got two neighbors (Alan Larson and Bill Peterson
to patch the roof.
CHICKS: There some at Homestead Mills now and
ducklings are expected soon. Carol Aho enjoys mothering them,
but not for long as they go so fast! (May 1999)
IRONWORLD: Some call themselves “polkaholics” and
travel many miles every day to the Polkafest at Ironworld. Edwin
and Aileen Makela of Meadowlands (he’s Hilda Fox’s and Esther
Heglund’s brother) were interviewed by a daily paper. (July
Thank you to all who have contributed news. I’m
still hoping someone will take over. I would help. (1999)
PICNIC: There will be one at Gretchen Eldien’s on
Friday, Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. for retired Cook School personnel.
Bring pot-luck, chairs, plate and a cup, silverware and 50¢.
BUHL BOARDING HOUSE: It was exciting reading (and
seeing the boarding house in Buhl) and yet more exciting reading
that it may be moved to Ironworld. It is said to be the only
boarding house on the Iron Range in near original condition.
Some are seeing little signs of fall coming
around the corner. Cattails are telling the tale. The name of
the yellow flowers along the roadside is birdsfoot trefoil.
Nelmi’s interest in nature was not limited to the
animal world. She made frequent observations about quirks in the
weather and various other natural phenomena.
One couple who grew 75 cauliflower and 75 cabbage
plants indoors lost them to the rain after they planted them.
They haven’t planted their tomatoes yet. (June 1984)
The mountain ash trees are so loaded with berries
(and soon the birds will be “loaded” with them) so it’ll be
interesting to see if it’s true that we won’t have much snow!
Did I write yet that the wind was so strong that
a farmerette said that it blew her ducks up in the air?!
Wild roses are almost a month early, and someone
who remembered them usually blooming on a certain birthday. . .
. It was 28º some places Monday morning, so those who didn’t
cover (like the one who had just planted 24 begonias) had their
hearts in their mouths. (June 1986)
There are buttons that say “Cold Spot” and I
thought it referred to the heart as that’s where it was, but
smaller letters read “Embarrass.” They were on the news
Wednesday about being embarrassed at having -37º and some had it
colder here, but no wind so it was a crispy cold. (January 1988)
Forty-two years ago May 27,  when Chuck
Holm was born to Helmer (Ham) and Eva Holm in Dr. Heiam’s
hospital, it was very hot, well over 80 º, and on June 1 it
snowed! The snow stayed on the ground and it turned real cold,
so people had to turn on their heat! (April 1988)
We had some frost a year ago on the 28th,
worms are making cocoons, so there’s less of them and less wood
ticks. One lady said, “I’d rather pick potato bugs than worms,”
and she’d maybe get a prize for picking the most, and her
peonies are beautiful. (n.d.)
Most of Nelmi’s regular readers still assume that
many such amusing items occurred accidentally during hasty
proofreading in the rush to meet her weekly deadline; however,
granddaughter Angela Sipila feels sure that Nelmi knew full well
the effect of her language, and editor-publisher Edna Albertson
concurs. Angela and Edna are probably right, since Nelmi had a
keen appreciation for jokes and what she often reported as
“quips.” For example. . . .
Did you see the cartoon of a wife telling in a
hospital how her husband was on the “critical list”? She said,
“He’s critical of the nurses, doctors, food, etc.” (February
Did you read Jackpine Bob’s words “The only
difference between those of us in the newspaper business and the
rest of the people is that when we think of something dumb, we
put it in print for everybody to read”! (November 1984)
Have you seen the words “When You and I Were
Young, Maki”? (March 1984)
Did you read about the elderly man who was asked
his name and address, and to “Zip?” he replied, “Not much
anymore.” (June 1986)
An answer to the question “How are you?” in Dear
Abby was, “I’m better than I was, but not quite as good as I was
before I got worse!”
Someone asked mortician Mlaker, “Who is in charge
when the president dies?” Instead of answering, “The Vice
President,” like most of us would, he answered, “Either Mlaker
I have umpteen funny sauna stories (like the one
about Washington, D. C. ladies who had their hair done before
going for their first sauna) and one by Fern’s Darlene Hodge .
Her husband told her to throw water on the rocks if it got too
hot. (June 1986)
Loved the answer in a Range newspaper to someone
who criticized, “Your mistake was on the front page, so your
correction should’ve been, too.” The answer, “It isn’t news when
we make a mistake.” (July 1989)
One musician quipped that people in Palo are
smarter than people in New York, as Paloites know where New York
is, but New Yorkers don’t know where Palo is! They really are
smart, hard-working and talented for putting on the Laskiainen
every January for years and the country music festival the third
Sunday night of each month. (April 1989)
Via the radio, “God in his wisdom created the
fly, but he didn’t say why.” Also heard that a lady on the Range
has planted juneberry trees. She said she doesn’t bake pies as
they “show on the hips.” (June 1988)
“Cleaning house is like stringing beads without a
knot,” I read and liked long ago. Just now I realized that goes
for news writing too! (October 1986)
A lovely state reader said she had thought Nelmi
was a town and wondered where it was! (August 1988)
At the very end of her career Nelmi was still
appreciative of humor. She wrote
WORST DANGER: The sailor’s wife asked him, “What
is the worst danger at sea?
The sailor first filled his pipe
with tobacco. He thought awhile and solemnly replied, “There is
no danger at sea. For there, no one drives an auto drunkenly.”
Nelmi recreated everyday small town scenes using
dramatis personae familiar to all the locals. For example, on
January 3, 1980 she wrote
The New Years Eve party at the Temperance Hall (a
historic site now) in Virginia turned out wonderfully. The Café
plus many Finnish clubs backed it. Mayor Johnson welcomed them
saying he hoped there would be many more gatherings there. [Now,
the Kaleva Hall.] There was no drinking or smoking at the party
but plenty of music, coffee, cider, food (even squeaky cheese).
Clarence Ivonen spoke about melting tin (I just learned that
Marion Johnson of Alango has the pail, ladle, and tin her late
dad always used!) and his wife told fortunes by the cup method
(not tea leaves).
The Field Town Board met January 8 at Harry
Enzmann’s home. They had good results in calling Field men folks
for forming a fire brigade when there are fires in Field. The
men will receive some training, and the township will furnish a
hat and coat.
The [Alango] school now has an intercom system so
that when a phone call comes for someone in the kitchen
(downstairs) or in the teacher’s lounge (off the gym) they can
be contacted without someone running there!
“Raatiko” was one of the final dances at the New
Years Eve affair at the Finnish Temperence or Kaleva hall in
Virginia. . . .A speaker claimed it was so mild there was no
need for heat that night, whereas other winter nights folks had
to wear ear muffs in the hall!
A newspaper story mentioned how the late Rev.
Milma Läppälä spoke at her husband’s
funeral even by his open grave, and others told me she had done
the same thing at her mother’s funeral at her mother’s request.
Rachel Holmes, a Cook High School junior, was
pictured with Rep. David Battaglia in the Minnesota House
Chamber. Rachel served as a page in the House of Representatives
Some town folks combine getting water from local
springs with visiting Angora folks.
ELECTRICITY: It was out in a big area Feb. 18
after a car hit an electric pole near the Kantoniemi and Filbert
homes. R.E.A. man Dale Leinonen was the first worker on the
scene. Vivian heard a funny noise from the wires on her roof,
her telephone jingled and then the driver knocked to use the
telephone. She marveled at how fast the electricians worked to
put up a new pole in the bitter cold and repair the wires.
Traffic had to be halted as live wires were on the road. The
electricity was restored in three hours. The pole was broken
into three pieces.
CLASSES: The conversational Finnish class will
start again March 27 at the Alango School. Sylvia Nordlund
(Albert) is the teacher.
ALANGO SCHOOL: Mike Koskovich, Brad Perala, Jeff
Straw, Dawn and Brandon Agnew Lisa and Eric Lilli, and Angela
Erickson were Campbells’ Soup label winners this year.
Everyone says how sad it is to drive past the
former Musakka home in Angora, yet more so than the Idington
hall which was also burned by vandals. Everyone’s watching over
the vacant Idington church. (March 1980)
BIRTH: Vicki Schelde wasn’t present at the pink
and blue shower for her Tuesday evening the 12th
at Trinity, as she had a son that day, Brett Richard.
It’s hard work to lose weight and when one does
the clothes have to be altered or wait until spring when the
Thrift Shop will open so one can buy a complete wardrobe!
Jeanne Maki, lawyer granddaughter of Katri Saari,
had a poem “Immigrant Grandchild” in “Seuranlehti,” of which she
is the editor. She wrote it in Finn, too.
Do you sometimes read headlines wrong? Someone
read a Cook headline, “Frosty Windows Dangerous,” as “Widows.”
Rachel Holmes was selected Cook High School
representative to Girls State. (April 1980)
Senator Doug Johnson was honored at an
Appreciation Dinner at the Eveleth National Guard Armory on May
GASAHOL: It’s advertised in Grand Rapids over the
radio (May 1980)
“My husband doesn’t know I’m here,” a lady once
said, so I couldn’t mention her visit [in my news]. Can’t
remember anymore who said it so it’s safe to mention that this
can be touchy business.
When LPNs Joanne Carlson and Jean Wallin of Cook
and other LPNs stopped at a restaurant in Hinckley, they met
John and Verdella Musech there (coming home from a buying trip).
Wonder if it was the same restaurant that sister Melia Maki
heard the word “Alango” and she acted nosy like me and found out
it was the Reichels and Mabel Morreim.
Last Friday I brought my dog to be clipped (first
time in my life!) to Linda Lindberg and boy the dog looks and
acts 10 years younger (even though he isn’t 10 years old yet).
It sure was wonderful. She got garbage bags of wooly fur but
didn’t take all of it. (May 1980)
A Balkan bachelor plans to lock his door when he
goes upstairs after this. He was dressing upstairs and heard a
noise downstairs. He looked around downstairs and saw that the
toilet seat was down in the bathroom, looked outside and saw a
lady running. (July 1980)
Katri Saari, Edwin Saari and Ina Karni traveled
to Lake Kabetogama last Wednesday to visit the teacher-weaver
Mary Wovcha who demonstrated at Adelaide Hyppa’s home. (August
Musicians who performed at the Folklore Festival
in Washington, D.C. were Alex Hietala, Larry Saukko, John
Bergquist, and Third Generation, Jean Doty, Leonard Saari, Gregg
and Wesley Santa. They convinced former local girl Arlene
(Sikkila) Tervakoski to get up and dance the “jenkka.” It was
probably the first time anyone has danced the schottische on the
Washington Monument grounds!
Arlene went to a reception at the Smithsonian
Castle and loved hearing “Sakki Jarven Polkka” echoing through
Have you seen the watercolor painting of a man
holding his coffee saucer with his fingertips to drink from it?
It’s by Lois Larson and at our bank. (November 1980)
Harold Cooper recalls two men coming into
Cooper’s Café about 35 years ago. One asked, “Where is the Cook
laundry?” Mr. Cooper sent them to Earl Soderberg, who had a
The men came back sheepishly in half an hour. The
laundry equipment in their truck was to go to the Cook Home
Laundry in Duluth, three blocks from where they came from!
Nelmi reprinted Scott Refsdal’s poem, “Johnny
Cash,” which first appeared “The Cookie Jar” in 1984.
J.C. is a real cool cat,
He sings sweet songs, gets paid for that,
He has his fame and lots of money,
Any young girl would be his honey.
One bright day he went for a ride,
In his Cadillac full of pride,
Right through Cook, at terrific speed,
The warning signs he failed to heed.
The Cook town marshal took up the chase,
But Johnny C. was setting the pace,
Roaring north on old fifty-three,
John Cash was trying to flee.
Each in his Cadillac, roaring down the road,
The marshal alone, Cash had a load.
Cash feared the worst if he should stop,
In the jail he would surely plop.
Cash was scared; he had much to fear
For when the marshal was drawing near,
He thought of what his mother had said,
Don’t take your car through Cook, son,
Better stay in bed.
The marshal caught him, said he wanted to talk,
Cash was so scared he could hardly walk.
Then all of a sudden, he started to laugh—
All the marshal wanted was his autograph.
GOOD-WILL AMBASSADORS: That’s what Angora
accordionist and vocalist Les Harkonen called Jim Klobuchar’s
bicyclists as he felt they were the nicest group of people, even
the youngest. He played his accordion from 6 to 9 at the Montana
Café and Klobuchar wrote in his column how his group swarmed in
there until it was combustion temperature to hear the bilingual
Iron Range troubadour.
The bridge this side of Mary Hannine in Linden
Grove is beautiful. It seems to come sooner than before as there
isn’t a curve now. (October 1984)
An Alango carpenter said that some schools
(Kutsi, Rinne, etc.) had hip roofs and some like Haavisto and
Taittonen had gable roofs.
School 44 which was 3 at first, stood where St.
Paul’s Lutheran Church is now in Alango and was used by the
church at first. Later it was disassembled, with even the ladies
helping by removing nails and straightening them. (November
Spectators got sprinkled some last Friday
listening to Shorty Powers and Lorene Clark play and sing at
Cook’s gazebo. At least one couple danced on the lawn, and when
the rain was worse, some went into the gazebo. (June 1988)
Wooden “biscuits” are made at Hill Wood Products,
I read. They are used to strengthen joints in many kinds of
professional woodworking. Before, they were made in Europe. They
are adding a 9,000 square foot addition to their plant and will
be adding about 16 employees, making 116 in all! (April 1989)
Controversy surrounds the proposed new post
office in Cook. Owing to flood plain restrictions, a site on
main street is out of the question. The proposed location,
therefore, is on the other side of Highway 53, and many citizens
object. (July 1989)
Oops. I should confiscate the film in Gladyce
Snell’s camera. She called my name when I was eating crumbs from
a cake pan at the senior picnic and took my picture. Everyone
said it should be on the front page! (July 1989)
Someone wrote to a Duluth Herald chef
mentioning the Nylund Bakery peanut butter twists. Thank you,
Marilyn Nylund Jenkins, for sending it and it was in the Sunday
paper. She wrote that one can use frozen bread dough to make it.
I can hardly wait to try it. (November 1989)
Les Harkonen and Paul and Julie Sersha were
“strolling musicians” at the Laskiainen in Palo last weekend.
The coldest it’s been in the Alaska wilderness
where [Nelmi’s daughter] Irene is was minus 42 degrees but “a
colder blast may come.” The lead dog turned his head as if to
say, “Do you know what you’re doing?” (February 1999)
Les Harkonen, on his day at the nursing home,
said he has been told that “Beer Barrel Polka” is the most
popular polka. The nursing home was decorated beautifully for
Easter; beautiful cake, too.
Lots of seagulls here. Lots of helicopters too as
we’re near the hospital. The residents of the east side see and
hear the excitement.
Jeanine Emmons, night nurse at the hospital,
retired and was honored with a party recently.
Leonard and Norma Ojala showed slides of their
recent trip to China at our April 7 Cook Senior Citizens
meeting. They did a good job of telling us about it and we
enjoyed and appreciated it.
Elizabeth, Anna and Rebekah Chapman, co-owners of
Sweet Wind Kennel of Cook, were presenters at the state-wide
Youth Entrepreneurship Conference held in St. Cloud on March 22.
Over 400 youth and adults participated in the program designed
to educate them about running their own business. (April 1999)
BIRTH: Valerie (Koivu) Gustafson [Nelmi’s
daughter] of Coon Rapids had a second son, Gunnar Nels
Gustafson, 9 pounds, 2 ounces, 21 ½ inches long on July 26. He
has two grandmothers, one in Coon Rapids and this one in Cook.
In 1999 Nelmi’s new address at the Pioneer
Apartments appears at the top of her column, and on February 25,
1999 Senja Jokinen’s news begins to supplement Nelmi’s newsy
On December 23, 1999, the entire “News from
Nelmi” consisted of the words MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW
By the year 2000, the column had become
noticeably shorter, yet her style was still recognizable. For
example, on January 6: Harry Enzmann has had good luck when ice
fishing recently. I heard the name of the lake, but will not
On February 3, 2000, the “News” was down to four
column inches, including a “Thank you to the ones who have
written news anonymously for me.”
On February 10, 2000, Senja Jokinen wrote the
column, though Senja herself had been hospitalized with
pneumonia. On Nelmi’s page, Nelmi’s picture appears with the
notice that her 80th
birthday would be celebrated during an open house at the Pioneer
Apartments social room that Saturday.
By March 30, Nelmi was approaching retirement,
and Elma Romnes published a heartfelt note of appreciation and
good wishes, including the remembrance of a dinner of
fresh-caught walleye they’d once enjoyed.
Dr. Joanne IntVeld was the admitting physician on
the occasion of Nelmi’s admission to the Cook Nursing Home. Dr.
IntVeld remembers Nelmi as “a legend” who knew exactly where she
was going. She came into the nursing home with an air of
resignation, for she had just admitted defeat in her efforts to
remain independent. Still, as a resident of the nursing home,
every morning, as though it were her duty if not her calling,
she picked up the phone and started gathering the news.
The nursing home did its part to support “News
from Nelmi” by providing an in-box for items visitors might drop
off for her. On June 29, she wrote for HELP: The news envelopes
for me have been empty! The notes should be signed so I can call
for corrections. (Nelmi was accurate to the last.)
On April 27, 2000, Nelmi and Senja Jokinen
collaborated on the column, which included this item by Nelmi:
E-MAIL: Thank you for the thank you e-mail I’ve
been receiving (most relayed by phone) even though I don’t
understand how it operates except that it’s like telephone
wires. It’s miraculous. Thanks for a granddaughter who has
On May 18, 2000 she wrote PHONE OUT: That is mine
so I couldn’t make calls I’d have liked to. Please try me until
my phone is fixed or I’ll feel like quitting again!
Gradually throughout that year Senja Jokinen
contributed more of the news from “Alango, Angora, Field,
Sturgeon and All Over.”
ART GALLERY: Senior citizens put together fall
pictures Wednesday with the aid of their two activity directors.
They put together fall leaves with glue and wax paper and they
were really beautiful.
The Pylkas brought thee cute little goats to the
nursing home for cuddling one nice day. (October 2000)
Nelmi moved to the Edgewood Vista in Virginia in
2001 and passed away at the Virginia Convalescent Center on
February 5, 2002 at the age of 81.
On that occasion, Edna and Gary Albertson,
publishers of the News-Herald, asked the florist to send
to the funeral a loving, commemorative arrangement with a
gold-lettered “Oops” banner among the flowers.
Historical Notes from The Cook
• E.P. “Jack” Drummond died suddenly on April 11,
1953. Jack, the editor and publisher of the Cook News-Herald,
walked into his shop with an armful of the morning mail shortly
after eight o’clock. He walked to the rear of the shop to light
the gas under the metal pot turned to go back to his desk and
collapsed in the arms of his right hand man, Ray Wilkinson.
Mr. Drummond had experienced a fainting spell
three days before. Mrs. Drummond had persuaded him to go for a
checkup. The results of his cardiogram, which were in his
doctor’s morning mail, were a grim story. He would have been
ordered to report to the hospital at once for rest and
treatment. (April 16, 1953)
• In the sudden and tragic absence of Editor
Dummond, high school seniors June Ardin, Phyllis Benson, Donna
Huseby, Winifred Autio, Barbara Soderberg, Bona Hill, Paula
Olson, Charlotte Francis, and Gladys Gustafson stepped in to
manage and edit this week’s paper. (April 23, 1953)
• Cook High School senior Ronald “Jigger”
Waataja’s column “Jabs” featured satirical discussions of
unleashed dogs, hot weather, mosquitoes, and the relative merits
of sleeping with one’s socks on. In the February 5, 1953 issue,
Jigger discussed Groundhog Day predictions, also proposing,
“within thirty years, man may reach the moon in a space ship.”
• Jigger and Nelmi, two journalists steeped in
the local culture, felt a connection. When he was a reporter for
the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he wrote to her acknowledging
the appreciation she had expressed for his efforts.
• America’s first live calf ever known to have
been born from frozen semen arrived on a Janesville, Wisconsin
farm on May 29, 1953.
• On January 24, 1980 an ad on Page 1 announced
“Everything you’ve wanted to know about the bond issue but were
afraid to ask” about the upcoming $5.9 million bond issue for
new construction in Independent School District 710.
• Governor Al Quie published a proclamation
declaring that the American flag will be flown by all citizens
of the state of Minnesota to demonstrate our support of
President Carter in his demands for the unconditional release of
the hostages held in Tehran, Iran. (January 1980)
• Frontpage photographs and the lead story
shocked the community when an arson fire destroyed much of the
roof, gym, and stage of the Cook School. ISD 710 School Board
members faced questions on the proposed March 11th bond issue.
• On March 20, 1980, a black-bordered
announcement on the front page: MEETING TO DICUSS FUTURE PLANS
FOR COOK/ALANGO SCHOOLS. Cook High School Principal Roy Jarvela
has scheduled a meeting to examine the question, “Where should
we go now?” as a result of the recently defeated bond issue.
Karen McDermott, school board member, will be on hand to answer
• Headline: “MA” BELL INVESTS $56,000 IN
EQUIPMENT FOR COOK. Ken Greenwalt, manager, said equipment is
being installed by technicians from Western Electric Company,
the manufacturing and supply arm of the Bell System. [He]
explained the new equipment would provide more long distance
circuits for calls to and from Cook as well as provide local
service for new customers who move into the Cook area. (March
• Kevin McHale, newly drafted by the Boston
Celtics, is pictured with attorney Howard Siegel and Hibbing
Mayor Mario Retica during the Seigel Open on July 31. McHale
shot a 41 for nine holes. (August 1980)
• A front page story reports the Musakka house
arson suspect missing. William Smith, Jr., the accused arsonist
on a supervised release program, failed to appear for his trial.
The landmark Musakka house in Idington was a vintage Finnish log
structure. It burned to the ground in the spring. (October 1980)
• A front page headline accompanied by a photo of
the burning house: “Musakka House Arson Suspect Pleads Guilty.”
William Smith, Jr. pled guilty in district court
to a charge of second degree arson in the Musakka house arson
fire. The value of the four-room house, built of hand-hewn logs,
lay chiefly in its historical and architectural value. (December
• State Senator Doug Johnson went on record
opposing broadening the sales tax base to include clothing,
food, and prescription drugs. (October 18, 1984)
• The library board met with the City Council to
lobby for the conversion of a 10 X 12 area from storage space to
library space. Plans were then in place to build a new fire hall
and to then expand the library into the old fire hall garage.
• Teachers in ISD 710 went on strike. Issues
under negotiation were salaries, six-period days, and the policy
on transfers. (January 1984)
• In August 1984 the Cook Community Hospital
celebrated its 25h Anniversary.
• Governor Rudy Perpich spent a very busy and
productive nine hours in Cook and Orr on May 28 . In Orr,
Governor Perpich dedicated the new Tourist Information Center
and attended a spaghetti lunch. In Cook, Perpich dedicated
expansions of the airport, the golf course, and Hill Wood
Products, then led a political forum in the park, and served as
commencement speaker at graduation ceremonies at Cook High
• Fortune Bay Casino, the $6.5 million facility
on the Bois Forte Reservation, Tower, opened on Friday, August
• Area loggers recently met at the Coates Hotel
to organize the new Associated Contract Loggers to confront
important issues such as Worker’s Compensation, the environment,
and timber pricing policies.
And from Nelmi’s column:
• Everyone interested in the future of the Alango
School is urged to attend a meeting at the school 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 24. The Alango town board has been offered the
building for $1. Several clubs have been interested in meeting
• “Country Roads,” formerly the Idington Lutheran
Church, is being added on to. (May 1988)
• The City Council voted to have Dave Stanton
weld a patch on the Cook water tower as an interim measure prior
to the installation of a new $31,000 water tower in the fall.
• Don Simonson was elected Mayor of Cook in
November 1988, and the deer hunt in the Cook-Orr region yielded
over 1000 deer.
• The Cook Lady Gophers, District 27A volleyball
champs, defeated the Albrook Falcons 15-8, 15-7, and 15-12 to
advance to the state tournament. (November 1988)
• The community remembered Arne Hill, long-time
bus driver and “Cook’s Number One Fan” during a tribute to Arne
at the Cook-Albrook basketball game. (December 1988)
• Army worms infested area aspen trees and
forests, and area loggers staged a successful one-day boycott of
the Potlatch plant in protest over the price paid for logs. Over
sixty loggers joined the peaceful protest. (June 1989)
• Improved public access to Lake Vermilion at the
Wake-em-up Campground is underway. The road around the bay runs
between the campground and the beach, a decidedly unsafe
situation. A new road inland from the beach will divert traffic
around the campground. In addition, the beach and the parking
lot will be improved, and the boat launching ramp will be
doubled in size. (September 1989)
• Did you hear that early Labor Day morning a
lightning bolt travelled down the Visitor Center flagpole and
broke the cement base. One piece flew halfway to the building.
• Now that Casey Drug is being resided, many
recall the days when there was an ice cream parlor there when it
was Swanson’s. They kept it open until after the second show,
sometimes until midnight. (August 1989)
• S.O.S. means “save our ship” and also “sauna,
onni, sisu” (steam bath, good fortune and determination). It is
the slogan for the fund-raising drive for the Salolampi
Foundation for which architect Jyring, who grew up in
Pike-Sandy, has donated $300,000 and has drawn plans for the
main lodge, like the railroad station in Jyvaskyla, Finland.
• The Cook Lady Gophers volleyball team, already
St. Louis County Conference, District 27A, and Region 7A
Champions, now hold the Minnesota State Class A title. Team
members Brenda Thom, Brandi Stone, Brandi McClain, Jenny
Refsdal, Kandi Makela, Dee Ann Boutto, Jenny Hughes, Anene
Anderson, Teri Koski, Angela Lindgren, Kristen Schroeder, and
Malenie Troseth are pictured in a team photograph on the front
page of a souvenir edition of the Cook News Herald with team
managers Jody Nakari and Brenda Thom and coaches Grant Hughes
and Loretta Rankila. (November 1989)
• The next “Waste Watchers” meeting is Monday at
the Visitors Center. The public is welcome. The mission of the
group is to monitor recycling activities in the Cook area, to
advise the landfill authority on all aspects of recycling, to
recommend means to ensure community support, to provide a corps
of volunteers to help the recycling program and to act as a
sounding board for the landfill authority.
• Dog races are on the verge of being cancelled
due to the lack of snow. Some use three-wheel and some
four-wheel carts to practice with. Dec. 6 Jamie Nelson and her
12 dogs visited Joan Carlson. There’s lots of barking at first.
She visits Honore Lehtinen and her 10-dog team sometimes too.
• Front page headline and photograph on January
27, 2000: Fire destroys Amundson Apartment Building—Cook
News-Herald is saved. The fire left six people without their
homes. The building was the original Cook Hospital, dating from
the early 1900s.
• On February 3, 2000 the headline: Elephant Lake
area residents work together to form new township, Camp 5.
I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of
individuals for encouraging me in my project and for providing
access to archival holdings of Nelmi Koivu’s work.
I’m deeply grateful to my husband, Dr. Edward
Borowiec, for his reliable professional advice on language and
syntactical choices and his forbearance throughout my years of
gathering material for this project.
I offer heartfelt thanks to the late Gladys Koski
Holmes, my beloved friend who lent me her portrait of Nelmi for
inspiration and who always referred to me as “a writer.”
Laurie Walker has my deep appreciation for her
tremendous help and encouragement. Laurie has, for several
years, done my housework in a friendly and very professional
way, freeing up much of my time for my project.
I extend huge thanks to the many friends and
neighbors who told me their Nelmi stories in person and in
e-mails. Their personal experiences as readers greatly enrich
I owe enormous thanks to Don Simonson for posting
my story on line, thus making it available to everyone.
Gretchen Eldien, my English teacher at Cook High
School (Class of ’55) was among the first to give me confidence
in myself as a student writer.
Edna and Gary Albertson were generous in lending
me, free of charge, hardcover annuals of back issues of The
Cook News-Herald. Having easy access to the archived
material has been immeasurably valuable—especially considering
the volume of Nelmi Koivu’s output. The Minnesota Discovery
Center (formerly Iron World) also opened their archives to me in
the form of microfiche copies of the News Herald.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge intangibles from
my mother, Irene Nurmi Bergman Wehde, born in Field Township in
1916, who always encouraged my every endeavor. She was, like
Nelmi, a first-generation Finnish American who felt deep empathy
for the struggles of her pioneer parents. She, too, followed her
art until her final illness; Mother painted countless scenes of
nature, flowers, and animals.